When we think of body language we tend to look at it from a top-down approach. In other words, we will think of it as something to be ‘read’, something that can give us insights into the way people think and something that can help us to understand them better as a result. A typical example is dating, where we will try to assess the body language of a potential partner in order to discern whether they may be interested in us or not, and in order to see which of our moves are being best received.
This is not the only way that an understanding of body language can be beneficial to us however. Thinking about our own body language can also enable us to send the right unconscious signals to people and that way impact on our interactions. By folding our arms we appear closed off and unsociable, so it makes sense that we should open our body language up in order to communicate openness and make a better impression on people. By mimicking body language we can show that we like someone and build an unconscious sense of rapport, so we can use that to impress dates or be more effective in face-to-face sales.
But there’s a third aspect to body language too, and that’s the way that it actually affects the way we think and feel. Research has shown in several studies that it’s possible to alter our confidence, our mood and much more by simply changing the way we sit or stand. By changing the impression we give off to others, we can also change the way we feel about ourselves and eventually become the person we’re trying to convey that we are. If you’re sitting slumped at your desk right now, then you may be unintentionally making yourself feel more tired and less positive. Let’s look at how you can change that, and further use your body language to become a confident, successful and powerful individual.
The Victory Pose
If you have ever watched athletic sprinting, then you will be familiar with the pose that the runners tend to pull when they cross the finish line: arms out above their heads in a large V shape as they continue to run around, potentially with their shirt over their heads. Footballers do it too, as do pretty much every other type of athlete.
You’ve probably done this too at various points in your life, whether it’s after you completed that level of Super Meat Boy or when you passed your driving test. I’m confident you’ve done this pose at some point, because it is in fact a universal pose. That is to say that people who are congenitally blind: who have never seen anyone else pull this pose in their lives, have also been found to use the same gestures. And in fact, the very same pose is used in the same way by our primate relatives. In short, this is a universal gesture that is hardwired into our biology.
The essential purpose behind this gesture of course is to take up as much space as possible by widening your arms, and to expose yourself thereby showing confidence. This pose is an expression of confidence and power then, but more importantly it can also cause those feelings.
In multiple studies it has been shown that pulling the victory pose – even when you’re not feeling particularly victorious – can trigger the release of more testosterone and dopamine. This in turn leaves you feeling happier and more confident and can affect your behaviour. It has also been shown that this can in turn affect your performance and the way other people see you. By simply doing the victory pose in the bathroom for a couple of minutes before a big interview you can improve your performance and significantly increase your chances of success. This isn’t because you look more confident, it’s because you’ve become more confident.
The same is true for a number of other gestures, gesticulations and expressions. It’s well known for instance that by simply smiling you can actually make yourself feel happier and increase the production of serotonin. This is due to a process called ‘facial feedback’ – wherein you feel the expression you pull. This is even true if you are forced to smile in an unnatural way – hold a pencil in between your teeth and you’ll find your mood is elevated even though you didn’t intend to smile.
Other gestures and body language tricks are things that we innately know. By raising your chin and looking slightly up you can find yourself feeling more optimistic, and by puffing your chest out you can make yourself feel more powerful. Cross your legs or hunch over and you will feel ‘smaller’ and less successful as a result. Reclining meanwhile can help you to feel more relaxed and more at ease – worth trying if ever you’re feeling stressed.
So when your Mum next tells you to ‘sit up straight’, listen to her. You won’t only improve the way you look and the way others see you, you’ll also make yourself feel happier, more powerful and more successful.