Fake It Til You Make Itby Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 09/27/14
Growing up in Brooklyn I was always well aware of the need to look like I had confidence and knew where I was going, even if I didn't. I certainly know not to walk around carrying a map and looking lost in large cities where con artists and muggers might be just around the corner waiting for their next, clueless victim.
But it wasn't until recently that people started to study the physiological effects of "faking it til you make it." While psychologists and researchers have known for many years that acting "as if" can make you feel more confident, attractive, bright, funny....fill in the adjective....it is only recently that studies have confirmed that there are actual physiological responses.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, has become a TED Talk sweetheart, giving presentations, writing articles, and even being recruited by "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg to help develop teaching materials for her Lean In Initiatives. Research she did in 2010 showed that when a person spends time alone engaging in "power poses" such as feet on the desk, hands behind head, or standing with hands on hips and feet apart, the testosterone levels actually increase by about 20 percent and the stress hormone cortisol decreases by about 25 percent.
While this is information that can be useful to any of us in day to day life, such as presenting at a meeting, going on a job interview, asking for a raise, or wanting to present as confident on a date, where this information can be really valuable is when used with abuse victims, people in homeless shelters, and other individuals whose self-esteem has suffered. Dr. Cuddy recommends doing the "Wonder Woman Pose" (hands on hips, feet apart) for a couple of minutes each morning to build confidence. She has many followers who swear by her teachings and truly believe that engaging in the various power poses have helped them get jobs and achieve other successes.
While we have known for a long time that tall people earn more money, or that police officers use different sized chairs or stand up around a suspect to appear larger and more intimidating, these new findings are fascinating. I think of my own pets and the animals I have worked with and observed in the past. How many of us have witnessed an animal make himself "bigger" by puffing out his fur, standing up taller, etc, when scared or feeling threatened. Perhaps it is not just that it makes them seem bigger to potential predators, scaring them off, but maybe it also causes a chemical and hormonal response that gives them more confidence as well. For what we know about animal interaction, it is not out of the question that it causes a change in pheromones that only the other dog, cat, or raccoon can sense.
Now excuse me as I go put on my magic bracelets, grab my lasso of truth, and stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes.