Sit Up Straight. How to Take Up Space.

I had the pleasure of hearing Amy Cuddy speak last week at the WorkHuman Conference.  Amy has the second most viewed TedTalk and there is a good reason why.  She has terrific advice on how to be able to handle pressure without succumbing to fear and anxiety.  It was quite the thought provoking talk on how to be “Present.”

The interesting thing is that Amy models what she speaks.  She walks the talk in front of a crowd of some 1000 onlookers.  She is a petite woman but regardless she is a power house on the stage.  In addition, she points to the science to back up her claims and I’m going to outline them here.Sit Up Straight

Sitting up straight and other advice on being more powerful:

  • The 2 Minute Power Pose. I’ve been giving this advice to my students at Duke University for the last few years.   Right before we take the final exam, I have everyone stand up and pose like Wonder Woman or Super Man (whichever makes you feel more powerful) and we count to 120.  Studies have shown that doing the power pose for 2 minutes increases testosterone which makes you more assertive, confident, risk tolerant and competitive.  In addition, your cortisol drops with makes you less stressed, less anxious, more secure, and less fearful.  One of my students said after doing the power pose, “I’m going to do every day.”  What’s two minutes if you can go through the day more powerful? So I’ve been working on how I sleep as well.  It’s not like your mind isn’t reading your body while it sleeps.  No more fetal position for me!  I’ve been working on the power pose while I sleep.
  • Sit Up Straight. Turns out your mother’s advice was correct.  As Amy said, your mind and body are constantly conversing.  So whatever your body is emulating, the mind is readying.  She didn’t like “fake it till you make it” but rather “fake it until you become it.”  She asked everyone to look at their posture.  Suddenly we were all sitting up in our seats.  I’m sitting up straight as I write this.  When I sit up straight I feel more alert, more authoritative, more powerful.  One small change can make the difference in your entire day.  So imagining a string at the back of your neck and pull yourself up.
  • Don’t Cross Your Arms. This one is SO difficult for me.  It makes you appear defensive.  I am constantly crossing my arms, especially if a room is cold.  But when Amy modeled crossing her arms on stage?  She looked smaller.    Timid and weak.  So now I imagine myself in that important interview or project meeting.  If it happens to be in a cold room?  Or just by habit I cross my arms?  It’s not likely to be successful.  So habit or no.  Cold room or no.  Keep those arms open.
  • Think about how you walk. A power walk has more of an exaggerated swing to the arms.  Your legs have a longer stride. You posture is tall and erect.  Walking with purpose tells your body that you are powerful.  You are bold.  You are in control.  I’ve recounted a story before from my twenties where I was lost in Harlem one summer evening and being followed by some young men.  I turned on my power walk (I didn’t realize at the time that it would have a powerful effect).  Nobody was messing with me.  My fear and anxiety were dampened down and I got to where I was going safely without incident.
  • Own your space. I’m a tall woman.  I’ve spent a lot of life trying to appear petite.  To deny my presence if you will.  I’d find myself around petite women and I try to shrink myself.  This is not productive.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor, Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power.  I owned my space, my taller than the average woman body.  Accept your body large or small and own it.
  • Don’t fill in the void with your voice. Another huge learning experience for me is to accept silence.  Powerful people don’t fill space with their voice.  They lower their voice and speak slowly.  As Amy says in her book Presence, “When people feel powerful or are assigned to high-power roles in experiments, they unconsciously lower their voice frequency, or pitch, making their voices expand and sound ‘bigger.'” Our voices are affected by anxiety and threat- both of which cause us to speak at a high pitch.” Power up and lower your voice.

Be powerful.

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