The stress of going after your dreams and goals can one make lose track on the importance of how you stand, sit, or move. You can’t allow this to happen because other people instinctively pick up on the non-verbal signals we send.
And there’s an even better reason to think about body language: Science shows others pick up on your own nonverbal signals. How you stand, how you sit, and the gestures you make can have a dramatic impact on how you think, feel, and perform.
Fortunately, it’s easy. You don’t have to think about using body language to your advantage all day. Instead, just pick the times when you need a little boost of confidence, of creativity, or just to feel happier.
1. Want to be more sincere? Use the power of touch
Touch can influence behavior, increase the chances of compliance, make the person doing the touching seem more attractive and friendly, and can even help you make a sale.
For example, in one experiment the participants tried to convey 12 different emotions by touching another blindfolded participant on the forearm. The rate of accuracy for perceiving emotions such as fear, anger, gratitude, sympathy, love, and disgust ranged from 43 to 83 percent — without a word being spoken.
Say you’re congratulating someone; shaking hands or (possibly better yet, depending on the situation) patting him or her gently on the shoulder or upper arm can help reinforce the sincerity of your words.
The person will feel better about him- or herself — and you’ll feel better about yourself, because you will know you made a difference, however small, in another person’s life.
2. Want to be more innovative and creative? Lie down
According to Australian National University professor Darren Lipnicki, lying down can lead to creative breakthroughs.
“It might be that we have our most creative thoughts while flat on our back,” he says. One reason might be that more of the chemical noradrenaline is released while we’re standing, and noradrenaline could inhibit our ability to think creatively.
Sweet: Now we all have a great excuse to lay back, relax, and just think.
3. Want to have greater willpower and determination? Flex your muscles
Say you’re at the doctor and you need bloodwork. The sight of the needle automatically makes you tense up. Why? That’s your body’s way of trying to minimize pain.
Flexing your muscles also helps you to stay more focused when you hear negative information. And flexing can even increase your ability to resist eating tempting food.
(Sounds like we should be flexing all day.)
4. Want to feel more determined and persistent? Cross your arms
I know. Crossed arms signal to other people that you’re closed-minded or anxious. It supposedly sends a negative signal.
On the other hand, crossing your arms will make you stick with an “unsolvable” problem a lot longer and will make you perform better on solvable problems. That’s definitely cool, because persistence is a trait most successful entrepreneurs need in abundance.
In addition, crossing your arms can help calm you down if you feel anxious or stressed. (But if you don’t want others to pick up on it, do that in private.)
Whenever you feel stuck, try crossing your arms. And then keep pushing ahead.
5. Want to feel more confident? Do your best impression of Superman
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy says two minutes of power posing — standing tall, holding your arms out or toward the sky, or standing like Superman with your hands on your hips — will dramatically increase your level of confidence.
Before you step into a situation where you know you’ll feel nervous, insecure, or intimidated, strike your pose. (Just make sure no one is watching.)
I do it for a few minutes before every speaking gig. It definitely works.
6. Want to reduce stress? Smile
Frowning, grimacing, and other negative facial expressions signal your brain that whatever you are doing is difficult. So your body responds by releasing cortisol, which raises your stress levels.
Stress begets more stress, begets more stress, and in no time, you’re a hot mess.
Here’s the cure: Make yourself smile. You’ll feel less stress even if nothing else about the situation changes.
And there’s a bonus: When you smile, other people feel less stress too. Which, of course, will reduce your stress levels. So kill two stresses with one smile.
(By the way, smiling also makes exercising easier. Say you’re doing reps with a heavy weight. It’s natural to grimace. But if you force yourself to smile, you’ll often find you can do one or two more reps. Try it, but be prepared for other gym rats to look at you oddly.)
7. Want to make other people feel more comfortable? (And make yourself feel more comfortable?) Tilt your head forward
Tilting your head forward slightly when you meet someone shows deference and humility, and can help remove any perceived differences in status.
The next time you meet someone, tilt your head forward slightly, smile, make eye contact, and show you are honored by the introduction.
We all like people who like us, so if I show you I’m genuinely happy to meet you, you’ll instantly start to like me. And, in return, that will show me that you like me, and that will help calm my nerves and help me be myself.
8. Want to better understand someone else’s feelings? Mimic their nonverbal expressions
I know it sounds strange, but research shows that imitating other people’s nonverbal expressions can help you understand the emotions they are experiencing.
Since we all express our emotions nonverbally, copying those expressions affects our own emotions due to an “afferent feedback mechanism.”
In short: Mimic my expressions and you’ll better understand how I feel — which means you can better help me work through those feelings. Plus, mimicking facial expressions (something we often do without thinking) makes the other person feel the interaction was more positive.
9. Want to defuse an interpersonal conflict? Stand at an angle
When tensions are high, standing face to face seems confrontational. (Standing really closely, face to face, seems really confrontational.)
When you know what you say could make another person feel challenged, shift your feet slightly. Stand or sit at an angle.
And if you’re confronted by someone, don’t back away. Just shift to create a slight angle. You’ll implicitly reduce any perceived confrontation and may make an uncomfortable conversation feel less adversarial.
10. Want to improve information retention? Use your hands
Research shows requiring children to speak while they are learning has no effect on enhancing learning — but requiring them to gesture helps them retain the knowledge they gain.
If it works for kids, it will work for us, too. According to one researcher, “Gesturing can thus play a causal role in learning, perhaps by giving learners an alternative, embodied way of representing new ideas.”
Sounds good to me.
11. Want to feel happier and more upbeat? Chew gum
Granted, chomping on a wad of gum may not look professional. Still, a number of studies show chewing gum can make you more alert.
And improve your reaction times. And improve selective and sustained attention. And improve your disposition.
Here’s a thought: The next time you need to solve a difficult problem, lie down, cross your arms, and pop in a stick of gum. Maybe, just maybe, that will be the winning combination you need to achieve your next breakthrough.
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