Fake It Until You Become It

We all know the phrase “fake it until you make it”.  And if you’re honest with yourself you think, “that’s great until people figure out I’m faking it”.  

As it happens, faking it may help you become it.

This idea originates with social psychologist, Ann Cuddy.  Through her research on non-verbal expressions, she provides insights on what we can do to influence our minds.

My favorite tool for influencing my mind are TedTalks.  What I find refreshing about TedTalks is the wide variety of topics, presenters and the brevity of the conversation.  Speakers can deliver complex ideas and discussions in under eighteen minutes.  In under seven minutes you can hear Niki Webber Allen take on depression.  In eighteen, food guru Jamie Oliver passionately discusses sugar and what it is doing to our country.

Your body language shapes who you are.

In Cuddy’s TedTalk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, Ann takes some common warnings many have heard such as “don’t cross your arms” and “don’t close yourself off” and practically applies them.

Telling people to stop crossing their arms, stop scowling and sit up straight is obvious to anyone who has taken a psychology class, but Ms. Cuddy provides the importance behind doing so.  Her research reveals that by paying attention to those non-verbal cues (and doing things to change them), you can shape your mind and how you perceive yourself, not just how others perceive you.

I recently attended a presentation skills workshop in which Ms. Cuddy’s research was referenced.  The research shows testosterone (the hormone that governs confidence) and cortisol (the hormone that affects stress levels) both contribute to our confidence.  In her study, Cuddy found that high levels of testosterone and low levels of cortisol help us to feel more powerful.  Conversely, high levels of cortisol can increase anxiety and reduce our confidence.

The study observed power poses (arms open, chin up, hands on hips) produce higher levels of testosterone than more timid poses (small slumped posture, shoulders in, eyes downcast) and certain body movements or postures produce changes in hormones.

How does this relate to our roles in business?  According to Dr. Donna Van Natten, the body language doctor, understanding the power of non-verbal communication is critical in business.  Dr. Van Natten notes the 7/38/55 rule of communication.  This states that only 7% of our communication is outwards, while 38% is our tone of voice, and 55% is our body language.  I wasn’t aware of the rule either, but it comes out of research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian.

So, our body language in meetings or in speaking engagements is actually communicating a lot louder than our words – Too much eye contact, fidgeting, clasping your hands.  At some point it was decided clasp hands depict confidence.  This has since been shown to actually increase anxiety. Do not nod excessively – it is not only distracting; it makes you look like a bobble head.  Making yourself small – makes you feel small.  Invading others personal space is a no no – we all know and dislike a close talker.  Don’t forget, culture matters.  Body language has different meaning in different cultures.

If you want to portray confidence, do it and give it the Amazon warrior pose (otherwise known as the wonder woman pose).

So now that we know the importance of body language, can you fake it until you make it?  The answer is yes.  The same research shows when you assume a pose of power for more than two minutes, your hormone levels change.  Your body changes your mind.

The next time you have a presentation, an internal meeting, or an interview, try it.

Find a private space and pose for two minutes (think Superman or Wonder Woman without the crazy outfits or with… whatever works).  Configure your brain for confidence and reduce your anxiety.

Is this faking it?  Since Cuddy’s TedTalk, there has been plenty of opposition to her research and some say yes, it is faking it.  However, if you choose to believe in the power pose (or other things like putting a pen in your mouth will make you happy) your confidence will give you the platform to share your knowledge and ideas.  Regardless of any opposition to her work, what she says make sense when you think about it. Crossing your arms, scowling, crossing your legs – all of these feel extremely limiting. Believing in Cuddy’s research actually gives you the opportunity to become it, rather than faking it. Why wouldn’t we all want to become it? I believe it, I practice it and I become it.

What about you?