An unexpected way to reduce stress and raise confidence

Powerful people, and people feeling powerful, tend to be more assertive, more confident and more optimistic.

Having previously discussed the power of ‘weak ties’ in building out your network, in this, the second of three parts, I’ll share an unexpected and scientifically proven way to prepare for the next event you attend to reduce stress and raise your confidence.

In the first part you found out about the Challenge of Networking and the Surprising Power of Weak Ties. Research shows that a network of “weak ties” (acquaintances) is one of the best things you can have. Your strong ties can vouch for you. Your weak ties can help take you places you wouldn’t expect and help deliver on your dreams.

Most of us feel that prickly sensation when we’re heading to a function, event or a conference, when you know you’re going to have to meet and talk with people…some you know, plenty you’ve never met before.

If so, you’re not alone because the majority of people are uncomfortable in these situations. However pushing past it and connecting with people is worth it.

Here’s a potent way to make it easier to push past the uncomfortableness, connect with people and build your network of weak ties and probably one or two new strong ties …

An unexpected and scientifically proven way to prepare

What would you give to be (more) confident, assertive, optimistic and cool, calm and collected under pressure?

Imagine if all it took was to change your posture for just two minutes!

Amy Cuddy delivers us that reality with a captivating and inspirational TED talk: “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”

In her TED talk, that’s been viewed over nine million times, Cuddy shows us how to use her easy “no-tech life hack” to do just that. This is one of those things you might write off as being ridiculous….I’d suggest you briefly park your doubt and try it. Like Sam-I-am in Dr Seuss’s the Cat in the Hat you might just find you like green eggs and ham.

Here are the relevant key points:

They actually feel they're going to win even at games of chance.They also tend to be able to think more abstractly.

In both humans and the animal kingdom, nonverbal expressions of power and dominance are about expanding.Making ourselves big, stretching out,maximising the space we take up. It's all about opening up.

Both humans and animals do exactly the opposite when feeling powerless. Making ourselves small and minimising the space we occupy. It’s all about shrinking down.

Physiologically, feeling powerful or feeling powerless match up with differences in two key hormones:

Testosterone – the dominance hormone.

High testosterone correlates with being confident, and assertive and dominant

Cortisol – the stress hormone.

Low cortisol correlates with low reactivity to stress i.e. cool calm and collected under pressure.

We know that our minds change our bodies. Feel happy and we smile. Get a sudden scary surprise and our heart races and our cortisol spikes up. Cuddy wanted to find out if it was also true that our bodies change our minds.Could the way you hold your body change your thoughts and feelings and therefore change the physiological things that make up our thoughts and feelings. Specifically, in this case, could it have an effect on the hormones testosterone and cortisol?

To test this Cuddy identified the predominant “poses” for non-verbal expressions of high-power/dominance and for low-power/stress

Here’s what high power poses look like:

Image from Cuddy’s TED talk

Image from Cuddy’s TED talk

Image from Cuddy’s TED talk

Here's what low power poses look like:

Image from Cuddy’s TED talk

Image from Cuddy’s TED talk

Her experiments, using tests on saliva samples taken before and after the poses, found that performing high power poses for two minutes had the following results:

High Power Poses

  • Testosterone – increased by about 20 per cent
  • Cortisol – decreased by about 25 per cent

Low Power Poses

  • Testosterone - decreased by about 10 per cent
  • Cortisol – increased by about 15 per cent

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So changing your posture to either a high- or a low-power pose, for two minutes, leads to hormonal changes that transform your brain to be either assertive, confident and comfortable,or really stress-reactive, and feeling shut down.

She found that our posture really does govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies do change our minds. Not only does other people’s body language affect how we feel about them, but our own body language affects how we feel about ourselves.

What about when applied to a real-life situation?

This is something we can all relate to – a job interview. Cuddy and her team put people through a planned and structured, very stressful job interview in which the interviewees also knew they were being filmed and evaluated. Before the interview Cuddy had the interviewees do either high- or low-power poses. She then had independent reviewers watch the videos and make a decision about whether they would hire the person.The reviewers were blind to the conditions with no idea who'd been doing what pose.

For all the candidates who had performed the low power poses before the interview the reviewers said "We don't want to hire these people.

For all the candidates who had performed the high-power poses they said, "We want to hire these people."And they also evaluated them “much more positively overall”.

Crucially, what the candidates said in the interviews was immaterial. It was all about their "presence".

Two minutes, Two minutes, Two minutes – don’t you owe it to yourself to make the time?

Before you go into your next stressful situation try doing one or two of the high power poses for two minutes, in the elevator,in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors.As Cuddy says “Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation.Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down.Don't leave that situation feeling like, ‘oh, I didn't show them who I am’.Leave that situation feeling like,I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am.”

All you need is some privacy and two minutes,and it can significantly change outcomes.

The stunning bonus Cuddy found is that if you do it enough you actually become it and internalize it. You can permanently change your mind!

Cuddy found that you can fake it till you make it? When you pretend to be powerful,you will actually feel powerful and (unconsciously) act accordingly.

“Our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior,and our behaviour can change our outcomes.”

Try it in advance of your next meeting. It will help hugely with how you feel. You might dismiss it because it sounds so hard to believe, but the science supports it and it works. There’s a link to the full video of Cuddy’s TED talk in the foot notes[1].

Now you’re all ready to go talk to people to build that network of weak ties, in part three you’ll discover:

  • The secret to great conversations
  • What to do after the conversation


Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance. Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap (Columbia University and Harvard University)

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Campbell Such is GM IT for Bidvest, a wholesale food distribution business and a top 50 company in NZ. He has a varied career in New Zealand and internationally, working in technology, management and roles in marketing and sales. Reach him at and through his blog.

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Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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