Positive Body Language; Your Ticket to a Happier Life

Perhaps, you’re one who’s always trying one thing or the other, doing everything you’re supposed to do, but nothing seems to be working out. You feel very similar to a duck in water that’s always paddling with all of its strength but not getting anywhere. Your goals and dreams are there, but nothing seems to be going right and you can’t figure out what it is you’re doing wrong. You work hard at work and always give your best, but all you get is criticism. And so you find yourself thinking, “What am I doing wrong? Am I not smart enough? Am I not good enough?”

Some days are just the worst! You’re in a mood and you can’t for the life of you explain why. All you know is that you’re unhappy and it’s a feeling that comes from deep within. You put on a happy face with a smile that doesn’t quite reach the eyes, hoping that no one notices how full of doubt and fearful you really are. As much as you might try to hide your fears and doubts by acting confidently, little bits of it will slip out and low confidence signals will be sent to the people that matter the most and the decision makers in your life. Sometimes this feeling doesn’t go away. It remains for days, weeks and months on end, and little by little it begins to show through your body language. Your façade begins to fade and you can’t hide it so well anymore. However, you go about your daily life thinking you’re pulling it off and no one’s the wiser.

This is where you’re wrong. According to Spycatcher Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI counterintelligence agent, “our needs, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and intentions are processed elegantly by what is known as the "limbic system" of the brain. It doesn't have to think, it just reacts to the world in real time and our bodies show how we feel.” So in reality, just as you’re able to guess what a person is thinking or feeling by the way they act, so also will others be able to see right through you.

What Your Body Language Says About You

Your body language says a lot more than words can. Body language is exactly that, a language that you make with your body. It can also be referred to as nonverbal communication and is mostly subconscious. Physiological changes like a flushed face, or an angry scowl, gestures such as pointing of the hand, or clenched fists, facial or body reactions like quizzical or frightened looks or a nervous twitch and even sounds such as grunting, or a sharp intake of breath are all ways by which human beings communicate nonverbally, although not necessarily to another person, some of them might just be little quirks you do even when you’re alone. Results from studies carried out by Dr Albert Mehrabian, the author of Silent Messages, show that when communicating with a person, he/she receives 7% of what you’re saying from the words you say, 38% from the tone of your voice, and 55% from your body language (which includes facial expressions, postures, and gestures).

A woman with a hand gesture

Your feelings, thoughts and behaviours translate to expressions that show how you’re really feeling. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence are very off-putting and unattractive qualities for a person to have and to an onlooker, it shows that you’re not sure of yourself. Regardless of how ingenious your ideas might be or how smart you are, if it doesn’t show in your body language and the way you carry yourself, no one would really believe that you know what you’re saying.

Psychiatrist and author of, "Born To Be Worthless : The Hidden Power Of Low Self - Esteem" Dr. Kevin Solomons said that our self-esteem system mostly moves us to make constructive, healthy, and adaptive decisions in life, but just like any other system, it can also go wrong.

Negative body language

Your body language matters more than you know. It affects your business, job, personal life, and your mental and physical wellbeing. In business, communication is key. The way you communicate can make or mar you. It can either enhance or impair economic opportunities, interactions, or long-term relationships. Standing tall, sitting up straight or giving a firm handshake at the end of an interview will go a long way in leaving an impression on the interviewer.

Below are some of the weak body language and their interpretations you may be showing off that’s keeping you seemingly trapped and not moving forward:

  • Crossing your arms when in a group or talking to people indicates a wall or barrier and gives off a don’t-talk-to-me vibe
  • Not smiling shows that you are unhappy and an insincere smile doesn’t usually reach the eyes
  • Tapping your fingers or an object signifies impatience or stress
  • Looking down when walking tells the person you’re talking to that you are afraid, nervous or shy, while walking with your eyes downcast shows a lack of confidence and a desire to go unnoticed and blend into the background
  • Holding an object in front of your body like a shield can signify shyness, resistance. It states clearly that you’re trying to hide.
  • Not making eye contact also shows a lack of confidence, fear or guilt
  • Touching or tugging at your ear can indicate indecisiveness
  • Pointing one’s fingers can be seen as assertiveness
  • Picking at imaginary or actual objects on your body, or picking at your fingernails can signify boredom, disinterest, or disapproval
  • Blinking one too many times shows that you’re nervous and uncomfortable
  • Crossed legs can mean that you’re feeling defensive

So if you have any of these quirks, you are in a way contributing to your own unhappy state of mind. Your body language passes a message across to the person on the receiving end. It’s telling them “This is me. This is who I am.” What you don’t know, or haven’t yet realised is that your body language is also communicating messages to yourself. And if your dominant little quirks are weak and negative, then definitely you are bound to be affected by them too.

The Power of a Pose

Different poses

There is a saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and in a way, it is true. Getting it right the first time is key. Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School Professor explains the biology and impact of body language. According to her, there are two types of body postures; the powerful or high power posture and the powerless or low power posture. And contrary to what you might think, the differences between these two postures come from inside the body, where actual changes are happening in line with your change in body language, and are not just about straightening your spine or repositioning your arms and legs.

In an experiment she carried out with Dana Carney, a selected number of people were told to display either of the two power poses for 2 minutes and then asked if they wanted try their luck at gambling. Results showed that while only 60% of the low power posers decided to try their luck, 86% of the high power posers were confident enough to gamble. These were the final results:

  • High power posers experienced a 25% decrease in stress cortisol levels,
  • Low power posers had a 15% increase in their stress levels.
  • High power posers showed an 8% increase in testosterone,
  • Low power posers had a 10% decrease in the hormone.

Thoughts and feelings about ourselves are ruled by our nonverbal actions. So even when you don’t feel confident, taking a confident posture or ‘power posing’ can  boost your confidence level and give you a better chance of success as proven by different people around the world.

Fake it Till It Becomes You

Fake it till you make it

Can you fake it till it becomes part of you? Yes it is possible! Initially, it might seem strange or foreign to you, but if you want to become a positive person, and have a more positive outlook on life, then you’ve got to fake it until you begin to believe it.

How to Use Your Body Language Effectively

Just as there are bad physical behaviours you give out that pass across the wrong messages, there are also good body language signals that can be adopted into our general behaviours. “Your posture is the foundation for every movement your body makes, and it determines how well your body adapts to the stresses on it.” This statement was made by Murat Dalkilinc during his TedEd lessons while explaining the benefits of good posture.

Here a few body language signals you need to work on:

  1. The position of your feet:

Carol Kinsey Goman has been researching the importance of body language for years and she has discovered that it is very important to watch the feet. It’s only natural that we give a lot more attention to our faces or upper bodies because that is usually the first part that is noticeable, but it is important to note that our feet reveal more about our emotions than we think. For example, crossing your legs towards another person you are speaking to shows that you are more interested in them than when they are crossed away in the other direction. Or during a conversation with a co-worker, you unconsciously tilt your feet in the direction of the door. What you’re trying to say is that you’re no longer interested in what they have to say and are ready to take your leave.

  1. Shoulders:

If you want to appear confident and sure of yourself, sitting or standing with your shoulders erect will do the trick. It shows power and courage. Faye de Muyshondt’s video on body language explains more on this.

  1. When you smile, you’re happy:

Multiple smiley faces

When you’re happy, you smile, and when you’re sad you frown. But have you ever wondered if smiling can in turn make you happy? Wouldn’t it make more sense then, to smile all the time? Psychologist Judith Grob of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands is of the opinion that

“People who tend to do express their feelings regularly might start to see the world in a more negative light,” Grob says. “When the face doesn’t aid in expressing the emotion, the emotion seeks other channels to express itself through.”

Our faces communicate our feelings, emotions and general state of mind to ourselves as well as others. So choosing to smile no matter the situation is a sure fire way of uplifting your spirit even when you don’t realise it.

  1. Hands on Face:

Subconscious touching of the face such as scratching the face, holding the chin or rubbing one’s nose is signifying to the onlooker a lack of conviction on your part. However, resting your cheek on your palm with a smile says you’re interested in what they’re saying.

  1. What is your face saying?:

Your facial expression matters a lot. Imagine walking in for your presentation after taking the power pose and feeling confident, but the expression on your face is that of a scared mouse, with eyes wide like sockets and darting from side to side like a cornered chicken, what would then be the point of striking the pose? So also your tone of voice matters as well. British psychologist Richard Wiseman has termed it the “as if” principle –”behave as if you feel happy and confident and it’s likely you will actually start to feel more happy and confident.”

  1. The Mirror Effect:

A person tends to feel more open and comfortable with another person in a similar posture or position.

  1. Take up your power pose: Keep practising Amy Cuddy’s power poses, even though it makes you look very weird and funny. Do you have an upcoming meeting where you need to make a good impression? Or an interview in front of a panel? Take a few minutes doing these poses beforehand, it’ll help to boost your confidence as science has proven.
  2. Folded arms and legs:

Generally this can mean closed-off, secluded, defensive, or even angry. It can also mean strong, confident, comfortable as depicted in the second image.

However, different cultures have different interpretations, and it can be confusing trying to understand people or be understood by them. The solution is simple really, don't focus on one sign, but rather a combination of signs; attitude, body language, vocal language, etc.

  1. Crazy hand gestures:

It is normal for a person while speaking to gesticulate – a lot of people do it. How boring storytelling, acting or even performing arts would be, if they didn’t gesture with their hands. Dr. Carol Goman says that gesticulating helps to express thoughts more effectively. That being said, you shouldn’t over-animate your hands, otherwise you seem like a weird person doing mindless flapping.

  1. Walk like a King:

A group of men walking

You should never walk with your shoulders slumped, your head bowed and your feet dragging the ground. Walk with confidence, even if you don’t feel confident. Lift your head high and have a radiant smile on your face. The fact that your mood affects your walking, is a generally known and accepted concept, what you don’t know is that your walking can also affect your mood. This has been proven by CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje and his colleagues. The results of their survey published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry showed that subjects who walked in a happier style experienced far better moods than those induced to walk in a more depressed way, with shoulders slumped forward and restrictions in arm movement.

What you may not realise is that everyone is battling their own demons inside. But you don’t know this, why? That’s because a lot of people choose not to showcase their weaknesses but rather their strengths and they do this by owning their bodies and themselves. You hear them speak and you think “Gosh! Why can’t I be like this? What does she have that I don’t?” I’ll tell you what it is she has. The right attitude, good body language signals, confidence, power, ability to interact well with people, strength, a happy disposition etc. These are qualities she possesses that make her stand out from others. It can be achieved, you just have to want it so bad, until it is yours.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you in becoming more conscious of how you act towards others, which will in turn make you feel better and more positive about yourself. If you’re unsure of what to do or how to begin, just start. Don’t ponder, wonder, worry or think about it. Just do it. It may be hard at first, seemingly impossible to “just smile” when things aren’t going well or “strike a power pose” in the bathroom at the office. It all seems silly, but it may be well worth it in the end. Your unconscious mind rules your behaviour, and somewhere along the line, you don’t even realise when it’s happening, but you begin to actually believe in yourself more and you find that for some reason, nothing really gets you down. This is the power of positive body language.