This Piece of Advice From Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy Could Dramatically Boost Your Confidence and Melt Away Fear

Amy Cuddy sat down with ABC News' Dan Harris for his show, "10% Happier."

ByABC News
March 27, 2016, 6:08 AM

— -- Imagine you’re about to give a big presentation at work in front of your boss and a room full of your coworkers. You’re nervous, you haven’t slept well. Even if you know your material backwards and forwards, you’re concerned about how you’ll look to others and that you’ll make a fool of yourself.

But before you walk into that conference room, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy suggests you try one thing to boost your confidence and melt away fear: Find a private place and strike a pose.

“It can be whatever feels comfortable to you,” Cuddy said. “It doesn't have to be anything other than expansive and open... but Wonder Woman, the Victory Pose, feet up on the desk with your hands behind your head, anything that is really expansive. And I encourage people to do it in the privacy of their own office, or a bathroom stall or a stairwell before they walk into these stressful situations so they’re not feeling like a tiger is about to attack them.”

Amy Cuddy is best known as the creator of the “power pose.” Her 2012 Ted Talk on the subject, in which she talked about how to make yourself look, feel and act more powerful even if you don't feel that way internally, is one of the most-watched Ted Talks ever, having been viewed over 30 million times.

She sat down with ABC News’ Dan Harris for his livestream podcast show, “10% Happier with Dan Harris” to talk about the power pose, how practicing good posture can affect performance and mood, and the importance of studying the “body-mind connection.”

The power pose, Cuddy explained, is standing straight with your arms up in the air in a V, or like a super hero, and holding for a minute or two before entering a stressful situation.

“What I want people to understand more than ‘should I stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes before a job interview?’ is that your body is constantly conversing with your mind” Cuddy said. “I think the body is signaling a lot to our nervous system about what state we’re in and how we should respond. So I think that expansiveness... is related to better mood.”

When you’re feeling scared or nervous, Cuddy said we tend to feel “powerless” and we’ll want to put our heads down and crumple up into a ball. But Cuddy said research has shown that siting up straight, shoulders back, and even striking a strong pose for a few minutes, it can help lift us out of that feeling.

“When we feel powerful, we want to take up a lot of space in the world to signal we’re in charge, ‘we’ve got the power right now,’” She said. “I want people to know that how they carry their bodies is to some extent shaping how their interactions play out.”

On “10% Happier,” Cuddy discussed a report she published in 2010 with collaborators on research showing that subjects practicing “high” power postures said they had an increase in feelings of power and risk-taking, whereas “low-power posers” felt the opposite. The report has been disputed by some researchers who tried to replicate Cuddy’s results and didn’t find support to Cuddy’s hypothesis that “high power poses” affected hormone levels in the brain, though she argued that other studies didn’t exactly match her experiment process.

But even simply starting with faking a smile can lift your mood, she said -- what she called “fake it until you become it.” It’s about feeling a little bit better, Cuddy said. She doesn’t believe the “power pose” is a “silver bullet” to solving all confidence issues, but it can help.

“The first step of faking it, can start the ball rolling on having a good power in a good way,” she said. “You’re not tricking anyone else… it’s about unlocking the confidence you have.”

Cuddy has her own personal struggles with powerlessness. In her New York Times best-selling book, “Presence,” Cuddy talks about how she was in a horrible car accident at age 19 and suffered a serious head injury. She said she was “foggy” for about a year, had to withdraw from college and her I.Q. dropped 30 points as a result.

“I didn’t know who I was, and I felt like I kept trying to hold on to this old self but it was like a wet ball of sand that was drying in my hands,” she said. “I had to kind of break up with my old self to find a new self before I knew what that new self was… and when you do that you’re kind of free to move on.”

She went back to school and graduated college four years after her high school peers. The next few years were difficult, she said, and she hated the thought of speaking in front of people, until an adviser told her to just fake being confident so she could present her graduate research.

Believing you can feel powerful has an effect on the brain, she said, and it causes “people see challenges not as threats but as opportunities.”

“They feel more optimistic, more confident about themselves and others,” she continued. “They believe their actions are more likely to have an impact, they are simply more likely to act and ultimately to show a true version of themselves because they’re not worried so much what other people think of them.”