Whether you’re a fast-paced entrepreneur or a business leader in a long meeting, powerful postures can help you work more efficiently.
“How we think is influenced by our posture,” says Sian Beilock, a cognitive psychologist and author of Choke: What the Brain’s Secrets Reveal About Getting It Right When You Need It (Free Press, 2010). “We shape our thoughts in a variety of ways, one of which is through our physical movements.”
Beilock is referring to a theory known as “embodied cognition,” which states that your brain deduces your feelings from your face and body. Do you have a lot of energy? Are you inspired? Are you bored? Your mind deduces this from your facial expression and body posture.
“Productivity is really about telling your brain, ‘I am in charge, I feel good, go,'” Dana Carney says, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Adjusting your body is the simplest way to send that signal.
According to Carney’s research, expansive body postures, also known as “power poses,” can put us in a productive mindset. The reason for this is even more intriguing: the postures work by increasing testosterone levels.
A dominant hormone, testosterone, gives your brain the confidence to take on a task and assures you that you can handle it. It doesn’t matter how much testosterone you have; what matters is the relative increase you get from the pose.
“When power poses are engaged, the amount of change in testosterone is like when you win a game,” Carney says. “The change is of the same magnitude.”
Also, when you stretch out, the energy you feel after a big win—the confidence that you can accomplish anything—comes on.
Whether you’re sitting in a meeting, on the phone, or working on a project alone, here are three expansive postures to try:
1) With your elbows out, place your hands on your head: This encourages you to sit up straight and open your chest, which allows for more free-flowing ideas. When you’re thinking about a problem, give it a shot.
2) Lean against the chair next to you with one arm: This doubles the amount of space your body occupies, giving you a more powerful feeling. When you’re in a meeting or on a crucial phone call, try this.
3) Extend or prop your legs on a footrest: Sitting at a computer restricts your body, making you less productive, so stretching your legs is a good way to compensate. When you’re replying to an email, try this.
Each posture allows you to spread your body out. Taking up more space signals to your brain that you are in a powerful position, which boosts testosterone and makes you more productive.
For female leaders, this can be more difficult.
“Because of social norms, women are at a natural disadvantage for power poses,” Carney says. However, that stumbling block is easily surmounted. Carney advises women to stretch their arms, straighten their legs (even if they keep them crossed), and wear loose-fitting clothing. “We have evidence that these poses are more beneficial to women than to men,” she adds.