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Cornell University


by Nick Pidgeon, reprinted from REFOCUS, Vol. 19, 2014

Mark Twain probably wasn’t thinking about TCI training when he wrote, “All you need is ignorance and confidence and success is sure.” But if he had been thinking of us he would have been half wrong, half right. Ignorance doesn’t help: you need to know your stuff. But you do need confidence.

One of the things that has struck me during the many years I have spent training people to become TCI trainers is how confidence varies. Some people are nerveless when they first start training; others are anxious. Some people take to TCI training like a duck to water; others like a duck to the oven. If you are one of those people who lacks confidence as a trainer, if you are one of those people who calls out “more confidence to train” when we ask for your expectations at the beginning of the training for trainers week, or an update, then there is a trick that might help.

But first the background. In TCI we talk a lot about body language. We train participants to consider the effect of their body language and facial expression on children. But psychologists now have a lot of evidence that there is someone else influenced by our nonverbal behaviour. This person is our self. Body language, so many psychologists are now telling us, doesn’t just send a message outwards. It sends a message inwards as well. This is known as proprioceptive psychology.

You can repeat one of the classic experiments. (It’s best not to do this if you are in a restaurant right now.) Take a pencil and hold it lengthways between your teeth. Make sure your lips don’t touch the pencil. This forces your mouth into the shape of a smile. Within moments it is likely that you will begin to feel happier (Strack 1988). Others have replicated this finding including Schnall and Laird (2003) who demonstrated that the effect continues long after the pencil is removed.

Other examples of findings in proprioceptive psychology are that people made to nod viewed products most positively than those made to shake their heads (Forster 2004). People asked to sit upright rather than slouch while taking a math test felt happier and obtained higher scores (Roberts and Arefi-Afsha 2007). (Although this finding applied mainly to men. Apparently women are just as mathematically skilled in any sitting position.)

What about confidence? Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School and her collaborators looked at how posture is related to feelings of confidence and power. She noticed that confident, powerful people make their bodies big. For example they stand up straight and put their hands on their hips. She confesses that the media have dubbed this the “Wonder Woman” pose. If sitting, powerful people do things like splaying their legs and hanging an arm across the chair beside them. People lacking in confidence do the opposite. They make their bodies small, for example leaning forward, clutching their hands together. Cuddy discovered that just as in the pencil experiment, people forced to adopt these postures felt and behaved differently afterwards. Those asked to adopt a power pose felt more confident and assertive. Those asked to adopt a submissive pose, less confident and assertive. They even discovered that such poses affect the hormones in our bodies. Power posing increases the level of the power hormone testosterone and decreases the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Submissive posing has the opposite effect.

The surprise was that people weren’t asked to stand like “Wonder Woman” all afternoon to achieve an effect. Two minutes was enough. After just two minutes adopting a power pose subjects in experiments felt more confident and behaved in a more assertive manner. In mock interview situations they came across as more convincing and more likely to be offered a job.
Is this just an interesting quirk of how we humans operate, or are their practical implications? I think there are. There could be implications for anyone lacking in confidence or feeling depressed. How we hold our bodies can increase such feelings, or it can decrease such feelings.

There are also implications for anyone in a situation in which confidence is important. Like training. So here’s the training tip. If you are lacking in confidence before training adopt a power pose for two minutes. Stand like “Wonder Woman” or, even better, like Usain Bolt at the end of a race. Like most people in moments of triumph he holds his chin up and sticks both arms wide in the air above him. After two minutes in a power pose it is likely that your testosterone will increase, your cortisol decrease, and you will feel more confident and perform better. But remember not to do this in front of your group. That will probably not enhance your training. The idea is to go somewhere private like a rest room or empty office for two minutes before you train.

If like me you find this idea intriguing then take 20 minutes to watch Amy Cuddy’s funny, inspiring and moving talk. Google: “Amy Cuddy TED talk”.

Stack, F., Martin, L.L. & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobstructive test of the facial feedback hypothesis.
Schnall, S. & Laird, J.D,. (2003). Keep Smiling: Enduring effects of facial expression and postures on emotional experience.
Forster, J. (2004). How body feedback influences consumer’s evaluation of products.
Roberts, T.A,. & Arefi-Afsha, Y. (2007). Not all who stand tall are proud: Gender differences in the propioceptive effects of upright posture.
Carney, D.R., Cuddy, A.J.C. & Yap, A.J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays effect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance.
Nick Pidgeon, Bridge of Allan, Scotland.