Why Confidence Starts in our Bodies

This breaks my heart.

According to research by Amy Cuddy, when kids are asked to look at gender-neutral dolls in either expanded or contracted body positions, already by age 6, 85% of girls and boys think the doll in an expanded body position is a male.

By age 6.

In 2019.

Although we have come a long way in terms of creating gender balance in our workplaces and our homes, we are still collectively embodying and communicating unconscious signals of who gets to take up space in this world to our children.

“We are still collectively embodying and communicating unconscious signals of who gets to take up space in this world to our children.”

And the message we are sending is that men get to do it and women don’t

This research reinforces the type of coaching I’m doing. That the best way to embody confidence is not through our thoughts but through our bodies.

Amy tells us to adopt a power pose. To expand our arms and take up space. When we do it our cortisol goes down and our testosterone goes up. We get more confident and powerful

But my experience in coaching is that switching from a contracted body position to an expanded one requires some support.

If you’re a woman, try this. Stand up, place your feet hip width apart, externally rotate your arms and spread them outwards. Puff out your chest, look slightly upwards. Allow yourself to take up space and note what feelings go along with that

For many women this feels unfamiliar. Some describe it as merely uncomfortable. For others it provokes anxiety and a fearful feeling of being unprotected.

How to Shift

We need tools to help us get from arms crossed to arms open. From chest caved to chest out. From eyes down to eyes upward. We need:

“We need tools to help us get from arms crossed to arms open. From chest caved to chest out. From eyes down to eyes upward.”

  • Mindfulness and Curiosity: How do you typically hold yourself?  Do you shrink down? Do you lean back. Do you hold yourself in? Do you tighten your throat or narrow your arms? All of us have been shaped differently and there is a wealth of information in how we typically and unconsciously hold ourselves.
  • Compassion + Gratitude: Our bodies are wise and designed to adapt to our environment in the way that best meets our needs for physical safety, love, connection, respect and belonging. Contracted shapes have grown out of generations of “be polite, sit pretty, don’t speak out, don’t be bossy.” It’s the reason why anxiety and nervousness sometimes comes up when we try to take on an expanded shape. Expansion is not a shape that has historically met our needs for belonging, love and connection in our families, communities, or world. Before shifting to something else we need compassion and gratitude for where we’ve been.
  • Courage + Discipline: If we can’t take up space in our bodies we won’t take up space in our hearts and minds. We need to practice being with the discomfort of expanding ourselves. And we need to do it regularly. One power pose is not enough. We need to do it daily, ideally multiple time per day. That’s when the real magic starts to happen.

I know this work sounds weird.

We aren’t used to starting with our bodies.

But this is the work that creates real change not only in ourselves but in our children, our communities, our corporations and our planet.

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