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Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition: How to fake it till you make it

Embodied Cognition is the idea that what you do on the outside affects how you feel on the inside. Popularized by Amy Cuddy, the idea that your body and environment can influence your mind can be life-changing.

At Bespoken, we call this way of working “Outside In”. We know that a physical change which makes you look more confident on the outside can help you feel more powerful on the inside. Even though Cuddy’s Power Posing has come under scrutiny in the last few months, there is still a solid amount of science to back up the idea that our physical environment can instantly change the way the world sees us (and how we see the world). In fact, we’ve seen people transform in just moments by making a few small adjustments.

President Eisenhower used Embodied Cognition. He “firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory… To translate this conviction into tangible results, I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in his problems.”

The status-enhancement theory asserts that people gain influence by acting dominant and confident. Politically, we are seeing daily how a statement made with conviction is taken to be true even when it is completely false. So, how can we use Embodied Cognition to our advantage and fake it till we make it?

Eye contact

The head of TED says eye contact is the first thing speakers should do to engage an audience. When you look into someone’s eyes, their body produces a chemical called phenylethylamine which can stimulate the feeling of being in love. Another study found that eye contact utilizes the same part of your brain as complex reasoning, which is why people often have to look away during conversation when they are thinking. When used as a tool, eye contact can be a litmus test of confidence—it’s a way of jumpstarting an emotional connection.  Practice maintaining eye contact with the person who pours your cup of coffee and work up from there. Using eye contact can be an anchor when communicating and will make you appear more confident and in control.

Speaking on your spine

Pay attention to your posture in different situations. When you’re nervous, are you closed off? When you’re comfortable, are you standing up straighter? If you naturally slump to one side, intentionally find your postural center and get comfortable living there. You will appear more confident standing openly and upright. According to Cuddy, standing in this position for more than 60 seconds increases your testosterone (making you feel more confident) and decreases your cortisol (making you feel less stressed).

Mindful breathing

Telling a nervous person to take a deep breath can be a recipe for disaster. Breathing can quickly become another thing you’re not doing correctly. Anything that adds to the cacophony of thoughts can be unhelpful. The act of simply putting your attention on your breath can be soothing. The trick is to keep reminding yourself to return your attention to the breath without judgment. Practice Meditation Lite—where you simply watch the breath go in and out for ~25 breaths. Breathing intentionally for a short period of time can soothe the sympathetic nervous system (the part activated by stress) and stimulate the opposing parasympathetic reaction (the part that calms us down).  Setting up small wins is sometimes the best approach to changing lifelong behaviors and learning new things.

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Statistically, more people claim that they would rather die than give a speech.

If you have a fear of speaking in public, it’s little comfort to hear that you are not alone. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 74% of people admitted to experiencing Glossophobia — the fancy (and fun!) name for speech anxiety. So, why do we feel so alone, helpless even, when this totally understandable and common phenomena occurs?

If you’ve stood in front of an audience about to make a speech, presentation or pitch, you know just how terrifying it can be — and if you’re passionate about your topic, that fear may be magnified, even debilitating. If you’ve had a traumatic speaking experience in the past, it may come back to haunt you when you’re prepping or even presenting. It’s a cycle — we have a bad experience, we convince ourselves we’re incapable of overcoming what made it so darn hard the last time, and so we either avoid it all together or allow those fears to be the focal point the next time we do it, resulting in another bad experience and perpetuating the cycle. No matter how much we intellectually understand it, we make ourselves believe that it comes naturally to some people, just not to us.

In that case, it makes perfect sense that we feel so alone — the cycle doesn’t allow us to include the audience in the process. We feel afraid of the audience and, no surprise, that makes us feel even more alone. The trick is to learn how to use the audience, to see them as collaborators in sharing your story. It takes practice and planning, but a shift occurs, it is no longer you against them. They become your friends, your support — they become exactly what you need them to be in order to be your most comfortable and confident self in those moments that matter most.

And here’s a thing to consider: If 74% of us are terrified of speaking in public, then are the other 26% of us all rock-star presenters with no fear or self-judgment? Are only 26% of us presenting ourselves and our ideas effectively? I don’t think so. I think it’s far more likely that at least a portion of the people in your audience feel exactly the way you do, even admire your ability to reveal yourself to a crowd. That energy, if you can tap into it, can propel you — but you’ve got to be open to your audience to feed off of it.

The fact that most of us experience this and we’re not talking about it only feeds the fear — the collective fear — of public speaking. We’ve built this wall of expectation around speaking in public — it’s supposed to be something, and all we know is that the way we’re doing it is wrong. We can only see the failed attempt from our past or the perfect, nonexistent experience in some imaginary future. Our collective fear combines with our historical fear to make it impossible to live the present moment.

So let’s talk about it! Let’s deflate it and unpack it. Then let’s laugh about it as we present ourselves — flaws, fears and all — to an audience of people who know exactly how we feel — and who are cheering us on.