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Afraid To Make a Choice? Time To Don Your Superhero Cape

 Robert Daly/Getty Images
Robert Daly/Getty Images,

by Janice Holly Booth

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If you’ve ever left a job interview or a nerve-racking challenge wishing for a do-over, you’re not alone. Too often, we approach life’s biggest hurdles with dread, execute them with anxiety, and leave them with regret.

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, Ph.D., is best known for the second-most-watched TED talk in history, explaining how the simple act of “power posing” can significantly improve confidence and assertiveness. Life change is often accompanied by a self-perceived loss of power and strength. Feelings of insecurity, anxiety, discouragement and defeat follow. Self-confidence and ambition fall victim when we feel powerless. Cuddy’s research shows those crushing feelings must be neutralized before we can regain control over our lives and our choices and boost our self-esteem.

Restoring a feeling of power is crucial to the act of choice—choosing to take action instead of retreating. “When we’re deciding whether or not to do something—ask a person out on a date, raise a hand in class, even volunteer to help a person in need—we focus on one of two things,” explains Cuddy. “Either the possible benefits of the action or the possible costs.” Focusing on benefits means we’re more likely to make the choice to take the action. If we focus on the potential costs, we’re likely not to act, thereby avoiding possible dangers. “Power makes us approach,” says Cuddy. “Powerlessness makes us avoid.”

Being present during challenging moments is not about fooling other people. It’s about fooling yourself, just a little bit, until you feel more powerful, more present

“We know that our minds influence our bodies,” says Cuddy, “but can our bodies influence our minds?” She has studied the effect of “power posing” on levels of testosterone and cortisol, two hormones that significantly impact our confidence. When subjects adopted an open power pose (hands on hips, feet apart, erect spine) for just two minutes, their levels of testosterone rose, while cortisol dropped. Subjects who adopted a “closed” pose, (sitting hunched over, standing with feet together and arms crossed) saw a drop in testosterone and a rise in cortisol. “Power poses can help you be assertive and confident by increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol,” she says.

Before your next big challenge, whether that’s public speaking or making a life-changing decision, Cuddy recommends spending two minutes power posing…in private. “Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes,” she promises. “This kind of power becomes self-reinforcing. The thinking, communication and action that proceeds from it can only enhance it.”

Here’s your pre-decision warm-up:

1. Prepare for your day by power posing first thing in the morning.

2. In your home, office, and other personal spaces, you can look as dominant as you like. Take advantage of that: pose big in those spaces.

3. Make the most of privacy in public spaces. Pose in an elevator, a bathroom stall, a stairwell.

4. Don’t sit in waiting rooms, hunched over your phone. Stand or walk around instead.

5. If you can’t strike a power pose physically, do it mentally: imagine yourself in the most powerful, expansive pose you can think of. Be a superhero in your own thought bubble

6. If you’re about to face a challenging situation and you have no other option but to sit, wrap your arms around the back of your chair and clasp your hands together. This forces you to open your shoulders and chest.

“Being present during challenging moments is not about fooling other people to get the things you desire, then having to continue with the charade. It’s about fooling yourself, just a little bit, until you feel more powerful, more present—and it’s about keeping up the practice, even if it takes time to get there,” says Cuddy. Bringing your best self to your most important moments of choice—what to do, how to behave, where to go next—will allow you to make decisions with confidence.