Suellen and I went to the Tattered Cover bookstore (a Denver icon) last night to hear Amy Cuddy speak about her new book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges.
I’ve written about Cuddy before (here, here, and here) and use some of her work in my Critical Thinking class. We all have a general understanding of how the mind affects the body. Cuddy asks us to consider the reverse – how does the body affect the mind? Cuddy points out that the way we carry ourselves – our posture and body language – can affect our mood, thoughts, and performance. She introduces the topic quite well in her famous TED talk – the second most watched TED talk ever.
Cuddy writes that our posture affects our power over ourselves (as opposed to power over other people). When we adopt an expansive posture – making ourselves big – our power to manage ourselves and perform optimally increases. When we adopt a drawn-in posture – making ourselves small – we give away power over our own performance.
Cuddy is a fascinating speaker – her body language definitely reinforces here spoken language. I recommend the book. Just remember that were you stand depends on how you stand.
We know that smart phones are bad for your posture. And we know that posture has a strong influence on mood, attitude, and performance. So, could smart phones be undermining your mood and deflating your performance? Of course they could.
Let’s review what we know about two key ideas:
Smart phones and posture – we know that people tilt their heads forward to read their smart phones. The trendy term for this is iHunch. Anatomists more frequently refer to it as forward head posture in which the ear is “…forward of the shoulder rather than sitting directly over it.” As the authors at What’s Your Posture note, it’s like hanging a bowling ball around your neck and reduces lung capacity by as much as 30%. It’s also associated with “headaches, abnormal functions of the eyes and ears, and psychological and mental disorders.” Yikes!
Posture and performance – the concept of embodied cognition suggests that we think with our bodies as much as our minds. If we smile, our mood will improve. If we stand up straight, our confidence will improve. If we support an idea, we’ll stand up for it. If we want to help someone, we’ll bend over backwards for them. In very literal ways, our posture affects our mood and performance.
As Amy Cuddy pointed out in her popular TED talk, if we adopt a high-power pose for two minutes, our levels of testosterone increase and levels of cortisol decrease. The effect is to increase dominance and reduce stress. We’re more confident and our performance improves.
On the other hand, if we hold a low-power pose for two minutes, testosterone falls and cortisol rises. We’re more stressed and less confident. Our performance suffers.
What does a low-power pose look like? Well, … it looks a lot like the posture we adopt when we look at our smart phones. In a low-power pose, we make ourselves smaller. We draw ourselves in. We take up less space rather than more. In a smart phone posture we’re essentially doing all of those things at once.
As Cuddy pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times, “When we’re sad, we slouch. We also slouch when we feel scared or powerless. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that eerily resembles the iHunch.” By slouching over our phones, we’re making ourselves sad, fearful, and depressed.
When we look at our smart phones, we absorb new information. That information could be positive or negative. The posture we use, however, increases our stress and reduces our confidence. That tends to undermine the positive news and accentuate the negative news. We stress ourselves through our postures as much as our news sources.
What to do? As my father (a good military man) frequently reminded me, “Stand up straight. Look sharp, be sharp”. As it turns out, Dad was right. Oh… and breathe deeply, hold your head up, and take up more space rather than less. You feel better already, don’t you?