Stephen Hawking has spoken out about how woman power is rocking the country right now. We help you access yours with tips from Amy Cuddy, author of Presence
According to statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 22.8 percent of all people working in national parliaments were women as of June 2016. If women set up businesses at the same rate as men, there would be an extra 150,000 start-ups in the UK each year and while the gender pay gap for women in the UK without children is slightly more than seven percent, for those with at least one child it leaps to 21 percent.
But as Stephen Hawking has said in a BBC interview today, women are now in the most powerful five positions in Britain. Thanks to our prime minister Theresa May, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, home secretary Amber Rudd, MET police commissioner Cressida Dick and of course, the Queen, woman power is truly taking hold in this country. As Hawking says, while this might not mean equality for women it certainly shows a new understanding that women can do things just as well as men. And with any luck, it will set a precedent for the rise of women in powerful positions over the coming years.
The rise of Woman Power
So all hope is not lost. However you feel about her policies, in the past year, we have gained our second female prime minister here in Britain. Angela Merkel continues to have a huge impact on international politics and women like Amal Clooney are fighting for human rights around the world. With so many female faces emerging in leadership positions it seems that the girl power that dominated the last few decades is now making way for serious woman power that champions strength, intelligence and independence rather than a Spice Girls video.
woman power champions strength, intelligence and independence rather than a Spice Girls video
Scotland’s new love is woman-on-a-mission, Nicola Sturgeon and Michelle Obama has left the white house as an inspiration to women everywhere, a world influencer and everyone’s favourite thing about America aside from inexpensive shopping and free coffee refills. On top of that, actress-writer-comedian, Amy Schumer is the first ever woman to make the Forbes highest-paid comedians list, coming in fourth and raking in $17 millionUS in the past year.
People around the world have marched for women’s rights and the Nasty Woman movement of feminist solidarity was a viral sensation. I think it’s safe to say that right now is a pretty proud and inspiring time to be female.
by warming up to a challenging situation with a powerful pose you will ‘bring your boldest, most authentic self to the challenge
How to harness your own power
But it’s not always that easy to command personal power in your own life. And while we may not be about to run for prime minister, we could all do with gaining a little insight on how to radiate the inner strength that we all have. Amy Cuddy, famous for her TED talk on power posing is an American social psychologist who has channelled much of her research on body language into her book Presence (Orion Books, £13.60).
Cuddy discusses how having ‘presence’ equates to power in many ways – it’s ‘a special kind of power that we confer on ourselves.’ We’ve taken the top eight ways that you can use Cuddy’s techniques to bring more power to your own life and fake it until you make it.
Before public speaking, a job interview, a difficult conversation or a negotiation we might feel as though we need a little bit of a power boost. Cuddy explains that by warming up to a challenging situation with a powerful pose you will ‘bring your boldest, most authentic self to the challenge.’
When we feel powerful, we stretch out. We lift our chins and pull our shoulders back
These poses not only influence our mood but most importantly our feelings, making us feel more confident, powerful, assertive, happier and more optimistic. And it’s not only posing that helps us to do this. Cuddy teaches the tips and tricks that will help you release your inner power.
What is a power pose?
The poses are basically expansive, open postures that are used to make us feel more powerful. Cuddy explains that power is expressed through non-verbal displays and that we can channel this into our lives. ‘When we feel powerful, we stretch out. We lift our chins and pull our shoulders back. We puff up our chests. Spread our feet apart. Raise our arms.’
Cuddy points out that when a runner crosses the finishing line, they lift their chin up in the air, puff out their chest and throw their arms up in the air into a V-shape. In the same way that gymnasts do this before a sequence and spectators at a football match do when their team scores. ‘Because that particular pose signals triumph, victory and pride – psychological states of power.’
But that’s not all. Posing in this way not only serves a social function, communicating status or power to others but it also serves a physiological one. Research suggests that this response may have evolved to produce more testosterone in our bodies and thus allow us to dominate a situation and defend a victory.
1. Pose powerfully
By expanding your body and either throwing your hands into the air in a starfish position or putting your hands on your hips in a Wonder Woman type position you can use your body to draw personal power. ‘A mountain of evidence shows that our bodies are pushing, shaping, even leading our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.’ And while you might feel a bit silly waving your hands in the air in the middle of a crowded room, it doesn’t have to be as ridiculous as it sounds.
throwing your hands into the air in a starfish position or putting your hands on your hips in a Wonder Woman type position you can use your body to draw personal power
We can draw these poses into our life by combining them with our daily routine. Cuddy gives an example, ‘my research assistant, Anna stands with one hand on her hip while she brushes her teeth.’
When people feel anxious they often pin their upper arms to their sides, in a penguin-like position.
The body language specialist explains that certain positions are important to avoid. When people feel anxious they often pin their upper arms to their sides, in a penguin-like position. This is something you should try to stay away from. Instead, ‘adopt open gestures: they’re both strong and warm. For example, when our arms are outstretched with palms up, it’s welcoming and signals trust.’
When you are in a position like this your body sends signals to your brain which also affects your mood and emotions.
2. Stand powerfully
‘Soldiers are often commanded to ”stand to attention,” which generally means chin up, chest out, shoulders back, and stomach in,’ says Cuddy. This posture forces soldiers to be fully, psychologically present. And apparently, this posture can help bring both alertness and strength. Cuddy advises that we all need to keep our posture in check and take care to stand, or sit to attention.
You should feel solid, not as if you’d lose your balance if someone gently pushed or bumped into you.
When you’re standing, Cuddy explains that it is best to stay very stationary, ‘keep your feet grounded’ she advises, ‘You should feel solid, not as if you’d lose your balance if someone gently pushed or bumped into you.’
3. Keep your posture in check
Pay attention to your posture and the way it changes throughout the day. Cuddy suggests setting a reminder on your phone throughout the day so that you can check on your posture or placing post-it notes on doors, around your office and house, and above your computer screen. She also advises drawing on the help of friends and family and getting them to give you a gentle reminder to sit or stand up straight.
At Healthista HQ we like to stick a yoga block between our backs and our chairs, that way we’re forced to sit up straight at our desks rather than slump over our keyboards.
4. Stretch in your seat
And it’s not just while you’re standing that you can take steps towards becoming the most powerful version of you. Cuddy advises that when you’re sitting in a waiting room, rather than sitting hunched up in your seat or over your mobile phone, use these moments to walk around or stay standing up. Hunching up in a chair can induce feelings of powerlessness and affect your thoughts, so make the most of every opportunity to expand your body and pose powerfully.
make the most of every opportunity to expand your body
If you are sitting down, make sure that you assume a well-postured, upright position as this can also have a big impact not only on the way you feel in that moment but also the way you feel about yourself in general. Research has shown that those who adopted open postures over closed up postures improve their overall feelings of confidence and self-control. Keep your shoulders back and your chest open.
‘If you’re about to face a challenging situation and you have no other option but to sit, wrap your arms around the back of your chair and clasp your hands together.
If you are seated or are in a position where you cannot physically strike a powerful pose, do it mentally. ‘Imagine yourself in the most powerful, expansive pose you can think of. Be a superhero in your own thought bubble.’
‘If you’re about to face a challenging situation and you have no other option but to sit, wrap your arms around the back of your chair and clasp your hands together. This forces you to open your shoulders and chest’ advises Cuddy.
5. Walk with power
In her book, Cuddy explains how powerlessness constricts our body, ‘when we feel powerless or subordinate, we constrict our posture, tightening, wrapping and making ourselves smaller.’ When we feel powerful, our bodies expand and take up more physical space.
To come across as more powerful while walking, Cuddy’s advice is to take longer strides, move your arms and expand your body more. Don’t be afraid to open up your body as you walk and move your head vertically.
If you work in an office, Cuddy also suggests that you take time out in the day to go for a walk. Or consider having walking meetings, ‘which not only improve your mood; they also lead to better communication, worker engagement, and creative problem-solving.’
6. Smile yourself powerful
Ever been in a gym class and been shouted at to smile by your instructor? Well as it turns out, they might not be trying to get under your skin. In her book, Cuddy discusses how furrowing your eyebrows into a frown can make you feel angry and that making a smiling face can have the opposite effect.
people that were made to contract the muscles that make them smile consistently described their emotions as positive
Experiments were undertaken by leading psychologists to figure out whether simply activating your smiling muscles could make you feel happier. The results showed that people that were made to contract the muscles that make them smile consistently described their emotions as positive, and when participants were made to make an angry face it made them feel angrier. One participant even said ‘When my jaw was clenched and my brows were down, I tried not to be angry but it just fit the position. I’m not in an angry mood but, but I found my thoughts wandering to things that made me angry, which is sort of silly, I guess.’
So if you’re ever feeling a little down, smiling might help to lift you out of that mood.
7. Remind yourself of when you last felt powerful
‘Recall a moment when you felt personally powerful,’ asks Cuddy. ‘A time when you felt fully in control of your own psychological state – when you had the confidence to act based on your boldest, most sincere self, with the sense that your actions would be effective… take a few minutes right now to remember and reflect on that experience of your personal power, on how it felt.’
even seeing words that connotate power such as control, command and authority can make a measurable difference to our mental and emotional states
Cuddy explains that power often operates on an unconscious level that we aren’t even aware of. This means it can be turned on like a switch and activated without us even knowing about it. This can, in turn, affect our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Taking a few moments out to recall a moment when you felt powerful will infuse your psychological state with confidence and strength.
According to the psychologist, even seeing words that connotate power such as control, command and authority can make a measurable difference to our mental and emotional states, ‘even these gentle prompts can induce genuine nonconscious feelings,’ she explains. So perhaps remember the last time you felt powerful before you head into that presentation.
8. Breathe yourself powerful
Originally a sceptic when it comes to yoga, Cuddy believed used to believe the practice was simply an over-hyped trend. But she admits that she has since had to eat her words. ‘Since yoga-based interventions have moved into the medical mainstream, there have been hundreds – maybe thousands – of empirical studies describing its many health benefits, from reducing blood pressure and cholesterol to easing chronic physical, emotional and social pain.’
Engaging physical movement, breath control and meditative mindfulness can lead to a happier, healthier and more personally powerful life. Before a challenging situation, she advises breathing slowly and deeply. Not only will this calm you but it forces you to open up your posture, push your chest back and you are less able to slouch – this, in turn, will help improve the way you are feeling.
Click here for three deep breathing fixes to get you started.
Amy Cuddy is known around the world for her 2012 TED Talk, which is the second-most viewed talk in TED’s history. A Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist, Cuddy studies how nonverbal behaviour and snap judgments influence people. Her research has been published in top academic journals and covered by NPR, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Wired, Fast Company, and more. Cuddy has been named a Game Changer by Time, a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science, one of 50 Women Who Are Changing the World by Business Insider, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and son.
Buy her book Presence (Orion Books, £13.60) here.
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