Use Your Body to 'Wire' Self-Esteem

Use Your Body to 'Wire' Self-Esteem
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Here's a very simple strategy for boosting your feelings of self-esteem.

Research led by Amy Cuddy, social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, found that just a couple of minutes standing in a Power Pose, like Wonder Woman (OK, if you're a male let's go for Superman) could dramatically alter your body chemistry.

Basically, your muscles are connected to your brain. Notice that when you feel happy you smile. You don't feel happy and then remember that you're supposed to smile. The muscles on your face do that automatically because they are connected to your brains' emotional areas.

Similarly, when you feel stressed you don't suddenly remember you're supposed to frown or tense your shoulders. These things happen automatically because your muscles are connected to emotional regions in your brain.

What most people don't realize is that it goes the other way as well. Just as a feeling causes responses in your body, so holding your body in a certain way affects how you feel. It's one of the reasons why laughter yoga is so popular. It works! And it does so because laughter actually produces positive emotion at the neurological level.

It's like "fake it until you make it." But please note, when I say fake it I'm meaning to do it on purpose, wholeheartedly -- not as a pretense that everything is hunky dory in your life.

There's a world of difference between smiling or laughing to pretend that everything is OK when it's not, and smiling and laughing on purpose with an awareness that doing so can actually change your emotional state.

At Harvard, Amy Cuddy found that standing in a Power Pose for just a couple of minutes significantly increased testosterone (a hormone associated with confidence in both males and females) and significantly lowered cortisol (a stress hormone).

In my work as a writer and public speaker, I have personally found that power posing is a really great way of actually "wiring-in" self-love. It was one of my key practices during my self-love project -- my two-year experiment in building self-esteem that resulted in my book, I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love.

Here's how it works. When we find ourselves lacking in self-esteem (self-love, feelings of self-worth), whether it's in a testing situation, around certain people, in particular environments, or if we feel self-conscious in any way, we wear the feeling on our body. But if we practice holding and moving our bodies in a way that says, "I am enough," "I matter," "I am important," "I'm worth it," or some other version of these, the practice quite quickly affects how you feel and therefore how you function in these environments and around these people.

During my work on self-love, I found it very useful to practice it for only a couple of minutes in the morning just after I got up and before I took shower or had breakfast.

The brain is "neuroplastic," which means it's always changing. It changes in response to what you learn, what you do, what you experience, but also on account of what you think and, importantly, how you hold and move your body. Learning the body language of "I am enough" is one way of helping alter the emotional architecture of the brain, specifically in the areas that control how we feel about ourselves.

Think of the practice like going to the Self-Love Gym (that's what I call it in the book). Just as going to the gym to exercise makes your muscles grow, so doing a regular self-love practice like power posing makes the self-love areas of your brain grow.

Have a go. Try it on for size and see if the simple exercise fits.

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