Mind your body language

My junior year of college, I learned that the majority of communication is non-verbal.

But it was none of my communication classes that taught me this. My teacher, instead, was beer.

One night, my roommate and I were returning from a run to the local convenience store, I carrying a six pack.

Seemingly out of nowhere, he  looked at me with contempt and said, “Ugh, will you hold that like a man?”

At first I was completely befuddled, if not insulted. There was a ‘manly’ way to hold something? Seriously?

Looking down, I noticed I had the beers cradled to my chest, like I was ready to strike the Heisman pose at any moment. Think about how the nerdier and more effeminate boys in high school carried their trapper keepers and books. That was me with the beer.

My roommate, an extremely confident and outgoing individual, took the cans from me for the final block of our walk, holding them with one hand down at his side, fingers locked through the plastic rings.

The idea he was communicating to me (non-verbally ironically enough) wouldn’t truly click until sometime later. However, it was my first clue that how I carried myself actually meant something and made a difference in not only how I was perceived by others, but how I perceived myself.

Fast forward to later on in college, when I was starting to realize I actually had some semblance of control over my life and that I could actually become the type of self-assured person that I had always wanted to be.

A major a-ha in my development towards this goal involved body language; specifically, sitting, standing, and walking. Sounds simple and like things that would be impossible to do ‘wrong’, but most of my life my unconscious default sitting position was to shrink, take up as little space as possible, and hunch over. Standing, my arms would often be crossed and my feet narrow enough to balance on a small platform. My walk as well was ‘small’ and lacked any kind of backbone.

I began to notice how males that put out ‘strong’ and ‘masculine’ vibes, be it classmates in lecture or actors in a movie, positioned themselves when they sat, stood, walked, or did pretty much anything. Subscribing fully to the school of ‘fake it til you make it’, I began to mimic these individuals:

When sitting, I started to take up more space with my legs, opening my body up more by letting my arms rest away from my torso, and just relaxing more overall, yet still in a strong manner.  For standing, I also widened my base, and ceased jamming my hands in my pockets or wrapping my arms across my chest. And my walk now had purpose, like I was on a mission to save the world. 

Overall, I slowed all of my movements down as well, as if I were moving through molasses. No longer was I in a rush to do everything as fast as possible, as if people were always impatiently waiting for me to be done and out of the way–a major insecurity I once had. And if people actually were, they never said anything now because I projected that I was a strong and confident person.

I started doing all of this merely because I had seen it suggested multiple places, and had little expectation for it to make any kind of difference in anything. But not long after, I realized why it was so effective.

The brain follows the body. Simply by changing the position and posture in which I was sitting, I began to feel so much more confident in class, waiting at the doctor’s office, wherever.

No longer did I merely wish to be ‘alpha’, for the first time in my life I actually felt like it.

Similar to when I first learned the power of eye contact, the world started responding to me differently when I learned all of this, and I finally began to experience what true, core, confidence meant and felt like. All because of, really, shifting my body a few inches here and there.

Summer before senior year I had an internship interview with a 6’3” PR boss whose nickname was “The Rock”. Normally, I would have been extremely intimidated talking to a person like him, but I made a conscious effort to keep my body language relaxed, open, and strong during the interview. Despite not having much interview practice and wanting the position an insane amount, I felt completely comfortable speaking to him in his office, and ended up getting the internship.

Recent research has confirmed this idea of the mind following the body, going as far to say that strong poses can change a person’s chemistry:

“Merely practicing a “power pose” for a few minutes in private—such as standing tall and leaning slightly forward with hands at one’s side, or leaning forward over a desk with hands planted firmly on its surface—led to higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in study participants. These physiological changes are linked to better performance and more confident, assertive behavior. . .”

I have used this idea as a ‘hack’ many times: sneaking off to the bathroom to strike over-exaggerated poses in the mirror when insecurity starts to rear its ugly head. Hey, if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.

Movies are fantastic learning tools in regards to body language. James Bond is a master of commanding the space around him and emitting a domineering energy from the way he positions and maneuvers his body. Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love is another prime example of countless possible ones.

Once self-awareness is gained towards your own body language, not only do movies become that much more interesting, so too does the entire world. You can begin to make extremely educated and accurate reads about someone’s mood, motives, and thoughts without ever talking to them, simply by observing the physical signals they are sending.

Extremely fast rapport and connections can be established by learning to recognize these signals. And people-watching in bars and other public settings quickly becomes absolutely enthralling.

The irony of it all is that, in many instances, the key to maintaining a strong and confident mind starts with a strategically positioned and slow-moving body.

So, start paying some mind to it, and it will pay you plenty in return.

What’s a situation where body language has helped you remain confident and calm?

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