We’ve all been there – sitting across from that person holding your CV, glaring at you contemplatively while seemingly scrutinizing every word you say. You know you have what it takes, yet before you know it, your nerves get the best of you, and you end up improvising instead of delivering your oh-so-well-rehearsed speech about your accomplishments and qualifications.
What if I told you that instead of your nerves getting the best of you (or worse, in this case), you could quite literally control them, instead of them controlling you? Well, the answer lies closer to you than you might think.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we communicate through our body language. We wave as a sign of friendly recognition, bunch our eyebrows together when confused, nod our head as a sign of approval, or gracefully extend our middle digit when offended. But we also give off signs that we might not necessarily be conscious of—like when we bring in our shoulders when we feel inferior, or how we tend to lean forward when talking to someone we like.
It’s not surprising that people, especially those evaluating you, can tell a lot about you just by the way you compose yourself. But what truly caught my curiosity is when I heard that our body language could actually shape the way we think about ourselves. Intrigued about the possible implications, I watched a TedTalk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose video received an overwhelming 3 million views, claiming that faking a “power pose”—a wide stance with chin up and elbows out—can actually make you feel more confident and powerful.
According to her, adopting this ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy “changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and […] configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations.” Aside from thinking that it would look hilarious to just stand still like Superman for two minutes in the washroom before a job interview (cape optional), her claim reminded me of the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the ability to turn a false idea into something real.
I decided to investigate whether we really hold the power to change ourselves physiologically by “faking” a positive thought or an assertive stance. Well, many studies show that there is indeed a feedback loop between our body language and the emotions we’re feeling. One study found that people who are unable to frown due to botox injections “are happier, on average, than people who can frown.” Botox, anyone? Amy Cuddy even cited a study that found how our “judgments of political candidates’ faces predict 70% of senate and gubernatorial race outcomes.”
The point of all this is that even though this research seems to tell us to ‘fake’ a stance or facial expression to evoke an emotion, there’s an advantage in doing this, especially in today’s society where having self-confidence, successfully coping with stress, and feeling powerful are adaptive traits. As Amy Cuddy suggests, we can bring out these adaptive traits by simply manipulating our body language.
With the risk of sounding a bit philosophical, “if [you] define a situation as real, they are real in their consequences.” So next time you’re feeling nervous before a job interview or feel like you could use a confidence booster, do the power pose (bonus points if you wear a cape), and who knows, you might end up sitting on the other side of the desk sooner than you’d think.