Six years ago Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor, propelled the mind-body connection into the mainstream with her TED Talk on body language. Among many of her findings, one stood out. The work of Cuddy and her colleagues showed that adopting more expansive poses for just two minutes changed the way others think about us—even when we are no longer holding those poses. They tested their findings further by asking half of the study’s participants to hold certain postures, such as standing tall with hands on hips (the Wonder Woman stance) or leaning back on a chair with hands interlaced behind the head, while the other half were asked to adopt shrinking postures such as hunched shoulders or crossed arms and legs. Once they had relaxed into their positions, they were then asked to sit for job interviews.
The results showed that the postures held prior to the job interviews had a direct impact on how the participants performed. Those who adopted the expansive poses were deemed more hirable than those who adopted the shrinking poses.
Knowing that others’ perception of us changes a result of our physical actions and postures is helpful, but what was even more interesting about Cuddy’s studies was that they showed that short changes in the body didn’t just affect what others think—they actually change our own thoughts and emotions. These simple, expansive postures lowered the stress hormone cortisol in participants and increased their testosterone resulting in individuals feeling more confident and calm and able to handle stress. It turns out that when it comes to body language, the body talks and the mind responds.
Why is this helpful to know? It is helpful because it shows us that we have more power than we realize when it comes to setting a positive, calm and happy tone for our lives. We can practice becoming more mindful about what we are doing with our bodies and making small tweaks to influence our day.
In his book, Fear Less, meditation teacher, Dean Sluyter, suggests that by changing just our facial expressions, we can feel less fear and anger, and more positivity and happiness. And that change starts with a smile. Such claims are also backed up with research that shows that a smile can send a signal to the mind to be happy. For example, study participants that were asked to hold a pen between their teeth—forcing a smile—while watching cartoons found the cartoons funnier than those in a control group.
However, that doesn’t mean we have to walk around with a fake grin plastered on our faces. Sluyter recommends contrasting how an exaggerated phony smile feels versus a genuine smile–pretty uncomfortable. He suggests if a smile is not arising naturally, begin smiling with the eyes and then allowing the warm feeling that occurs to soften the face and take over the mouth.
Tyra Banks may call it “smizing” but Sluyter calls this gentle inner smile “resting bliss face” and suggests incorporating it into daily life several times a day to elevate our mood and change the mind’s thought patterns away from negativity and fear. For example, we can start the day with an inner smile when we wake up to set the tone for the day. He also suggests identifying stressful moments in the day and “applying your smile topically.” With practice, we can use our bodies and faces to create habits that actually change our moods more permanently. “Our brain prefers happiness to unhappiness,” says Sluyter. “We only need to cooperate a little, and it will rewire itself for happiness.”
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