Body ↔ Mind – Does the mind lead the body, or the body lead the mind? It’s both.

August 9th, 2013

It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Here’s another analogy, psychologists have learned that the body can be the steering wheel for the mind – How you hold and move your body affects what you feel and think.

We’re all familiar with the idea that our body posture communicates our feelings. For example, if we are feeling confident and powerful, we adopt expansive body postures: chest and arms out, back straight, and chin up. But, if we are feeling insecure, we assume smaller postures: chest turned inward, arms curled in or touching the neck, and head down, etc. These postures signal to people whether we feel dominant or submissive.

Amazingly, this process can also work in reverse. By assuming a certain posture the related emotions will emerge in the mind. For example, consciously expanding your chest outward will not just make you look confident, it will make you feel confident. Phone workers in call centers are given mirrors to remind them to smile even if they don’t feel happy, because smiling makes them feel and sound happier and friendlier. Mary Kay used the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” This new finding enables us to take her concept even further to “Fake it and you become it.”

I had an opportunity to experiment with this recently. I was coaching an executive who has a very confident and dominant personality. I found myself feeling submissive to him. Not surprisingly, I saw myself leaning forward, nodding my head and hoping to get a word in edgewise. I asked myself, “Do I really want to or need to be playing second fiddle to him?” The answer was naturally, “No”. I wanted and needed to be his equal, not his subordinate.

Along with this observation, I also realized that he reminded me of my father, confident and domineering. I decided to try to change our dynamic by changing my body posture and hopefully change my feelings and thoughts. I asked myself, “How would I be sitting if he were my little brother?” (After all, he was younger and shorter than me, like my brother.) Automatically, I found myself sitting back in my chair, breathing more calmly and waiting confidently, rather than anxiously for an opportunity to speak. It worked. For the rest of the session we shared the floor and moved into a very collaborative and constructive conversation.

I recently introduced this technique to a client who wants to be seen as more confident at work. In our next meeting, without warning, he decided to try it out on me. At first I felt his changed presence subconsciously, then more consciously. His voice was louder. His posture, more erect. And his statements, more confident. Automatically, I sensed his newfound power, and the respect he commanded. The technique had worked, again.

These two experiments convinced me that the body can lead the mind.

To learn more, you can view Amy Cuddy’s compelling TED Talk at

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