Imagine yourself taking a seat in a waiting room.
In just a few minutes you’re supposed to get up and walk through the door in front of you to participate in a job interview for your dream job.
You’ve prepared yourself relentlessly, rehearsed all the potential questions that could come up many times over.
You set three alarm clocks just in case and showed up 30 minutes early.
So far everything’s going according to plan and still a quiet panic is spreading inside.
When you try to remember what you’ve been planning to say your mind goes blank.
You feel slightly nauseous, your hands are getting sweaty and your knees seems to be shaking even though you’re sitting down.
The Power of Body Language
In hard-pressed high-stakes situations like these it’s very tempting to close up and make yourself small.
You don’t want the person next to you noticing your inner turmoil so you hunch and pretend you have tons of important stuff going on in your phone.
This behavior is not unique to humans. You can see it everywhere in the animal kingdom. Just as a dominant animal takes up lots of space a low power animal tends to crawl up and take up less space.
What’s really interesting about this is that research has shown that just as low power feelings influence us to exhibit a submissive body language, our body language also affects the way we feel.
If you were to force yourself to smile, for example by biting a pencil, it will make you feel happier. This is known as the Facial Feedback Hypothesis (1).
Research by Amy Cuddy and her colleagues (2) has shown that by consciously altering your body language you can change the way you feel in a certain situation.
If you go against your natural inclination to hunch and take up as little space as possible when you experience low power feelings you can actually turn those feelings around.
This is done by exhibiting what the researchers call ”power posing” which in essence is a fairly straight forward technique.
What you do is essentially take up space. Instead of making yourself small you deliberately spread out and exude confidence.
Doing this for just a couple of minutes will significantly increase your testosterone (”the dominance hormone”) while decreasing your levels of cortisol (”the stress hormone”), effectively turning these hormone levels to those of powerful and effective leaders (3).
So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re stressing out, for example before giving a presentation, writing an exam or freaking out before a job interview as in the example above, remember to ”strike a pose”. 😉
Just a couple of minutes of faking dominant behavior will calm you down and make you feel more confident.
Acting Like an Extrovert
Posing like a powerful person isn’t the only way to change your mental state. One study (4) showed that acting like an extrovert, even if you are an introvert, makes people all around the world feel happier.
These findings are based on surveys taken by hundreds of people in the US, Venezuela, the Philippines, China and Japan.
Across the board, people reported feeling more positive emotions in daily situations where they either acted or felt more extroverted.
These findings supports those of an earlier study (5) which focused on the effects of extroverted behaviors such as being talkative, adventurous and having high energy levels.
In this study the participants were asked to act in an outgoing way for 10 minutes and then report back how it made them feel.
The results showed that even among introverts, acting in an extroverted way boosted their happiness.
If you’re normally a quiet and withdrawn person, faking outgoing behavior can have a big effect both socially and for your well-being.
Another way to fake it till you make it is to change your wardrobe (!). Research has shown that wearing the clothes of people you admire will actually transfer some of their qualities directly onto you.
In this study (6) the researchers wanted to know if the clothes you wear change your perception of yourself and change your own behavior.
To test this they performed an experiment where college students were given a white lab coat to wear before performing a cognitive test (known as a Stroop test).
One group were told they were wearing a doctor’s lab coat and the other group were told they were wearing a painter’s coat.
The group in the ”doctor’s coat” then preceded to completely blow away the test results of the other group.
All the participants knew, of course, that they were not doctors or painters. But it didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that they were wearing the exact same kind of jacket.
Just believing that they were wearing a doctor’s coat was enough to transfer some of the perceived qualities of doctors onto the group.
This research shows that if there’s a skill or quality you want to develop in yourself, dressing like someone who already possesses it helps you develop it yourself.
This isn’t magic, it’s simply a way to prime your brain to be more disciplined in developing the skills and qualities you want.
Fake It Till You Make It
… Or rather fake it till you become it, as Amy Cuddy puts it, has plenty of research behind to prove its effectiveness.
Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, whoever you want to become, there’s no need to put it off for the future. Research shows that a much more effective way is to start acting like you’re already there:
• If you want to be a writer, start calling yourself a writer.
• If you want to be more confident, act like a confident person.
• If you want to be more social, pretend you’re naturally open and talkative.
• If you want to be a runner, start wearing running gear.
• If you want to _____, start faking it!
Start faking right now, and your desired behavior, skills and qualities will follow.
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be.
Gradually, you will discover that you are that person,
but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”
– Paulo Coelho
- How does facial feedback modulate emotional experience?
- Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance
- Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
- The manifestation of traits in everyday behavior and affect: A five-culture study
- An intraindividual process approach to the relationship between extraversion and positive affect: Is acting extraverted as “good” as being extraverted?
- Enclothed cognition