There are plenty of simple strategies available on the internet on how to increase confidence, reduce anxiety, improve your capacity for stress, and boost your confidence, but most take time to implement and work. The best part of the technique you are going to learn today, is it works immediately and only takes two minutes to do. Here’s the deal…
Your Hormones, Confidence, and Stress Level
Stress can literally make your brain function at a lower level. One of the best ways to immediately begin reducing stress is to acknowledge it. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. has reported in a University of Pennsylvania dissertation that by acknowledging the anxiety or stress you feel stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain to produce GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid). GABA affects the entire central nervous system causing feelings of calmness and peace. Goldstein also states that the amygdala shrinks over times with mindfulness practice. The amygdala is responsible for emotional behavior and motivation. In the same dissertation, Dr. Siegel explains that mindfulness allows the higher functioning circuits of the brain to operate the lower circuits.
Research has been published by The University of Oregon, Harvard University, and The University of Texas revealing that powerful and effective leaders share like minds, and even hormone levels. More specifically, powerful leaders have been shown to have higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol.
Feelings of increased confidence can be linked to higher levels of testosterone, whether male or female. Stress can be dealt with more effectively with lower levels of cortisol, plus anxiety decreases.
Essentially, you can modify your physiology to be more confident, assertive, and relaxed through practicing certain body positions. Imagine being much less reactive to stress resulting in better handling of high pressure situations. Use poses to alter your hormones when you need to feel more confident or reduce stress.
Sounds good, right?
Take advantage of increased testosterone, reduced cortisol, and the leadership qualities that come along with it with your body posture. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard and Columbia University found through saliva that expansive poses (opening the limbs of the body) reduce the stress hormone and increase testosterone.
What does this have to do with feeling more confident?
Well, it turns out that one of the physical cues that impacts these two hormones is body language. And if you understand how to improve your body language, then you can increase your testosterone, decrease your cortisol, and “magically” feel more confident and risk tolerant.
Body Language: The Poses for How to Increase Confidence
Harvard University researcher Amy Cuddy who studies body language and the impact it has on your hormones. Body positions have been classified into “high power” open, relaxed poses, and “low power” closed poses.
The emergency mode or fight-or-flight response that you feel when stressed is because the sympathetic nervous system is in charge. General yoga poses such as downward facing dog, child’s pose, and savasana are great ways to signal calmness to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. Savasana (the corpse pose) is extremely effective for calming down the mind and body. This pose is effective because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and allows the sympathetic nervous system to rest. Allowing your parasympathetic nervous system to play more of an active role helps reduce stress, creating a better foundation for you to be confident every day.
Now that you know the techniques for reducing stress, you can incorporate the poses below for confidence in your daily life. Below is an image showing the different types of power poses.
Notice that High Power positions are open and relaxed. Low Power body language is much more closed.
A 42 student study conducted by Cuddy and her team of researchers studied the impact of both high power and low power poses on the body’s biochemistry. (Original article here.)
First, testosterone and cortisol were measured through saliva samples from each subject. After the sample was collected, the subject spends two minutes in either a high or low power pose. Then samples were collected again and the same hormones were measured.
Researchers easily concluded that body language has a significant effect on the body’s hormones. Putting the body in high power poses caused testosterone to increase by 20 percent, simultaneously decreasing cortisol by 25 percent. When the researchers looked at the results, they were stunned by the impact that body language had on the hormones within the body.
Take a look at the results in the graph below
High power poses increased testosterone levels by 20% (which boosts confidence) while simultaneously decreasing cortisol levels by 25% (which reduces anxiety).
How can you integrate this information into your life?
At the start of the day or even in the midst of the day you can take 2 minutes of your time to address how calm or stressed you are. Do some of the simple poses mentioned before to lower stress and allow higher cognitive function to occur. Remember that you can enhance the biochemical processes in the body through your poses.
Stand Like This for 2 Minutes Per Day
From Left to Right: Lynda Carter poses as Wonder Woman (Image courtesy of ABC TV and Amazon Archives). Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF stands in a high power pose (Image courtesy of Amy Cuddy). Beyonce strikes a high power pose during a performance (Image courtesy of Getty Images).
The “Wonder Woman” pose is a very common pose used by people in positions of power. Simply place your hands on your hips while standing tall with your chest out. Take a look at the images above to see how you can use this pose in different settings. Even though only women are pictured above, it’s important to note that men can use this pose as well.
The vinyasa yoga belly roll is an effective method to lower stress and boost your mood. Lay down facing the floor with a soft blanket rolled into a ball on your stomach. You can also use a ball wrapped with a blanket, just be sure it’s on the gut area. Roll from side to side with gentle pressure, ease the pressure if you feel any pain. This simple pose will allow you to release serotonin and reduce stress.
Apply Power & Calmness to Daily Life
Pay attention to your self awareness throughout the day to adjust your body according to your needs.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll get busy with other tasks and completely forget to check your body language. Because of this, I’ve found it most useful to insert a high power pose into my morning routine for 2 or 3 minutes and then move on with the rest of my life. It’s also beneficial to add a calming, relaxing pose to your morning routine for a couple of minutes, it’s a great way to wind down from the day as well.
Here’s a pattern that I have been playing with recently…
Each morning, I’ll wake up and stand in a high power pose for two minutes. While I’m doing that, I’ll close my eyes, breathe in deeply for a count of 3, hold for 1, and then breathe out fully for a count of 5. In this way, I combine breathing exercises, meditation, and power poses for a relaxing and confidence–boosting start to the day. The mindfulness that comes with doing these daily practices will affect your physiology over time making you less likely to react with a fight or flight response to life. The increased cognitive function that results will support your efforts to be a better leader.
Plus, it only takes 120 seconds. It’s kind of hard to say you don’t have time for it.
What You Should Do Now
It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.
—Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity
Just to be clear: I don’t believe that body language is the end–all, be–all of becoming more confident. Healthy food, exercise, environment, and your social life also play major roles in becoming a calm and confident leader.
That said, it is pretty clear that confidence is a two–way street that involves both your mind and body. Sure, your personality and your emotional state will impact your confidence levels, but it’s obvious that assuming better body language, taking up space, and expanding your physical presence can play an important role as well.
Most importantly, you now have another tool in your toolbox to use whenever you need it.
If you’re feeling stressed a few minutes before your next presentation, interview, or meeting — take a moment to adjust your posture and stand in a powerful position. Standing in a power pose on a daily basis will help you automatically stand this way during situations where you need to exude confidence. Put your hands on your hips, keep your chin up, and your chest out. Doing this for just two minutes will raise your testosterone, increase your confidence, lower cortisol, while also improving your ability to handle stress.
Your behaviors and emotions are firmly tied. The most powerful leaders don’t merely think a certain way, they carry themselves a certain way. You should do the same.
Watch Amy Cuddy’s 20–Minute TED Talk
Want more? You can watch Amy Cuddy talk about her research and the impact of body language in her 20–minute TED Talk. It’s well worth the time.
McCabe-Maucher, Aileen J., “A CHAIR BASED YOGA WORKSHOP FOR SELF-CARE AND STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR SOCIAL WORKERS AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS” (2015). Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) Dissertations. Paper 69.