How to feel powerful

Wonder Woman as portrayed by Lynda Carter. Check out that confidence.

We have all experienced moments of powerlessness; moments where we feel inadequate, weak, shy, and afraid. These moments are shared by everybody, if the number of self-help books and television shows are any indication. But you do not need to spend large amounts of money on books filled with useless advice in order to reclaim your own self-confidence. I am going to tell you right here and now how you can make yourself feel like Wonder Woman, so that the next time you are facing a difficult situation (e.g. coming out to someone, telling that special person that you are not ready, about to give a speech, et cetera) you will do so with your back straight, shoulders back, and your head held high.

So what is this big secret? “Fake it ‘til you make it”

“By simply changing physical posture, an individual prepares his or her mental and physiological systems to endure difficult and stressful situations, and perhaps to actually improve confidence and performance in situations such as interviewing for jobs, speaking in public, disagreeing with a boss…” Carney et al (2010, p. 1367)

In other words, the road to feeling confident and powerful begins with displays of power through power-posing. Displays of power can be found all throughout the animal kingdom: a chimpanzee buffing up its chest, a peacock fluffing its tail, an overconfident CEO sitting in an office like he owns the place, et cetera.

In a recent study, Carney et al (2010) investigated whether high-power poses (as opposed to low-power poses) actually produced feelings and perceptions of power. Participants in the study were randomly assigned to either the high-power-pose or low-power-pose condition; their bodies were posed by an experimenter into two high-power or low-power poses (see examples below) which the participants had to hold for 1 minute each.

High-power-poses (left) and low-power-poses (right) used by Carney et al (2010)

The high-power and low-power poses differed in two ways: expansiveness (taking up more space or less) and openness (keeping limbs open or closed). Poses that are expansive and open are perceived as more powerful (e.g. the cocky CEO with his feet on the desk, fingers laced behind his neck, and elbows out), whereas poses that take up less space and are closed (e.g. the shy person with their head down, shoulders hunched, hands in their lap) are perceived as less powerful.

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