Impossible? Not at all. I’ve done it, and it took me only a few minutes a day. Here’s how I did it.
Two years ago I was pretty broken. Imagine a dog that’s been beaten too often, slinking along with his head hanging. Or a kid that’s been bullied, folding in on himself. I was like that, and I didn’t like it.
But I couldn’t do anything about it. I tried, oh, how I tried. Willpower! Motivation! Goal setting! Just freaking do it!
Bogus dude. Just doing it only works if you’ve got the foundation for it, and I didn’t. That’s when I discovered biological feedback loops.
Why Smiling Makes You Happy
Feedback is really very simple. You experience something, you process it, you get something coming out. For example: you prick your finger on a thorn, you experience pain, you jerk you finger away. Now add the loop: you insert your hand into a rose bush to retrieve a ball. You prick your finger, experience pain an jerk it away. Only now jerking it away shoves the thorns that were behind your hand into it – more pain, another jerk, more thorns. Ergo: loop.
Doesn’t sound all that enticing, does it? But there’s a good side: there are positive feedback loops that are self-enforcing. Smiling is one of them.
When you smile your facial nerves send signals to your brain, telling it that you’re smiling. This releases a number of neurochemicals, some of which make you happy and you’re more inclined to smile[note]The main theory is that this is a evolutionary social tool: when you smile, or see a smile, you’re more likely to engage in positive interaction, thus feeding your brain happy-juice is a way to strengthen the social ties, collaboration and the chance to make offspring.[/note]. But smiling is both an involuntary and voluntarily response. Thus you can smile in order to boost your brain chemistry, which will make you happier, which in turn will make you more likely to smile[note]The effect of a smile persists for several minutes afterwards.[/note].
How to Boost Confidence
But my problem wasn’t that I was sad – I’m actually a pretty happy-go-lucky guy most of the time. My problem was that I was scared of pretty much everything. Most of all I was scared of attempting to follow my dreams. And while a smile is nice, it doesn’t help to build your confidence. I needed something else.
That something came when I viewed Amy Cuddy’s TED talk (don’t worry, I’ll summarize it for you below):
Dr. Cuddy is a professor at Harvard Business School where she studies, well, success and body language. The short story is this: if you adopt a power posture for 2 minutes a day, that will increase your testosterone levels, which in turn will make you more self-confident[note]Also, more aggressive, but that’s another story.[/note]. But the cool thing is that if you imagine yourself in a situation where you fear ridicule or humiliation while you stand in a power posture, you’ll break through your fears of that situation. You’ll habituate. That’s exactly what I did.
I used power postures and mental imagining to wear away my fears of ridicule, of failure and of people singing me out (basically “the Stare”). And it worked. It worked like a charm.
Of course, it didn’t work at first. It took me about a month before I started to notice results, and let me tell you, during that month I felt like a complete idiot standing feet wide apart, arms braced at my sides, chest out.
At first I did power postures only where I knew no one could see me. Then, when I became confident with that, I started doing them in my office where someone could walk by and laugh at me (and, boy, was that a hard thing to overcome, that fear of ridicule). Lastly I started doing them in my daily life when I had some time to spare.
Thing is, it turns out you don’t need to look like you’re preparing for someone to kick you in the crotch. All you need to do is to unfold a little bit. Stand a bit straighter, take up a tiny bit more space. Most of this is happening in your head anyhow, so if you feel that you’re expanding your limits then you are. And you will grow more confident from it.
This is something I discovered by accident. I used to walk all hunched over, looking at the ground. Even when biking I’d look just a few yards ahead of me[note]And isn’t it a marvel that I’m not a wet spot on the pavement? The gods of traffic must like me.[/note]. Then, when I gained some confidence I started to raise my eyes. I’d look more forward than downward. Then, one day, I performed an experiment.
I decided to try looking just slightly higher than usual. That required me to raise my head. And when I did something interesting happened: I couldn’t walk hunched over and look upwards. I needed to tilt my head back and when I did that I automatically stretched out my spine. Try it yourself, it’s very uncomfortable to look up while hunched over. Your neck gets this weird kink. Much easier to just stand straight.
Much easier to just stand tall.
That’s what it’s about: standing tall. By stretching out you force yourself to straighten up. And straightening up works just like smiling, like standing in a power posture, except it works on your self-image.
It is very hard to view yourself as someone who’s downtrodden and worthless when your body language is beaming confidence at yourself. Because that’s what it does when you stand tall, your muscles are saying that you’re confident, that worth the time and space you’re occupying. If you ever try meditation (at least Zen meditation which I’m familiar with) you’ll encounter the idea of “hanging from a thread”, that your head should be like hanging from a thread from heaven and holding your entire body up.
That’s standing tall. You’re straightening your spine in meditation and by doing so creating a neural feedback loop. You’re basically becoming more centered by removing feelings of inferiority[note]Strange, isn’t it?[/note].
If you want to try this (and I do hope you do) then just change a single thing: attempt to look slightly higher than the horizon. You don’t need to look into the sky, all you need is a few degrees above the horizon. That’s enough to force your head up, to force you to stand tall.
And believe me, if you want to change your life in the long run, you’ll love what these two tricks will do for you.
Let me know how it turns out for you in the comments!