Do you ever have an off-day at work, a day when you want to curl up small 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 an important meeting? Maybe you have to give a presentation? Or meet with some challenging stakeholders? 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 plow silently through my work with as little social disturbance as possible. But when those meetings or presentations roll around, I need to reach deep down inside myself and somewhere, somehow find the energy to make it work. I know that I’ll always manage to pull through but often I still come off a bit awkward, my small talk is off 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.
In her Ted Talk “Your body language shapes who you are” she 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. She essentially gave everyone who said she couldn’t do it, a big FU when she graduated four years later. 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 – take out your notebooks now 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?
What she offers up as a solution, however, is 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 up but a popular one is the ‘Wonder Woman’ – feet shoulder width apart, hands on hips, shoulders back and chest out. There’s a bunch of science behind it that Amy explains, including 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.
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. And let’s not forget how Hillary commanded world-wide attention in that red power-suit at the first Presidential Debate.
The first time I experienced that shift for myself firsthand was when I was working a grad job 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 and jump into my pjs and forget the whole day.
Being the conscientious worker I am, however, I returned to my desk, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be noticed at all, not by anyone, not for the rest of the day. When 5pm finally rolled around, I had planned on heading to a yoga class. I felt so lethargic and tired that I almost bailed entirely. But, as I’d already packed my gear and dragged my yoga mat into the city, I decided I’d give it a crack – even if I just chilled out 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 78% 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 every day (or ever). I still have days where I know I should wash my hair but I also know that there’s just no way that’s happening! But I do invest time into putting on an outfit that boosts my confidence, my mood 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 a bit like a fake. Whether you’re having a crap day or struggling to settle into a new job, pull on your favourite pair of killer boots, slap on some red lippy and Wonder Women the shit 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’? Let me know if you have any tips in the comments below!