Power Hack #1: Take Up More Space

I’m tipping my hat to Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, who’s responsible for the second-most-watched TED Talk of all time. Cuddy’s research gives us a way to feel more powerful in two minutes by changing our hormone levels. Not kidding.

The trick is to take up a lot of space.

Let’s say you’re headed into a job interview, a pitch, a presentation, or a TV appearance in 20 minutes. You want to feel powerful, calm, and expansive rather than terrified and jittery. The way to make this happen, says Cuddy, is to find a private place (like a restroom) and spend two minutes making “power poses.”  

Victory power pose. Credit: Jude Beck

Victory power pose. Credit: Jude Beck

Powerful primates, from apes to humans, take up a lot of space. Standing or sitting, they make themselves tall and wide, and they spread out their arms and legs. Think of an Olympian with her arms raised in the V of victory. Think of an executive sitting tall with his arms draped around the backs of the chairs next to him. This form of body language says, “I’m alpha. I’m confident. I’ve got the power.”

On the other hand, submissive primates—again, from apes to humans—adopt “weakness poses.” They slouch, hold their limbs close to their bodies, and bow their heads, taking up little space.

Powerful primates have a particular cocktail of two hormones. They have high levels of testosterone, the dominance hormone, and low levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This mixture makes them powerful yet calm under pressure. Their hormones set them up for optimal performance.

The proof is in the science. In Cuddy’s experiment, people who spent just two minutes doing power poses showed a 19 percent increase in testosterone (dominance) and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol (stress). And people who spent two minutes doing weakness poses showed a 10 percent decrease in testosterone (dominance) and a 17 percent increase in cortisol (stress). By any standard, these results are beyond significant.

As with any tool, power poses can be overused, or they can lead to an unwanted result. But if you proceed with awareness and positivity, you just might get the promotion. Or secure the next round of funding. Or score the deal. Or have a more productive conversation with your daughter’s teacher. Or protect your family.

“When you feel powerful and confident, you expand in many ways. You feel like you have bigger opportunities. You are more likely to act. And when you do those things, it also makes you feel more powerful.” —Amy Cuddy