How We Pose Shapes How We Feel

In all the research I’ve done on empathy, the biggest driver I’ve found of someone’s ability to empathize with others is their own self-awareness. We all know the saying: you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself. Well, it’s true. Empathy starts with self-love. And the road to self-love starts with self-awareness.

The funny thing about self-awareness though is that we all think we have it. We feel so tapped into our own motivations and desires, the modern, intellectual people that we are. But our concept of self-awareness is grossly limited.

As a society we talk a lot about self-awareness — the ability to know oneself — as introspection, solely as it relates to thoughts (cognition) and feelings (emotion). We get to know our moods and rhythms, set up routines and systems to make us more productive, and compensate for our natural way of being. But in this self-development obsessed culture, it seems all we’re ever really focused on is what’s happening from the neck up.

How well do we know our bodies? What are our bodies telling us about who we are? How are our bodies determining the outcomes of our lives?

I’m just starting to become aware the world of Somatics — “the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche.” At first I thought it was a bunch of New Age wackadoo, but as I continue to explore it, I’m finding there’s quite a bit of wisdom trapped in these bodies of ours — and we do a very poor job of listening to it.

Our body language is far more than just something we use to non-verbally communicate with others. It turns out that the way we sit and stand, the poses and postures we position ourselves in, have an enormous biological and emotional impact on us.

In a TED talk titled, Your body language shapes who you are, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares her research on “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident. Her findings conclude that our body language can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, which significantly impact our behavior and its consequences.

Watch the video:

What struck me the most from Cuddy’s findings is that the simple act of changing our posture can impact our feelings about ourselves and how others perceive us. And we don’t even have to believe it in order for it to work, we just have to do it. “Fake it ’til you become it,” she says.

Self-awareness leads to self-management, which in turn leads to self-care, which ultimately leads to self-love.

So as Cuddy suggests, take two minutes to audit your body and strike a pose. Look down, not just in. We have the power to reshape our bodies and our lives.

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  1. says

    Great topic!

    I started reflecting on this after conversations with Karl Fast about ’embodied cognition’ and how we think with our whole body, not just the brain (see: ). In myself, I’ve become aware of how I think differently when standing VS sitting down leaning back VS sitting down leaning forward. I work at a standing desk for much of the day, as it’s easier for me to concentrate, especially in social situations. Same goes for watching my son’s soccer games– I’m 100% focused on the game if I stand; sitting often leads to distraction.

    This is also partly what’s driving my interest in sensors and hardware side of things — these new interactions bring the whole body into the experience, not just the tips of our fingers. Bret Victor hit on this at the end of his rant “against glass”!/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign

  2. says

    At Adaptive Path’s MX conference a few weeks ago one of their presenters had to drop out and in their place they had a woman from an Improv. Theatre (can’t remember which one) speak. She described this same phenomenom (and had the audience do several amusing activities) – it was a great (impromptu) presentation!

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