These are three simple adjustments we can make anytime, anywhere, to change our mood, lift our spirits, inspire self-confidence, and communicate our strength and positivity. They are smile, look up (yes, that’s right, look up to the sky), and expand your body or as Amy Cuddy in her book, Presence, calls stand in a power pose (more from Amy Cuddy later).
- Look Up:
Looking up is a simple action with powerful results. If we are worrying, feeling blue, or stressing about something, our eye gaze tends to be down — anywhere below eye level. A simple adjustment to our mood is to look up. Lifting our eyes and head to look up changes our posture — we stand taller, open our chest & heart, breathe deeper, and feel lighter and more joyful.
I remember working with young children who were mostly from troubled families. They would come to Day Care each day with their feelings on their sleeves or in their fists. When they walked, they often looked down toward the ground. When someone approached them, they would startle or duck down. When sitting, they would wrap their arms around themselves as if protecting their hearts from harm. On walks or even indoors, I would have them look up toward the tree tops or the sky and tell me what they saw. This simple shift in their gaze lightened their mood almost immediately with laughter and open dialogue soon after.
This simple practice of looking up is something I do on all of my walks. If I am feeling down or out of sorts, I will walk outside and look up to the sky. I’ve known for many years that looking up changes my outlook, lifts my spirits, and I go about my day in a more positive frame of mind. I am even convinced that on long hikes or runs, when I look down at my feet I feel more pain in my body and when I look up, my pain diminishes and often releases entirely.
This has been my little secret awareness for many years until reading Amy Cuddy’s work on how we hold our bodies, I now know there have been studies done that support what I’ve known all along! When we change our posture to a powerful pose (expanding, looking up, and becoming bigger) rather than a powerless pose (folded in on ourselves, looking down, shoulders rounded) we benefit by feeling more self-confident, self-assured, less anxiety and depression, and less physical pain.
Looking up! How simple is that!
Another simple practice I use is to smile. My Positive Psychology instructor, Tal Ben-Shahar, teaches that it isn’t just any smile, but an authentic smile which includes smiling with our eyes. We all know the fake smiles. We’ve seen them in photo’s of people who are told to smile for the camera but aren’t really feeling it — they are smiling only with their mouths. An authentic smile is one where we smile with our eyes as well as our mouths!
When you look at someone or a group of people and they are smiling or even laughing, what do you naturally do? Of course, you smile or laugh with them even if you don’t know what they are happy about! Laughter and smiles are contagious and they feel good because they communicate to the brain to release ‘feel good’ chemicals (hormones).
My first Qi Gong class always ended with the instructor saying, “Put a smile on your face and then open your eyes.” With a smile, I breathed deeper, stood taller, and moved onto the rest of my day in a more positive mood.
Research now shows that the posture we hold triggers our brain to release different hormones that match our posture. A simple act of changing our physical posture with a smile directs our feelings and our actions. When I wake in the morning, I stretch, pet my dog & cat, and put a smile on my face — all before getting out of bed. This daily ritual sets the tone for my day.
I challenge you to practice waking each morning and, before tossing back the covers, put a smile on your face first and then see how you feel and act. Imagine everyone in your family or circle of friends beginning the day with putting a smile on their face!
3. Expand Your Posture into One of Power:
Amy Cuddy, in her book, Presence, talks at length about how we carry ourselves — our posture. She says, “The way you carry yourself is a source of personal power – the kind of power that is the key to presence.” Her research and that of many others sited in her book, substantiate that expanding our body by standing taller, opening our chest, looking up, and arms open (not wrapped around ourselves) has many benefits. When we stand in a powerful pose we communicate presence, self-confidence, and self-assurance. We are more creative, courageous, generous, resilient, and open. In her words, “It doesn’t change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.”
When we stand or sit with our posture open, powerful, and head held high, we communicate and feel very differently than when we sit or stand in a powerless position with head bowed, arms wrapped around ourselves, and our shoulders rounded.
Try it. Walk around the room in a powerful, open posture. How do you feel? Then, change to a powerless posture and notice how you feel. When we stand in a more powerful way we feel happier, more optimistic, confident, and less stressed or anxious. We can more easily access positive memories and positive outlooks when we stand in a powerful way.
These are three simple practices that communicate to our brains to feel better by releasing positive hormones. I encourage you to try them out and then share them with those in your family and circle of friends. If everyone did that, we would find ourselves living in a better world with happier people!
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Presence by Amy Cuddy. She also has done research on the not so positive effects of technology (head bowed over a cell phone, texting, playing games, watching the news) and the posture that is being expressed worldwide…