Whether you’re an entrepreneur on a fast-paced schedule or a business leader in a long meeting, powerful postures can help boost your productivity at work.
“Posture affects how we think,” says Sian Beilock, a cognitive psychologist and author of Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To (Free Press, 2010). “One of the ways we shape our thoughts is through our physical movements.”
Ms. Beilock is referring to a theory called “embodied cognition,” which says that your brain looks to your face and body to understand how you feel. Are you energetic? Motivated? Bored? Your facial expression and body posture help your mind figure that out.
“Productivity is really about telling your brain: ’I’m in charge, I feel good, go,’” says Dana Carney, a cognitive psychologist and assistant professor at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. The easiest way to send that signal is to adjust your body.
Ms. Carney’s research has shown that expansive body postures, known as “power poses,” can put us in a productive state of mind. The reason is even more interesting: The postures work by increasing your levels of testosterone.
Testosterone, a dominant hormone, gives your brain the confidence to approach a task and assures you that you can handle it. The amount of testosterone you have doesn’t matter – it’s the relative increase you get from the pose that matters.
“The amount of change that you see in testosterone when power poses are engaged is like when you win a game,” Ms. Carney says. “The magnitude of the change is the same.”
In other words, that energy you feel after a big win – the confidence you could do anything – kicks in when you stretch out.
Here are three expansive postures that have this effect, whether you are sitting in a meeting, on the phone, or working on a project alone:
1) Put your hands on your head with your elbows out. This encourages you to sit up straight and open your chest, a position that makes ideas flow more easily. Try it when you’re thinking through a problem.
2) Rest one arm on the chair next to you. This doubles the amount of space your body takes up, which makes you feel more powerful. Try this during a meeting or an important phone call.
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3) Extend your legs or prop them on a footrest. Sitting at a computer restricts your body, which makes you less productive, so stretching out your legs is a way to counteract that. Try this when you’re answering e-mail.
Each of the postures allows your body to spread out. Taking up more space tells your brain you’re in a position of power, which increases your testosterone and makes you more productive.
This can be harder for female leaders. “Women are at a natural disadvantage for power poses because of social norms,” Ms. Carney says.
But that barrier is easily overcome. She suggests women stretch out their arms, straighten their legs (even if they keep them crossed), and wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict their movement. “We have hints to suggest that these poses actually benefit women more than men,” she adds.
Nadia Goodman is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. She blogs at Birds With Brains.
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