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What to do to make yourself more confident, according to a Harvard psychologist

This tip could help you become a better leader and feel more confident

Elsa Vulliamy
Tuesday 02 February 2016 15:11 GMT
Psychologist Amy Cuddy assumes a 'high power' pose
Psychologist Amy Cuddy assumes a 'high power' pose (TED)

People who struggle with a lack of confidence or are naturally shy are often the same people who sit bunched up, make themselves small and occupy as little space as possible.

The Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has a simple piece of advice to make such people feel more confident and assertive.

Dr Cuddy is known for a TED talk she gave in 2012 about the significance of body language on confidence and success in the workplace or classroom.

Her research alongside Dr Dana Carney shows that by assuming ‘power poses’ such as the ‘wonder woman’ (where you stand with your feet, wide and your hands on your hips) or poses that take up a lot of space (like the typical ‘man-spread’) will alter the hormone levels in your brain after just two minutes and make you feel more confident, more powerful and less stressed out.

This behaviour is especially common in women: “Women are much more likely to [sit in low power poses] than men,” says Dr Cuddy “Women feel chronically less powerful than men, so this is not surprising”.

“Men carry themselves in much more expansive ways on average.”

“It’s middle school when you start to see your daughters collapse and wrap themselves up and hide.”

The problem is that the process works both ways: not only does feeling powerless make you assume ‘low power’ poses, but these poses are also going to make you feel powerless.

So what can you do to break this vicious cycle?

If you struggle with feeling stressed, powerless or under-confidence in your everyday life, Dr Cuddy advises you work power poses into your daily routine – and this begins as soon as your alarm goes off.

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She advocates stretching your limbs as far as they will go and making your body as big as you can as soon as you wake up.

“Especially if you’re a fetal, hand clenching sleeper like I am,” Dr Cuddy says in New York interview “When you wake up, just stretch out for a minute before you put your feet -on the ground.”

Assuming such ‘power poses’ and taking up more space can change how your body functions.

The two key hormones affected by low and high power poses are testosterone - the ‘dominance hormone’ - which will make you feel confident and more likely to take risks and cortisol - the ‘stress hormone’ – which will make you stress reactive to situations.

“High power alpha-males in primate hierarchies have high testosterone and low cortisol,” says Dr Cuddy, “and powerful and effective leaders also have high testosterone and low cortisol.”

In order to research the effect of ‘power posing’ on the mind, Dr Cuddy and her associates gathered volunteers in a lab and asked them to assume certain high or low power poses for two minutes.

'Low power' poses often involve folding in on yourself and making yourself small (TED)

They then were asked to gamble on some chance games, and a saliva swab was taken to measure their hormone levels.

Dr Cuddy found that those who had assumed ‘high power’ poses had a 20 per cent increase in their testosterone levels just from those two minutes of posing; and their cortisol levels had dropped by 25 per cent.

Those who were asked to take ‘low power’ poses had experienced a 10 per cent decrease in testosterone and a 15 per cent increase in cortisol.

The ‘high power’ posers were also 20 per cent more likely to gamble on a chance game than their ‘low power’ counterparts.

High power poses including the 'wonder woman' can alter the hormone levels in your brain (TED)

There are lots of other ways to work power poses into your routine after you get out of bed. “Sit up straight,” Dr Cuddy says “Rest your arms on the arms of the chair. Set up your work space so you have to reach a little bit.”

“Just simple things like that, that are part of your daily routine.

"One of my research assistants brushes her teeth with her hand on her hip!”

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