Heard this old line? Hold a pen in your lips (parallel with lips) to make a forced smile, keep smiling, remove the pen – and you get to feel happier. When I first heard it, I scoffed. I thought surely such change can only come from the inside.
I was wrong. Sure, the pen is trivial, but the concept is not. Our bodies really can change our minds. Or, more accurately, we can use our minds to make our bodies change the way we feel. And ultimately to redefine who we are.
I've seen it again and again in my presentations workshops. Trainees who force their bodies to simulate outer symptoms of confidence – such as more animation, emphasis, projection, eye contact – tell me they immediately feel more confident and more in control.
Want hard facts? Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard University put many people through what she calls 'power posing' (for example, think of the classic Wonder Woman pose). Her subjects adopted such poses for two minutes. She then tested their testosterone (dominance hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Those who adopted high-power poses boosted their testosterone levels by as much as 20% and lowered their cortisol levels by as much as 25%. That's a huge difference. And the low-power testing was just as startling. For more about that experiment go to Amy Cuddy's TED talk.
Want to try it yourself? Wait until you next feel down or depressed. Then take a five minute walk. As you begin, ask yourself, If I felt happy right now, how would I be walking? Then force yourself to do it. Step lightly, straighten your upper back, lift your eyes to the roof-line or tree-line. You will start feeling the difference in just a few steps. Your mind just instructed your body to make you feel better.
How could that be? It works because there is no real separation between consciousness and body. Every cell, every organ has a consciousness that is part of the consciousness of you.
Instructions go both ways.
It's not a new idea. In 1884, the philosopher William James said, "If you want a quality, act as if you already have it." He was laughed at so thoroughly that his brilliant insight was forgotten for 50 years. But his last notes contain the phrase: This is lightning in a bottle.
Think what's waiting. Confidence, courage, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, trust, dignity, etc… etc… Act it until you can say I am confident, I am dignified, I am compassionate, etc… etc… So here's another old line, slightly re-written. 'Fake it and you will make it.'
But here's the real challenge. How willing are you to make real change to what comes after I am…? That's not as easy as it sounds because you're tampering with deep seated beliefs about who you are. And you're dealing with those ancient questions Who am I? and Why am I here?
If you're willing to go that deep, read my book Finding the Field.