Powering Up: The Mind Follows The Body
Successful networking starts with a great mindset. After all, from the moment you walk into a room, others are assessing your confidence, optimism, level of happiness, and much, much more. And from this assessment, people determine whether they should “know, like, and trust” you.
Knowing that, adopting a mindset that inspires you to walk taller, smile broader, and have a bounce in your step will certainly help you have an improved networking experience. Your mind literally leads your body into it. Or does it?
Here’s the problem. It’s not easy to flip a mental switch and magically become confident and awe-inspiring, right? After all, networking can be uncomfortable, and the mind can be a fickle thing. Fortunately, science has given us some clues as to how we can consistently get in the right frame of mind.
For years, animal behaviorists have known that certain animals (such as peacocks, felines, and chimpanzees) express power through their posture. Fanning tail feathers. Maneuvering sideways. Bulging the chest.
Human are no different. We have certain open and expansive postures that express power and more closed, contractive ones that express powerlessness. And for years, researchers believed that when someone feels powerful (an attitude or mindset), the feeling manifests itself in how a person holds their body. That is, the body follows the mind. None of this is groundbreaking.
However, in 2010 researchers challenged this “body follows mind” notion and made the opposite assertion that the mind may actually follow the body.
In a social laboratory experiment, these researchers took 42 volunteers and randomly assigned each to be either a high-power or low-power pose subject. They then asked the subjects to assume two poses for one minute each. High-power subjects took high-power poses, low-power subjects took low-power poses.
After the test subjects completed both poses, researchers analyzed them in three ways:
- Risk Taking: Researchers gave each subject two dollars and the choice to keep the money or roll a die with a 50/50 chance of doubling their money or losing it all.
- General Feeling Survey: Researchers asked test subjects to indicate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 4 (a lot).
- Saliva Analysis: Researchers took saliva samples (one before the experiment and another 17 minutes after the experiment) to measure levels of testosterone (a hormone associated with feelings of power and control) and cortisol (a stress hormone associated with feelings of powerlessness and being challenged).
When compared with the low-power test subjects, researchers found that the high-power pose test subjects:
- Were more likely to take the gambling risk (86% versus 60%);
- Felt significantly more “powerful” and “in charge” (an average of 2.57 on the 1 to 4 scale versus 1.83 average); and,
- Had increased levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol in the second saliva sample when compared with the first.
What these researchers determined was that a simple power-pose was enough to significantly alter the test subjects’ physiological, mental, and feeling state with respect to a sense of power. Other similar studies report evidence to suggest that forcing a smile can increase feelings of enjoyment or that tilting your head upwards can induce a sense of pride.
In short, when it comes to a feeling of power (or happiness or pride or any other yet untested emotions), the body may follow the mind and the attitudes we hold. But there is also evidence to the contrary – the mind may, in fact, follow the body.
Applying the Science
It is easy to say, “Think confident, optimistic, and powerful thoughts. and that will come through as who you are.” When you find yourself in that real-life situation, however, thinking this way isn’t always easy.
As you stand at a networking event or prepare to meet with the local business icon for coffee, there is a lot going through your mind. It is hard enough to focus on what you need to say, let alone trying to think positive and confident thoughts.
Thanks to this research, you don’t have to. If you want to project a feeling power and control, assume a high-power stance, like standing tall with your hands on your hips. While you might not be able to conjure up a “take charge” attitude, feelings of power will well up inside you, and you will naturally start to feel in control.
Brashears, Matthew E., Humans use Compression Heuristics to Improve the Recall of Social Networks, Scientific Reports (Published March 21, 2013).
Dunbar, R.I.M., Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 22, Issue 6, June 1992 (Pages 469-493).
Goncalves, Bruno, Perra, Nicola, and Vespignani, Alessandro, Modeling Users’ Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar’s Number, Public Library of Science, August 2011, Volume 6, Issue 8.
Don’t Believe Facebook; You Only Have 150 Friends, All Things Considered, National Public Radio Staff (www.npr.org), June 5, 2011.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown And Company, 177-181, 185-186.
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