Power Poses: Science or Snake Oil?
Have you heard of “power poses”? Between Amy Cuddy’s TED talk (one of the top 20 viewed TED talks of all time), her book called Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, numerous parodies and all the articles, chances are you have. And if you’ve been following my blog or social media posts, you almost certainly have—I often cite Cuddy’s research regarding how expansive body language (aka, “power poses”) increases testosterone levels, making you not only look more confident, but feel more confident.
But awhile back, Dana Carney, one of the co-authors of Cuddy’s study, refuted the findings, saying that she no longer believes that the “power pose effect” is real. Um… Uh-oh! This is a bit of a problem for those of us who have been touting this research as a way to communicate and experience confidence.
What is the truth?
Amy Cuddy has been inundated by viewers claiming that her TED talk changed their lives—or at least it helped them overcome a scary challenge. Yet even Cuddy has said that though the results of her study have been replicated, the rise in testosterone levels from power posing is not big enough to explain the enormous success thousands of people are experiencing from practicing them.
Power posing is a trigger. When you are about to give a big presentation, you’re gearing up for a difficult conversation, you have a performance or an exam or you’re facing any other big, hairy, scary, nerve-wracking experience and you pause to power pose beforehand, that simple act does a lot more than elevate your testosterone levels.
What else happens?
You can’t help it. It just happens. And there is no refuting the evidence that deep breathing calms your system and allows you think more clearly. It also communicates to others than you are not threatened by the current situation—you are confident and capable.
You get present.
By doing a physical act that requires you to focus on your body, you bring your attention to the here and now. This simple ritual allows you to clear your mind of the anxious thoughts that may be swirling and bring all your resources to the challenge you’re facing.
You expand your Presence.
In order to have Presence you must be present AND you must fully inhabit both your body and the space around you. Power poses give you a reason and the means to increase your awareness of both.
You say positive affirmations.
If you’re power posing, it’s because you’re trying to increase your confidence. You’ve got something BIG coming up that you want to accomplish and you’re proactively doing what you can to influence the outcome. Whether you realize it or not, most people accompany power poses with positive internal messages. “I can do this!” This, in and of itself, goes a LONG way toward improving your odds for a successful result.
Does power posing raise your testosterone levels? After looking at several articles and papers, I believe the answer is, yes, it does, a little. But power posing does much, much more than that. It is the starting point for engaging in a whole host of positive, confidence-boosting behaviors. It’s like ordering a product from your favorite store and discovering it comes with a bunch of bonuses, upgrades, and freebies.
Does it work?? That depends on your mindset. If you think it’s a bunch of hooey, and you’re pretty sure nothing will help anyway, it’s not going to work for you. But if you see it as an avenue for practicing Presence, for grounding yourself in your body, in the present moment, claiming space, and changing your inner dialog, it absolutely works.
I will continue to practice power posing and continue to recommend my clients do the same, though I may not harp so much on how it changes body chemistry. Power poses are a simple, quick, and effective way to access the power of Presence.