#537 Fake it until you become it

Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy in a power pose, from TED video

Take 20 minutes to watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, “Your body language shapes who you are”, and you just might have one of the best and easiest success tools available.

The premise is simple. When we feel powerful, we open our bodies. We fling our arms wide, stand in a confident pose, sit with a comfortable attitude. When we feel powerless, we physically close down. We wrap our arms around ourselves, hunch over, fold up over our insecurities.

What is not so simple is what happens in our brains. Cuddy and her research colleagues found that powerful and powerless poses both caused physical changes in testosterone and cortisol levels. Change the pose; change the outcome.

Their study was published online on September 21, 2010, by the Association for Psychological Science. The authors concluded, in part:

By simply changing physical posture, an individual prepares his or her mental and physiological systems to endure difficult and stressful situations, and perhaps to actually improve confidence and performance in situations such as interviewing for jobs, speaking in public, disagreeing with a boss, or taking potentially profitable risks. These findings suggest that, in some situations requiring power, people have the ability to “fake it ’til they make it.” Over time and in aggregate, these minimal postural changes and their outcomes potentially could improve a person’s general health and well-being. This potential benefit is particularly important when considering people who are or who feel chronically powerless because of lack of resources, low hierarchical rank in an organization, or membership in a low-power social group.

Cuddy gives a personal example in her TED talk. Brain injured in a car accident, she went from being labeled gifted to being considered too limited to finish university. She was devastated but determined. Though it took her four years longer than her peers, she completed an undergraduate degree and then entered Princeton.

When her first-year talk rolled around, she knew she could not handle it. Convinced she was an impostor, she talked with her advisor, Susan Fiske, who coached her to fake it until she believed she could actually do it.

It worked. Years later, now a new Harvard professor, she had the chance to give the same advice to a shy, uncertain student who figured she was an impostor. The results were similar to Cuddy’s. The young woman faked it until she internalized the confidence she was portraying.

Cuddy’s advice is: “[D]on’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” Two minutes before you go into a stressful situation, practice some power poses.

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, oh, I really like I got to say who I am and show who I am.

Cuddy’s words really resonate for me. Recently I was approached by a woman who did a student project under me a few years ago. She wanted some advice on a job search and some reassurance before going into an important interview. I could feel her curling inward and gave her suggestions for projecting the bright, competent woman I knew her to be.

I could have saved a lot of words had I watched Amy Cuddy’s video first. Next time someone asks for similar advice, I will point them to this TED talk and simply say, “Fake it until you become it.”

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