Nearly everyone has felt anxious about speaking in public, taking a test, interviewing for a job, or meeting new people. You’ve probably heard that adjustments to your body language and posture can project an air of confidence – but did you know that good posture not only makes you look more confident, but also makes you feel more confident? Here’s how to look and feel confident according to renowned body language experts.
- How Body Language and Posture Affect Confidence
- What is Confident Posture?
- Tips for Confident Body Language
How Body Language and Posture Affect Confidence
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy famously gave a TED Talk in which she discussed how body language influences not only how others view us, but also how we view ourselves. Her research found that adopting confident postures, or power poses, creates self-confidence. Though some have questioned Cuddy’s findings, her team published a comprehensive analysis of 55 studies citing strong evidence that posture influences confidence (learn more on TED.com).
Cuddy isn’t the only researcher who has found a link between posture and confidence:
- A San Francisco State University study found that students who were anxious about a math test found the questions easier and less intimidating when they sat up straight instead of slouched. Researchers surmised that slouching tells the body we’re not safe, making tasks more difficult, while sitting up straight expands lung capacity so more oxygen can get to our brains, increasing our ability to focus. A confident posture, then, has a psychological and physiological impact on confidence and even performance
- An Ohio State University study asked participants to write down why they were qualified for a job. Those who sat in an upright posture were more likely to believe what they had written than those who slouched, suggesting that posture influences confidence in our own thoughts
- Another study published in Health Psychology asked participants to perform a series of tests, then assessed their mood, self-esteem, threat perception, blood pressure, and heart rates. The study concluded that sitting upright instead of slouched when stressed can improve self-esteem and mood, and that sitting upright could be a simple way to build resilience
Clearly, many experts agree that posture influences confidence.
“Good posture, chin up, head held high, and positive body language gestures will produce positive thoughts. If an individual is nervous and anxious and only employs negative body language gestures, he will remain with a defeated outlook and negative attitude,” says Jan Hargrave, a body language expert and trial consultant. “If, on the other hand, they are nervous and anxious, but use confident, powerful body language, their mind will overcome their body and they can overcome negative feelings.”
Physiology to Neurology: Body Language Influences the Mind
Body language can help influence your thoughts, which can in turn make you more confident.
“Most of us have the same thoughts every day, 40,000 thoughts a day, and our thoughts create our reality. What really needs to change is our thoughts and what we tell ourselves every day,” says deception detection expert and investigation consultant Traci Brown, who is one of the world’s foremost body language experts. “What body language can do is start to create a neuropathway to fundamentally tell yourself something different, to make a change so that confidence becomes a byproduct of creating neuropathways through body language. It’s really a bigger question than just body language and confidence; it’s how the brain is working and what you’re willing to do to master your mind and the results you get.”
Brown recounts when she was invited to pitch her business to Shark Tank at a National Speakers Association conference, where she would present to an audience of more than 2,000 of her peers – a situation that would make even the most seasoned public speaker nervous.
“It was like chum in the water out there. I’m a professional presenter, but using a new script on the most prestigious stage anyone can present on and around people where my reputation was at stake,” she says. “I was going into the most important presentation in my life, and I was shaking backstage.”
She tried deep breathing, but it didn’t work. Then, she reminded herself that she is an expert in public presentation and performed the power steeple – a body language maneuver in which you steeple your fingertips together in front of your body.
“I did my finger steeple, and within a minute, I stopped shaking and felt all the stress and tension drain right out my feet. I went out there and crushed it,” she says. “I got a deal because I took control of my physiology, which in turn let my neurology settle down.”
What is Confident Posture?
Confident posture incorporates some of the same tenets as standing and sitting with good posture – such as keeping your ears over your shoulders, chest expanded, and shoulder blades retracted – but adds elements that project inward and outward confidence.
Hargrave offers the following general tips for confident posture:
- Appropriate, direct eye contact
- Head held high
- Chin out (not up)
- Shoulders level and back (attempting to touch your shoulder blades to each other)
- Arms casually by your sides (not touching your body)
- Feet placed shoulder width apart
Brown says that projecting confidence is contextually based – you might adopt different poses for different situations – but making yourself bigger is often a successful strategy.
“All body language boils down to ‘where the body goes, the mind follows,’” she says. “Not only do you show confidence by making yourself bigger, but you can actually create confidence within yourself by making yourself bigger.”
What does it mean to be “bigger?”
- Sitting and standing straight
- Spreading out and taking up more physical space when sitting or standing
- Open body posture (not crossing arms in front of the body)
- Feet shoulder width apart when standing
Some experts recommend power poses for confidence.
“Power poses are typically used when an individual has to command control of a situation,” says Hargrave, who adds, “Yes, power poses should and can be used in every situation, including family discussions, office meetings, interviews, presentations, classrooms, courtrooms, and in virtual meetings.”
Power pose examples include:
- Superman/Wonder Woman: Stand up straight, chin tilted up, hands on hips
- Victory: Arms held high over your head, forming a "V"
- Loomer: Stand with your hands on a desk or chair and slightly lean forward
- Vanna White: Stretch an arm out for emphasis, like the "Wheel of Fortune" co-host
- Salutation: Arms stretched horizontally with palms up and head tilted toward the sky
- Lean Out: Leaning back while seated in a chair
- Mr. Clean: Arms crossed in front of your chest, back straight, shoulders back
- Obama: Hands behind your head, feet crossed on desk, leaning back in a chair
- Power Steeple: Fingertips tented together in front of your body
Both Brown and Hargrave recommend the power steeple, where you tent your fingertips together at either chest or waist level with your arms slightly away from your torso.
“My favorite is the power steeple. It’s one of the best things you can do to create confidence in a very covert and small way,” says Brown. “It synchronizes the left and right hemispheres of your brain. When we get in an anxious state, one side of the brain is working and the other is going along for the ride. When we synch both halves of our brain, we end up in a state where there is much more inflow, and that will enhance performance.”
Use Postures That Inspire Self-Confidence
Keep in mind that these should all be taken as general tips, as Brown explains that the best posture for confidence is the one that makes you feel more confident, not necessarily what’s published in a scientific study.
“I get frustrated at studies because they’re done on 20-year-old university students where they pay them $20 to come in for a few minutes and do a study in a Psych department. They write the results up in a journal and that’s the way it is,” she says. “So, it’s a little frustrating that they’re not more widely investigated. It’s not a comprehensive study [conducted on people in professional or personal settings].”
“Whether it’s anecdotal or scientifically proven, what matters is what works for you,” she continues. “Whatever you need to create confidence in yourself, if it’s the superman pose, power steeple, standing up straight, then do it because it can improve your performance and dramatically change the results you get and what you are able to do in life.”
Tips for Confident Body Language
In addition to posture, these body language tactics can help promote confidence.
- Make eye contact
- Avoid fidgeting
- Use non-threatening hand gestures
- Make slow, deliberate motions
- Employ facial expressions
- Practice your body language in front of a mirror
Ultimately, it’s important to always be mindful of what your body language is signaling to yourself and others.
“Constant awareness of nonverbal communication and the impression that we leave on others has to be an everyday thing and always on your mind,” says Hargrave. “People will begin to form their impression of you in the first two to seven seconds of meeting you, and first impressions seldom change.”
Eliminate Unnecessary “Displacement” Gestures
Hargrave says that it’s important to eliminate unnecessary “displacement” gestures such as:
- Hair tossing
- Arranging clothes
- Wringing hands
- Scratching your face
- Playing with jewelry
“An individual who uses too many unnecessary gestures appears frightened, nervous, and even deceptive,” Hargrave explains.
Posture Correctors Can Help
Browns says that posture correctors can “absolutely” help you practice good posture. Posture correctors are designed to gently retract your shoulders and align your spine. Passively, they help you find good posture; actively, they train you over time to establish the muscle memory required to maintain proper, confident posture without the corrector.
“Posture correctors can easily train the muscles to remain in a certain pattern,” says Hargrave. “Muscle memory, constant conscientiousness of appearance, and repetitive movements stay with us forever.”
Keep in mind that not every posture corrector is created equal. Cheap, low-quality braces are often uncomfortable, hot, and won’t last, so look for a doctor-recommended corrector that you’ll be happy to wear. The best posture correctors:
- Are lightweight and comfortable
- Are made from strong, durable materials
- Can be worn over or under clothing
- Feature styles appropriate for both men and women
Proper posture can help you not only appear more confident, but also feel more confident, which can in turn influence your performance and others’ perceptions of you. Follow the tips outlined here to adopt a confident posture that helps you achieve success.
“There’s never a time that you can’t use more confidence, whether you’re in an elevator, going to a meeting, before an important call, or before a date. When you’re in a pinch – whether a big or small situation – confidence is sexy,” Brown says. “It doesn’t take very long, and the results can pay off really, really big. Body language is a small part of human performance, but it can be a great way to move forward super powerfully and start to create real change in yourself and what happens with other people.”
Ready to look and feel more confident, starting today? BackEmbrace gently guides you into a confident posture and builds muscle memory for ongoing confidence