- Posture is central to our body language – it can communicate to the world how confident or self-assured you are
- Power posing is the art of using bold gestures and posture to change how others perceive you
- Studies have shown that power posing can boost your confidence even when no-one else is watching
Being ordered to “sit up straight!” might be a distant childhood memory, but it’s incredibly common for adults to take a default slumped position. Whether you tend to hunch your shoulders, look downwards or fold your arms, it’s almost second nature to adopt a relaxed posture when you’re working a desk job.
Sedentary lifestyles and a propensity for scrolling on phones have been blamed for a plummet in good posture, and yet it doesn’t seem to bother us all that much. A 2019 study by Orlando Health found that less than half of Americans worry about posture.
Medical professionals, on the other hand, have been concerned with our slumped stances for a long while. Muscle strain, heartburn, headaches and incontinence have all been linked to bad posture.
“It’s not just when you’re scrolling on your phone, but any time you put your body in a less-than-optimal position, whether that’s reading a book, working at a desk or lounging on the couch,” says physiologist Nathaniel Melendez of Orlando Health’s National Training Center.
“People don’t realise the strain they’re putting on their body when it is not aligned correctly, or just how far corrective exercises and daily adjustments can go toward improving pain and postural issues,” he added.
In contrast, there’s a multitude of benefits to sitting up straighter – and these perks go far beyond our joints. Posture is part of body language. When you hold yourself tall and confident, you are telling the world that you are ready for any challenge.
“People who are – or think they are – the leader will subconsciously take up more physical space. They’ll spread their arms, spread their papers on the table,” according to body language expert Alison Henderson. “It’s all subconscious, as if they’re saying ‘I’m here, I’m prepared. Ask me anything.’”
Perhaps most surprising of all, though, is the effect that better posture may have on how you see yourself.
When you assume a confident look, there’s some evidence to show your body’s hormone levels can change – meaning that power posing can literally make you feel bolder, more capable and more outgoing. Here, we’re taking a closer look at the craze of ‘power posing’ – and why it can boost your confidence even when no-one else is watching.
What is good posture?
Our modern sense of good posture originates from 16th century military training. It showed a soldier’s discipline and determination, and this concept soon found its way into everyday life. Actors and the upper classes could hire experts in posture who would teach them to stand with an air of dignity and poise.
By the Victorian era, people began to associate bad posture with sickness, decay and even immorality. Corsets and other stiff undergarments were used to keep the wearer in an upright position.
Today, what counts as “good” posture is still up for debate. In a 2018 Guardian article, Luisa Dillner noted that many physiotherapists disagree about the best way to hold yourself, noting, “there is no agreed gold standard of good posture.” Some researchers remain sceptical about the benefits of changing how you stand and sit.
The NHS recommends plenty of stretches and exercises to fix poor posture, specifically to reduce muscle strain and back pain. Its advice page on the topic quotes physiotherapist Nick Sinfield: “Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way. But with a bit of practise, good posture will become second nature and be one step to helping your back in the long term.”
But there’s more to posture than its effects on your muscles. It also alters how the world sees you.
Standing with confidence
It’s widely known that politicians, public speakers and celebrities use confident body language to sway their audiences. Posture is one of many ways to send out the message that you know what you’re doing.
Posture and pose are even known to play a role in courtrooms, as lawyers who stand powerfully are likelier to seem trustworthy and capable. Writing for the ABA Journal, federal prosecutor Allison Letta noted, “It’s amazing, actually, how much your body can say without a word passing your lips. A tall spine and good posture say you’re confident… If you consider how your body language makes the jurors feel, you will encourage them to feel the best that they can about your legal arguments.”
How can posture affect your own mind?
In 2010, social psychologist Amy Cuddy conducted a study that found an extraordinary bodily change taking place when subjects stood in power poses. In what has since been dubbed the “Wonder Woman” pose, subjects were asked to stand in bold, assertive, upright positions for a few minutes. Afterwards, saliva tests found that the subjects levels of testosterone had increased, while their cortisol levels had gone down.
Testosterone (which is present in men and women) can make people more bold in taking risks, while cortisol levels are related to stress. Cuddy concluded that these hormonal changes from the power pose may give you a surge of personal confidence.
Another study in 2009 found that sitting up straight helped to make subjects believe in themselves. Those who sat up straight were likelier to feel more positive about themselves before an interview.
Writing for Psychology Today in 2012, Alex Korb noted on these studies, “Having a confident posture on its own might not be enough to improve your mood, but the research shows that it does modulate your brains response to your thoughts.”
“So if you want to be more confident in something (“I’m going to ace this job interview”, “I’m going to kill all the other tributes”, etc) then think these thoughts while sticking your chest out and keeping your chin up,” he wrote.
Having a confident posture on its own might not be enough to improve your mood, but the research shows that it does modulate your brains response to your thoughts. So if you want to be more confident in something (“I’m going to ace this job interview”, “I’m going to kill all the other tributes”, etc) then think these thoughts while sticking your chest out and keeping your chin up.
As Cuddy puts it, the message is not to “Fake it till you make it” when it comes to confident posture. Instead, she says, “Fake it until you become it.” By showing confidence in how you carry yourself, you may find it easier to show off the talents and capabilities you already have.