Do you ever have an off-day at work, a day when you want to curl up under your desk and hide, pretend that you’re invisible and hope that no one notices you?
And do those days ever coincide with a day when you have to give an important presentation? Maybe you have to meet with a prospective client? Or a challenging stakeholder? For whatever reason, you need to be ‘on’. You need to be at your most charming and engaging.
I most certainly have days like that. My greatest hope on those days is that I’ll get by unnoticed and just plough silently through my work with as little social disturbance as possible. But when those meetings roll around, I need to reach deep down inside myself and somewhere, somehow find the energy to make it work. I know that I always manage to pull through but often I still come off a bit awkward, my small talk is stilted and I find myself wishing that I could put it off to another day, a day when I’m feeling a bit more confident and outgoing.
Well lucky for me, and now you, I discovered Amy Cuddy – social psychologist, author and university professor. Amy is the poster girl for faking it until you make it – and she has the science to back it up.
The poster girl
In her Ted Talk “Your body language shapes who you are” Amy talks about how she was involved in a serious car accident during her college years and wasn’t expected to ever regain her full mental capacity, let alone finish her degree. The experience left her feeling like her identity had been taken from her, like she was completely powerless. But she didn’t give up and four years later she graduated. From there, she went on to bigger and better things, but she always felt like an imposter, like she didn’t deserve to be there. Then one day she received some pretty straight-talking advice from one of her mentors who told her to buck up and ‘fake it til you make it’, and that’s what she did. Amy became an absolute superstar in her field and eventually realised that she wasn’t faking it anymore - she’d made it.
But here’s where the science comes in, and where things get interesting (and useful – you'll want to write this one down because wisdom is coming…).
As it turns out, one of Amy’s areas of focus is the study of body language and nonverbal cues, including nonverbal expressions of power. What she found in her research was that when you feel powerful, you’re more likely to take up space. Think stretching out in your seat, legs wide, shoulders back. But when you’re feeling powerless, you curl up and try to take up as little space as possible. Sound familiar?
But here's the best - it works in reverse too! By taking up physical space, you can create a feeling of confidence and power! There’s more science behind it but essentially, taking up more space triggers changes to our hormones that actually make us more assertive and confident i.e. you can actually, physiologically, fake it til you make it. Mind blown.
The life changing life-hack
From this, she offers us a powerful tool, a ‘no-tech life hack’, to turn those powerless, under-confident, hide-under-the-desk feels into feelings of power and confidence in just two minutes.
All you have to do is stand in a high-power pose – a power-pose – for two minutes. There’s a whole host of poses you can take but a popular one is the ‘Wonder Woman’ – feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips, shoulders back and chest out. That's it. No tricks. No mantras. Just a two-minute power-pose. We can all manage that, right?
Making it your own
I'm no scientist but I think we can take it a step further. In my own career, I’ve often come across women who have their own unique hacks for rousing their confidence when they need it. One of my mentors talks about a pair of boots – totally kick arse, platform boots – that she wore whenever she had to give a killer presentation or dominate a critical meeting or negotiation at work. Others might have a certain outfit that makes them feel totally indestructible.
The first time I experienced that shift firsthand was a few years ago. I was having one of those aforementioned ‘off-days’ and would have happily holed-up under my desk until it was time to clock off. I remember looking at myself in the full-length mirror under the harsh fluorescent lights of the ladies room, feeling exhausted, completely depleted, and realising that the pants I was wearing had gone all saggy around the knees and my shirt was a mishmash of too-tight and too-loose all at once and in all the wrong places. I felt deflated and just wanted to run home, jump into my pyjamas and forget the whole day.
Being the conscientious worker I am, I returned to my desk, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be noticed for the rest of the day. When 5pm finally rolled around, I felt so lethargic that I almost cancelled the yoga class I had planned on taking. But, as I’d dragged my yoga mat into the city, I decided to give it a go – even if I just relaxed in child’s pose for half the class, at least I’d have tried. So I forced myself to pull on my favourite Lululemon tights and suddenly I felt at least 85% better.
I’m not making this up. It was that instant. Taking off that dreary, ill-fitting suit and slipping into my activewear changed my mood, it lifted my confidence, it energised me.
That’s when I knew two things. One, I was never wearing those pants or shirt again and two, starting the very next day, I was going to invest an extra ten minutes in the morning into getting ready for work.
And I did. It’s not that I turn up to work looking like a glamazon (I'm lucky if I get as far as clean hair!!) but I do invest time into putting on an outfit that lifts my confidence and feels like me. And when I need that extra boost, I reach for a pair of statement earrings or throw on a red lip (which only takes about four products, five steps and three missed trains to ‘throw on’).
So I guess what I’m saying is, go watch Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk (she explains the science much better than me), and don’t despair if you’re feeling like a fraud. Whether you’re having a rubbish day or struggling to settle into a new job, pull on your favourite pair of killer boots, slap on some red lipstick and Wonder Women the hell out of the next two minutes and rest of the day.
How do you deal with those days when you’re lacking confidence but still need to be ‘on’?
Rebecca Papillo is a full time corporate who moonlights as a blogger at The Modern Ascent.
The Modern Ascent is for and about women working it the modern way. But, as Rebecca knows all too well, sometimes, even for super women like us, the elusive path to having it all can be tough. Through The Modern Ascent, Rebecca creates a place where we can all find a daily dose of inspo from kick-arse women doing brilliant things out in the world. A place where we can connect with others and learn from their experiences. A community that gets us - that understands that we’re all finding our way through this modern day workplace together.
Rebecca is a big advocate for finding and nurturing your passions! Her greatest passion in life is writing, followed closely by connecting with like-minded superstars. She loves meeting new people so head over to the blog to take a look around, follow her on Instagram, 'like' her page on Facebook and drop her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.