A few years back, I was sitting with two friends at a dinner table. The talk turned to body language, and how it affects your mood. I proposed a simple experiment, which the others accepted.
So I put a huge all-teeth-bared grin on my face. One of my friends put a frown on his face. And the third one simply behaved normally.
Over the next couple of minutes, the wildest thing happened. I started having the time of my life. I was joking around, laughing, enjoying myself. The friend with the frown became grumpy and pissed. We eventually aborted the experiment, and took some time to get everyone in a friendly mood again.
The only downside for me was that after holding that a grin for about 15 minutes, my cheeks hurt. But I was laughing anyway!
Everybody knows your mental state affects the way you hold your body. An unhappy, depressed person will slouch and look at the ground. But some people don’t realize the opposite is also true. It’s a feedback mechanism. Putting a smile on your face will make you feel happier.
Try this for yourself
The above is all nice on an intellectual level. But you won’t truly internalize this idea until you try it for yourself.
That’s why I propose a quick little experiment you can try right now.
Really, give it a shot! You’re reading this blog because you want to change your life. And guess what, changing your life takes action - just passively reading and hoping it to change your life is like reading a cooking book, and somehow expecting to become a master chef without actually cooking any of the recipes!
Okay, here’s what I propose.
Firstly, think of something that makes you mildly-to-moderately uncomfortable. On a 0-10 scale of discomfort where 0 means “zzzz” and 10 means “Eeeek!”, this would be about 3 to 6.
Take the time to really picture the scene. Feel it. Then, as you’re getting really into it… stop! Just notice how uncomfortable you felt on the 0-10 scale. Remember this number.
Next I’d like you to stand up tall and straight, with your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart. (If you’re in a situation where you can’t stand up, just sit up straight). Pull your shoulders back. Hold your head up high, like an emperor.
Next take three slo-o-o-ow, deep, breaths. After that, keep breathing deeply, and put a big smile on your face.
This might feel silly to you. Good. In fact, that’s excellent! It means that doing this is unfamiliar to you. Which means you will learn something by doing this exercise!
Holding exactly this body language (standing up tall and straight, shoulders pulled back, head up high, breathing deeply and smiling), think of the same situation as before. Make sure you keep the same body language and keep breathing deeply!
After thinking about the same situation for a few moments, notice how you feel. How uncomfortable are you, on a scale from 0-10?
You will find that you simply cannot recreate those feelings in their full strength. It’s going directly against the wiring in your neural system to feel uncomfortable while holding comfortable, confident body language.
Okay, now that you truly get how this works, let’s bring out the trump card. The “What if” game!
The “What if…” game
Before I share the “What if…” game with you, I want to make one thing clear. It is NOT a way to permanently boost your confidence, motivation, or any other desirable mind state.
It works absolutely brilliantly for giving you a quick, big boost in your mental state. But it’s not meant as a long-term solution.
If you want to feel, for example, more confident in the long term, you’re much better off gradually building your confidence. Yes, it’s slower, but it has a lasting effect.
The “What if…” game, on the other hand, is brilliant whenever you need a quick, immediate boost.
The “What if…” game is very simple. Whenever you want a quick boost in a desirable mental state, just ask yourself the following questions. I will use confidence as an example, but you can substitute motivation, peace, or any other desirable state:
- When in the past have you felt supremely, asbolutely confident? How did you hold your body? How did you move? Change your current body language to be more like that.
- Think of any idol of confidence in your mind (for example James Bond). Imagine stepping into their body, and looking at the world through their eyes. How would you then behave? How would you gesture? What expression would you hold on your face? What thoughts would be going through your head?
- What if you were feeling supremely, unstoppably confident right now? How would you hold your body? How would you speak to others? What would your thoughts be?
And as you answer all the above questions, and take the time to imagine them, let your body language change. Move the way you would move if you were unstoppably confident. Gesture they way you would. Breathe the way you would.
With practice, this game will take you less than a minute to complete. And it will give you a powerful surge of confidence, or whatever other desirable mind state you’re focusing on.
Use it wisely, for with great power comes great responsibility! ;)
Photo by Omarukai