Sitting differently can change who you are. Try it out: straighten your back, unfold your arms, press your fingertips together in an arch, and you will look and feel more powerful.
Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy says our self-confidence can be instantly improved when we change our body language. Placing our hands on our hips or standing up against a table in "power poses" can make us feel and seem more, well, powerful.
Although people don't always agree about what self-confidence is, generally it can be thought of as a measure of the trust you have in yourself. This trust develops from an honest assessment of your skills, preferences, and decisions.
Taking up more space has been an animal's way of showing who's in charge for thousands of years. The more "confident" dinosaurs or wolves would lead the weaker members of the pack. Today, confidence continues to play an important role in our lives. It affects everything including health, your relationships, your ability to make decisions, and much more.
Naturally, there is some science behind self-confidence. Traits linked to confident people, like being able to challenge ideas, mean you have certain chemicals in the brain.
On top of that, there is a connection between these chemicals and your posture. Cuddy's research team has found that when you take up more space with your body, you feel a lot more confident. Professor Terry Au, chair professor of psychology at the University of Hong Kong, agrees.
"When we feel confident, our body and brain chemistry changes, which causes our body to naturally get into certain poses. So, we have come to associate feeling confident with certain body postures," says Au.
But it works the opposite way, too. How we feel influences our posture, but our posture also influences how we feel. But when does this confidence begin to play a role in our lives?
Our confidence develops in our teenage years. Au says one thing that can affect our sense of confidence is over-protection, also known as "helicopter parenting". People can't practise their problem-solving skills because "helicopter" parents make all their decisions for them.
These decisions can be about anything from internships to career paths. But this means people don't get the chance to make decisions confidently by themselves.
"So, over-parenting may, without meaning to, make people feel less able and more anxious. It can also take away their sense of ownership about their lives," Au notes.
Of course, "power poses" aren't a quick fix to lifelong confidence. The chemical change that comes with a change in posture, as strong as it might be, is only temporary. "The kind of confidence that comes from 'power poses' is short-term. It can be really useful right before doing a job interview, giving a public speech, or meeting someone very important. But to be really confident in the long run, real talent and good preparation are crucial," says Au.
She stresses the importance of having social and emotional skills as well as being technically able. Instead of simply looking at how good our grades are, we also need to ask ourselves how well we manage our emotions, make decisions, and bounce back from mistakes. "If we are good at doing these, then we will be less anxious about facing familiar situations and new challenges, and as a result, feel more confident."
So, if you ever feel nervous, try taking up more space. Stretch your legs, lean forward, and pose like Superman. In the long run, practise making decisions by yourself and try to manage your emotions. Now that's real power.