Bring on Wonder Woman

I have to plead scope creep for this post. It has nothing to do with lessons that I’ve learned Wonder Womenthrough business and the loss of my first husband but it does have everything to do with helping women set themselves up for success in any area of their lives. For that reason, it is a natural extension of the purpose of my blog and my book.

So what does Wonder Woman have to do with ensuring success? Seriously, which self-respecting woman would be caught dead in that outfit? Forget the outfit; take on the stance. Assume the Wonder Woman posture for two minutes, preferably in private, and then take on your tasks with better outcomes and, as it turns out, a changed brain. So says Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, in a brilliant TED Talk on which I stumbled recently.

You don’t have to be a devotee of psychology or neuroscience to get the implications of this really cool research. This is about using your body language to affect your brain and your outcomes. The best part is that it doesn’t cost you anything and you can get dramatic results in two minutes.

We all know that body language has a pretty significant effect on our judgment of people. Amy Cuddy gives the following examples:

  • Nalini Ambady, a researcher at Tufts University, shows that when people watch 30-second soundless clips of real physician-patient interactions, their judgments of the physician’s niceness predict whether or not that physician will be sued.
  • Alex Todorov at Princeton has shown us that judgments of political candidates’ faces in just one second predict 70 percent of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial race outcomes….

So we know that our posture and the way we carry ourselves affect others’ perception of us, apparently with amazing speed. Cuddy goes on to describe two different kinds of postures: ones that involve strong, dominant stances and others that involve diminishing movements, making oneself smaller thereby giving a nonverbal message of non-dominance and powerlessness.

Women and non-verbal cues

Not surprisingly, women appear to exhibit more of the latter. In her talk, Cuddy gives fascinating examples from her observation of MBA students and the way they enter a classroom, take up space and raise their hand to ask or answer questions. In general, men are more likely to take up more space, open up their bodies and display dominant postures. The opposite is true of women. Again, these are generalizations but it doesn’t require a mental stretch to believe that they’re true. Have you ever attended a Board Meeting? I suspect those tendencies would hold true in any co-ed gathering.

Cuddy goes on: “So we know that our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us. There’s a lot of evidence. But our question really was, do our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves? There’s some evidence that they do.” Cuddy also wanted to see if the body would have an influence on the brain. To do that, she ran a very clever experiment which measured the levels of two hormones before and after the experiment: testosterone (the dominance hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone).

Here’s the gist of the experiment: People came into the lab, spat into a vial and then were asked to adopt either two high-power poses or two low-power poses for two minutes. Afterwards they gave another saliva sample, they were asked “How powerful do you feel” on a variety of situations and then they were given an opportunity to gamble.

The results: The high-power people experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and the low-power people showed a 10% decrease – after only two minutes of holding two poses! With respect to cortisol (i.e. the stress hormone), the high-power people showed a 25% decrease and the low-power people experienced a 15% increase. As Cuddy says, “…two minutes lead to these hormonal changes that configure your brain to basically be either assertive, confident and comfortable, or really stress-reactive and… feeling sort of shut down. …. So it seems that nonverbals do govern how we think and feel about ourselves. So it’s not just others. Our bodies change our minds.”

Fake it ’til you become it

That’s a huge result with incredible consequences. Just think about it: Our bodies change our minds, which can change our behaviour, which can change our outcomes. All this from paying close attention to our posture and adopting a stance that supports a feeling of power and confidence for two minutes.

Cuddy goes to some lengths to show that this goes beyond faking it ‘til you make it. It’s about faking it until you become the strong, confident person that you really are inside. It’s about reconnecting with your personal power, and it’s so easy to do.

Imagine going into a job interview. Or a meeting with your boss. Or an important presentation. Or facing a court-date for divorce proceedings. Or trying to deal with the loss of your husband. Or any of the myriad challenging, stressful situations that we face on a weekly basis. Now imagine spending two minutes in private adopting a high-power pose to help change your brain and thereby potentially change your outcomes. At the very least you will reduce your cortisol levels, increase your testosterone levels and give yourself the best chance of success.

Don’t take my word for it; watch the TED Talk yourself. It is fascinating and potentially life-changing. Here’s the link: Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are.


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