After a harrowing scramble up Trapper Peak’s jagged Rocky Mountain scree face, I sat nervously on a tiny sliver of mountaintop surrounded by certain death in every direction.
There, at the summit of Trapper Peak, amid the awe-inspiring expanse of the Bitterroot Mountains, I drank in the most striking sunset of my life and felt vulnerable. Following an incredible summer of adventure, this was my last day in Montana before moving to Boulder, Colorado (the anti-Montana) and I was feeling emotional. Having arrived at the top of the tallest peak in Montana’s Bitterroot range, just in time to catch the sun’s descent meant our way down would not just be a race for daylight, but almost entirely in the dark. Add to that one wrong move on my part or the dog's and we could go tumbling towards horrible demise. Instinctively, I huddled down wrapping my arms around myself in absent-minded protection. Notice how my left arm is crossed over my chest, my shoulders are hunched and my legs are coiled as if I was trying to close in and make myself smaller.
It turns out that huddling was probably the worst possible thing I could have done to calm myself in that moment. Based on research by Dr. Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and Associate Professor at Harvard Business School, striking a power pose doesn't just cause a change in how others perceive us, but also has a significant impact on our body chemistry.
I didn't notice this defeatist body language at the time and it didn't occur to me until after listening to Amy Cuddy's TED talk that poses in which we close in on ourselves cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and a decrease in the dominance hormone testosterone, leading to feelings like jitteriness, weakness and submission. On the contrary, power poses, which involve opening the body and taking up space, cause a spike in testosterone and a drop in cortisol, leading us to exude calm, powerful strength.
In her study "Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance" Cuddy further demonstrates that high and low-power poses are linked to changes in risk tolerance. Assuming an open, spacious powerful pose for instance will cause an increase in risk tolerance, while closed, low-power poses result in the reverse. The body language of weakness, can thus makes the whole world seem like a darker, riskier, scarier place.
The takeaway is that our body's entire physiology is intricately linked and power posing is a self-fulfilling prophecy with real biological implications. So, do yourself a favor, take a stand (an expansive one), throw your arms up, and hold for two minutes. Cuddy's research shows that just two minutes is enough to stimulate higher levels of testosterone and decreased cortisol.
Check out the TED
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