Close your eyes and imagine a fashion show. Beautiful gowns are floating down the runway, models in suits are powerfully striding forward, and each model is full of confidence and style. The beautiful clothes are the centerpieces, but how they are presented is also a crucial factor. Each model walks with confidence, holding her posture upright with an open chest, pulled back shoulders, and head held high. The posture and presentation are as important as what is being presented.
Putting a fantastic outfit together is an art form, but wearing it with confidence requires another skill set. Some of us are more natural when it comes to posture and presentation. We sit up straight, hold our heads high, and spread our limbs to take up more space. Others might have a more challenging time holding up their frames and opening to the world. But no matter how you stand, your posture affects your life via possible promotions, opportunities, connections, and self-confidence.
Why Is Posture Important?
Our posture and body language impact our daily lives:
What opportunities might come our way
Who we might meet
What successful partnership we might build
How confident we feel
If we see a person of interest standing or sitting straight with open body language, we sure will feel attracted to her. We will assume that the person is comfortable in her skin. And let's be honest, we are captivated by confident folks.
Now imagine the opposite. You see a person of interest who is slouchy, closed off, and trying to occupy as little space as possible. Would you want to reach out to him, or would you instead leave him alone? You would most likely pass by him.
And it is one thing if we are at a party and simply striking a casual conversation. But what if it is a job interview or a performance review. The person who sits up straight with proper posture will most likely get a promotion or job offer.
Study A: Posture Affects How Others See You
Our posture directly affects how we feel and what others think about us.
Harvard Business School conducted a study to evaluate whether high-power posing before a mock interview would increase one's confidence and lead to more favorable evaluation.
The study participants were to assume two power poses before the mock interview: high-power and low-power. The high-power pose is a wide-leg stand with arms stretched out, trying to occupy as much space as possible. The low-power pose is a slouchy stand trying to occupy as little space as possible.
The study discovered that people who assumed the high-power poses before an important meeting noticed increased confidence, less stress, or higher testosterone levels.
While participants who assumed low-power poses experienced low confidence levels, nervousness, and higher stress.
At the end of the experiment, the high-pose group received better evaluations and a high number of "job offers."
Thus, the study concluded that the high-power pose group did better because they felt in control, were less stressed, and projected confidence.
"The current experiment demonstrated that preparatory power posing affects participants' presentation quality during a job interview, influencing judges' evaluations and hiring decisions. The high-power posers, in contrast to low-power posers, appeared to maintain their composure better, project more confidence, and present more captivating and enthusiastic speeches, in turn leading to higher overall performance evaluations." Harvard Business School, The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation by Amy J. C. Cuddy Caroline A. Wilmuth Dana R. Carney.
Confidence in life, whether you are walking into a meeting or strolling down the street, radiates from inside out. While this skill might not be natural to all, it is certainly a skill we can practice. The more we practice, the more natural it becomes.
Study B: Posture Affects How You See Yourself
Let's say you do not care how the world sees you. You are comfortable with who you are and what you project to the world. But Ohio State study suggests that our posture affects how we see ourselves and how strongly we believe in our thoughts.
The study asked participants to write down positive and negative traits related to future professional performance. The students performed the requested task assuming one of the two posses: sitting up straight or sitting slouchy. After the first task, the same students were asked to rate themselves on how they would do as future professional employees.
The results showed that students rated themselves a certain way depending on their assumed posture during the first task. Students who were sitting up straight rated themselves in line with their positive or negative traits. They rated themselves highly on their positive traits and lower on their negative traits.
Meanwhile, students sitting slouchy did not express a wide range in their ratings, whether related to positive or negative traits.
It appears that the first group believed their thoughts more strongly while the second was less sure of what they wrote.
"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," Petty said. "But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in." Ohio State Research, Study: Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts by Jeff Grabmeier.
So the posture matters not only how people perceive us but also how we perceive ourselves.
Ways To Improve Your Posture
Posture and presentation are critical to life's success. We make snap judgments; others do, too, based on what we see. Posture is one of the first attributes we notice, and unconsciously, we are drawn to those who confidently stand tall and wide.
While some people are natural, others might need help building the good habits of standing straight.
An article from Harvard Medical School (Harvard Health Letter, Is It Too Late To Save Your Posture?) offers simple yet effective exercises that could improve posture by strengthening the upper back, chest, and core.
If you do not exercise, add exercise to your daily routine (but start slowly)
Strengthen your shoulder by squeezing your shoulder blades together for 30 seconds at a time
Strengthen your core by doing planks
Stretch your chest muscles by putting your arms behind your back, grasping both elbows, and holding the position
Cut down on activities that have led to poor posture
Take breaks from your computer, TV, and other activities that force bad posture
The research suggests that our posture is essential to our success whether we are being evaluated by others or ourselves. Straight strong posture makes us feel more confident and able to take on a challenge. And even if we are not born with it, we surely can improve our posture by paying attention and investing a little bit of time and effort.