Confidence is Sexy–3 Things you can do to get more of it.

I was hunting and gathering online last night, (I find late-night browsing therapeutic) and in my click-bating, I stumbled on the above picture.

There is an experiment that Stanford professor Deborah Gruenfeld talks about in her lecture, Acting with Power. She invites audience members to sit in this retracted, power-less body position and say, “I am totally in charge. I’m invincible. I’m on top of the world.” She does the same with an expansive body position. Everyone laughs because it’s ludicrous and impossible. The audience feels the opposite of what they’re being asked to say.

If the woman in this picture were to speak, what would she say? Would she say, “I am totally in charge?” I don’t think so.

Imagine, if you will, a puppy dog in this same position: head down and to the side, tail tucked, knees knocked, toes in. You would feel sorry for this dog. Now imagine a man in a nice suit assuming this same position. That just feels wrong.

I write this, not to put the blame on fashion or size 4 models, but to bring an awareness to the responsibility we have to ourselves. As we are surrounded by these images, we naturally mirror and mimic the shapes we see.

The physical postures we are assuming are sending messages on a moment-by-moment basis: determining our status at work, in our relationships and how we feel about ourselves.

Not surprisingly, the number one question I receive from my clients is, “How can I have more confidence?”

This chasm of confidence has opened up a deeper exploration for me. What is confidence? Is it a feeling, a residue from of our our past experiences, from how we were raised? Is it part of our DNA and either we have it or we don’t? Is it a state of mind? Is it a physical posture that can be assumed even if the feeling isn’t present? 

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman says that confidence isn’t an attitude but is determined by actions you take. I tend to agree with this definition. We all want do certain things but are fearful of failure. These nerves are normal. (See my post on Fear.) A confident person acts, regardless of experiencing this fear.

 I also appreciate the Urban dictionary’s definition: Confidence is sexy.

There are ways that we undercut our ability to feel and exude confidence everyday. Let’s take this woman’s picture as an extreme example of what we do in our interactions and daily lives. If the woman in this picture was feeling under-confident, her body position isn’t helping. Here’s why:

1. She is tense: Her shoulders are pulled up and hugged closed to her body. Her knees and feet are turned unnaturally inward.

2. She is disengaged from the situation: Her feet are pointed in two different directions, and her torso is facing away from the camera. By her body posture, we can assume that her head is also tilted and eyes looking sheepishly at the ground. (We wouldn’t know because her head is cut off.)

3. She is guarded: With arms and hands close to the body, knees turned in and toes turned in, she is effectively cut off from the viewer. 

Here are 3 shifts YOU can make in your body posture everyday that will change how confident you feel and how much confidence you exude:

1. Take up more space.

We show ownership and dominance by taking up space with our bodies in any given situation. Taking the Wonder Woman stance is one option, but you can try a subtler tactic. Relax your shoulders and widen the expanse across your chest. Drop your hands, loosely at your sides. Allow your arms to hang slightly away from your body as opposed to being pulled up or held close. Notice that a relaxed body makes all of the above possible.

2. Use engaging body language.

Often when we feel under confident, we’ll use body language to try to escape from our current situation. Even if it feels uncomfortable, engage with the person in front of you. Put your head on straight and point your toes directly at the person you’re talking to. Make eye contact and don’t look away or look down; allow yourself to stay with them and breathe. Carry your hands like they’re useful.

3. Vulnerability is the key to exuding confidence.

I know this is absolutely counter intuitive. Think about the opposite. When you feel insecure you want to hide. Undo this body language, present yourself and you’ll start to feel confident. Allow your arms to rest at your sides, revealing you torso. Stand with weight distributed evenly on both of your feet. Lift your chest and drop your chin slightly. Allow yourself to be seen. 

As I write this I’m sitting at a cafe, next to my dog, who’s just been put in her place by a much smaller dog. The smaller dog asserted her alpha status immediately by jumping into my lap (taking up space), making eye contact (engaging) with the other dog and barking. She doesn’t quite have the vulnerability piece but for a small animal, she sure exudes confidence. Animals know how to use their body language. Why don’t we?

If you like what you’re reading check out my other posts for more tips on body communication and body language. As always, you can contact me directly with questions or for individual coaching.

Next up, 3 ways your voice gives you away.

How do you let go of fear? Give it what it wants.

In my work as a public speaking coach, fear comes across my desk in many different forms: fear of speaking in front of an audience, of voicing your opinion in a meeting, of making small talk in groups or social situations, of stating your needs in a relationship, of being your own advocate and standing up to a boss or co-worker.

It seems that if we could just erase fear from our realm of possible reactions, we would get so much more done. We could do what we’re passionate about, live the life we dream of, find the partner that we want, request what we need to succeed in our career. Everything we want is on the other side of fear.

We know that it’s purpose is to protect us, to keep us alive. So, how can we allow fear to do it’s positive thing without blocking us from doing our positive thing? 

Face it: Start by getting to know Fear.

Fear is a chemical reaction. Dan Goleman (youtube link here) walks us through the structure in the brain responsible for our fear reaction: the amygdala. The amygdala is the brain’s sentinel. A small part of everything we see in every moment goes directly to our amygdala. It scans the information to see if it is a threat: “Do I eat it or does it eat me?”

The biological reactions are as follows: cortisol is poured into the bloodstream as a result of the HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) Axis activation. This is Fight, Freeze or Flight (FFF), the classic stress response. We’ve all experienced this one: shallow breathing, racing heartbeat, dialated pupils… sweat. This activation also suppresses the immune system, digestive system and reproductive system. If this activation is sustained, over time we develop chronic fatigue, adrenal burnout…. blah blah blah….hormones.

But, this is the part I found fascinating: Look at what happens in your mind…

The triggered HPA axis changes the way that your brain prioritizes information. For example, if the snake on the trail in front of you is causing an overwhelming reaction of fear, then everything that is relevant to that snake is what preoccupies all of your attention.

Therefore, if you are giving a speech and you walk on stage, fearful that your audience will not like you,  then you have already manifested your worst nightmare! 

Biologically, you are programmed to notice and fixate on every detail in the room that substantiates your reason for being scared stiff and lifeless:

Your boss checking her watch, your colleague smirking, the man in the back on his cell phone, the angry face in the front row. You’re not just imagining that people are sending you these signals, they are, but from your perspective, in the grip of an amygdala heist, they are heightened and these small, negative details are the only ones you see. 

It’s a downward spiral…

This “amygdala hijack,” this hormonal activation, creates hypersensitivity to all the scary stuff and also changes the hierarchy of your memories. The memories that your brain chooses to bring to the surface, at this moment, are those that substantiate your fear.  

Your brain is very kindly reminding you, again, why putting yourself in this situation has been (in the past), is currently, and will forever be hazardous to the survival of your species.

Thank you, brain.

As Golemen says, “fear response is suboptimal to life,” to put it mildly. So, really, facing your fear is about knowing yourself well enough to know when you’ll be stepping into a situation where your system will be activated. Once you have the knowledge, you can prepare in advance, to send signals to your body that there is no threat and you are calm and at ease. 

“So, what do I do about this?” 

Answer: Manage your fear before it has the chance to start its vicious cycle by preparing your body and mind to be relaxed and present before you do that thing which scares you most.

How do you do that? Stay tuned for next week’s blog or click here to get immediate, fear preparation strategy. 

What is your Work?

There are moments in life where we experience realization. Byron Katy calls it waking up to reality. It is the moment you realize that you play a vital and unique role in the universe. I had my realization this summer when an eight foot, water-logged pole hit me on the back of the head when I least expected it.

That pole may as well have been dropped by God. It stopped me in my tracks and took me down to earth: pole to head, forehead to dirt, palms and heart to earth. In that moment, I was helpless. I could not lift my own weight. I dared not move my neck. All I had was my inner awareness and stillness. In that stillness, these were my thoughts:

  • I am not in control.
  • Life is precious and can be short.
  • Do your work now, not later.

As I gave the full weight of my body to the earth, and allowed my family to come and care for me, I also had a realization that these moments of complete and utter giving up, are not such a bad thing. Let others lift your weight into safety, let them hold the burden for a moment. My family brought me into our living room, one member at my head, the other at my feet, the last holding my hands. I was held completely. 

Waking up to reality.

Have you ever had a moment when you were no longer able to move forward in your current way of doing things? You may have become inexplicably sick, or physically hurt. A combination of your conscious and subconscious body would not let you continue on your current trajectory, probably for good reason. Your body was simply asking you to be still, become aware and realign your action. 


That pole made me commit.

The coaching work I’ve done this year comes from the tools of acting I learned while training at The National Theater Conservatory, the commitment work that shifted my life forever through The Max with Paula Shaw at Esalen Institute, and from the coaching training that I completed this year where I was able to synthesize my knowledge into simple and applicable tools that I can teach to anyone. 

But truthfully, it all came from from the moment when a pole hit my head. Because, in that moment, I committed to not thinking about it anymore, but actually doing it, now. 

What work are you still waiting to do?

In one-on-one sessions we break down your relationship to performance or, what happens to you when you stand up in front of other people and talk. We also break down the commitments you have made in your life by looking at your actions. The work takes you from how you show up now, to how you want to show up in a larger, more empowered, visionary way. 

As we come into a brand new year, I have a few wishes for you:

  • Stop.
  • Listening to your inner voice.
  • Clear clutter so your vision can arise.
  • Act on what you know to be true.

Most importantly: Start now.