The Proven Way to Feel Less Anxious, More Confident & More Empowered in Two Minutes

The Proven Way to Feel Less Anxious, More Confident, & More Empowered in Two Minutes

Anxiety is such a human experience. Anyone who has stretched themselves far enough to do something brave would have scraped against it in some way. If anxiety could, it would throw its wild warrior arms around us, smother us with kisses and tell us it was there to keep us safe by warning us of danger and getting us ready to deal with it. Too often though, that ‘danger’ is more a challenge than a threat, and what we need is not to be held back from it, but for anxiety to step aside so we can move boldly through the middle of it.

Groundbreaking research from Amy Cuddy at Harvard has found a way to make this happen and to feel more empowered, confident and to have greater influence – and it only takes a couple of minutes. By striking a ‘power pose’ and holding it for two minutes, anyone can feel more like boss of the world, even on those days when feeling boss of your toothbrush is a stretch. And we’ve all had them.

We tend to be steered by our thoughts and our feelings, but our actions can have enormous influence over the way we feel and the way we are seen. It all has to do with the mind-body connection. We know that our minds have a spectacular capacity to influence what we feel in our body. Anxiety is one example of this. If our brain tells us there’s something to worry about, our body instantly feels the full effect – a racy heart, clammy skin, butterflies, dry mouth, sick, tense, wobbly. One thing that can be said about anxiety is that it’s thorough, even if a little misguided at times.

The mind-body connection also works the other way. What we do with our body has the capacity to influence how we feel, which affects our behaviour, which in turn changes the way we are seen. What this means its that we all have a profound capacity to influence how we are perceived by others.

Feel less anxious, more confident? Tell me how.

Striking a power pose for two minutes will change the brain in ways that will reduce anxiety and build confidence and assertiveness. This, in turn, will change the way others experience you. The pose can be done in private. It’s not important that other people see the power pose in full flight, as glorious as that is likely to be. What’s important are the physiological changes that are triggered by the pose. These are what will have the effect on the way you actually feel, which will in turn have an effect on the way you are seen.

Any pose that increases the space your body occupies is a power pose. Think Superman with legs wide apart, hands stretched out in front, chin up, chest out. Alternatively, channelling Wonder Woman – legs apart, hands on hips, shoulders back and chest – will also have the same effect. Ditto for a starfish pose – arms and legs outstretched and wide apart. In short, a power pose is anything that makes your physical presence bigger.

We make our minds up about people in seconds. Though these impressions are never a definitive guide to the other, we are very quick to pick up signals relating to warmth, approachability, confidence and influence. There are evolutionary reasons for this – we need to be able to figure out quickly if the person in front of us is more likely to be a lover or a hater. To make these judgements, we look at a host of non-verbal signs including posture, facial expressions, and general physical presence.

Striking a power pose for two minutes will effect those non-verbals in a positive, powerful way. When our body is allowed to feel powerful for a couple of minutes, our mind will listen and will project this image forward. 

Convince me. What’s the evidence?

The research on this was conducted at Harvard by Amy Cuddy and colleagues, and the results have profound implications for all of us. The study found that when people held certain poses, there were measurable changes in the levels of testosterone (the dominance hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone). Specifically, when people expanded themselves into a high power pose for two minutes, they experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. Higher testosterone leads to greater confidence, while lower cortisol leads to an increased capacity to deal with stress. It’s a powerful combination. 

On the other hand, low-power poses, which is any poses that diminishes or shrinks physical presence, lead to a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. This means less power and higher stress. Any pose that diminishes the physical presence will have the effect of increasing stress levels and lowering confidence, causing you to be seen as less influential, less confident and more anxious. Low-power poses include hunching, folding the arms, crossing the knees and ankles tightly while sitting, or touching the face or neck. 

The beautiful thing about power posing is that it can be done anywhere at any time. It can be used to full effect before a job interview, a date, an exam, against the bullies, negotiating the price of a car, before a presentation, when you want schoolbags dropped somewhere other than the doorway, when you want to say ‘no’ but feel like you’re going to say ‘ahhh not sure … maybe … okay … love to … absolutely’, or any situation that feeling more powerful and more confident will boost you.

Remember, the pose doesn’t have to be visible to your audience – that’s the brilliant thing about it. You might not want to ‘Wonder Woman’ it in the middle of a job interview, but taking time before-hand will make a difference to your physiology, the way you feel and the way you are seen. 

Our minds can tend to have a mind of their own and when they do, they can be persuasive. They can undermine confidence and influence the way we are seen by others. Regardless of how we feel or what we think, expanding ourselves physically by way of a two-minute power pose, is a proven and powerful way to be more present, more confident, more assertive and more influential. 

5 Comments

S

LOVE THIS! ❤️ Thank you for this wonderful article and for the empowering and positive influence your organization puts out into the world! We need it.

Reply
Wendy

My mother is a covert narcissist and has completely turned our family upside down since she moved here and actually since we were younger but she looks like Martha Stewart however my husband was brutally attacked as a child and has been going in and out and on and off the medication and is 60 they are looking for a therapist that specializes and digging deep what they called naturalization therapy what do you think of this type of therapy

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Wendy I’m sorry this is happening to your family. One person can do so much damage can’t they. Naturalization therapy isn’t a type of therapy I’m familiar with, so I’m not able to comment on that with any authority. I hope your parents are able to find the support they need.

Reply
Isobel Harries

I listened to a programme about this very subject on BBC Radio 4, Women’s Hours recently. I have been striking up my Wonder Woman pose every day since and it really does help me feel better and more significant.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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