In 2008, researchers Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto studied the body language of blind athletes at the 2004 Paralympics against their sighted counterparts. The researchers found that athletes who had been blind their whole life exhibited the same physical behaviour as sighted athletes after winning an event, despite the fact that they had never seen the stereotypical image of a victorious athlete. Both blind and sighted competitors would puff their chest out, tilt their head back and raise their arms in victory.
Tracy and Matsumoto’s study demonstrated that humans have an innate physical response to success. In fact, Tracy suggested that our physical expressions of pride may have evolved from survival skills: in order to assert our dominance we must make ourselves as big as possible.
In any case, the study of blind athletes clarified one thing: there is an intrinsic link between confidence and physicality. Interestingly, the process is actually reciprocal. Just as our bodies react physically to feelings of success, we can trigger our brain to feel confidence through our body language.
In her 2012 TED Talk, Harvard sociologist Amy Cuddy excavated the link between posture and confidence. She conducted a study in which she asked a number of people – both men and women – to “pose like Wonder Woman” for two minutes. Then, she asked them to take a gamble. The posers were found increasingly more likely to take a risk than the control group. People who posed like Wonder Woman – standing tall, feet apart, elbows out, hands on hips – experienced a 20% rise in testosterone levels, and a 15% decrease in cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. Their anxiety levels plummeted while their confidence and self-esteem soared.
Ahead of stressful events – whether it’s public speaking, presentations, or interviews with investors – it is advantageous to take a moment in private to physically manifest confidence. When we stand tall, put our hands in the air and take up space, we can assert our dominance. This triggers confidence which, in turn, can pull us through. Before I give a speech or want to be at my best, I take a private minute in the cubicle of a toilet or somewhere where I can’t be seen, and raise my arms like I have just won an important race or sports event. I breathe deeply and feel the power filling me. Then I’m prepared, confident and ready to be my best.