Fake it Till You Become It

by Site Author

You have a job interview in two minutes. How do you prepare? If you had more time, you could rehearse. But you only have two minutes.

Here’s one idea. Excuse yourself to the restroom. Once there, practice a “power pose.” A power pose looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 5.41.42 PM

Why do such a thing? There’s now some evidence that power poses actually can improve performances. Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard Business School has performed several experiments on the topic.

Her work started with a study that compared power poses to “low-power poses.” The low-power poses look like a posture you would take on when being yelled at by a superior. Here’s one example:

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 5.41.56 PM

Cuddy and her collaborators found that participants who held a power pose for two minutes produced more testosterone than participants who held a low-power pose.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 5.42.24 PM

I like to think of Cuddy’s work as making a larger point about how our internal life relates to our external life. We normally think that our thoughts determine our actions. But Cuddy’s work suggests the reverse: changing your posture can change your mind.

AJ Jacobs has made a similar point. Jacobs spent a year trying to follow every commandment in the bible, chronicling the year in a best-selling book. He started to notice that behaving “biblically” actually changed his thoughts.

I couldn’t believe how much my behavior changed my thoughts. This was one of the huge lessons of the year. I almost pretended to be a better person, and I became a little bit of a better person. I had always thought ‘you change your mind, and you change your behavior,’ but it’s often the other way around. You change your behavior, and you change your mind. If you want to become more compassionate, you visit sick people in the hospital, and you will become more compassionate. You donate money to a cause, and you become emotionally involved in that cause. So, it really was cognitive psychology — you know, cognitive dissonance — that I was experiencing. The Bible actually talks about cognitive psychology, very primitive cognitive psychology. In the Proverbs, it says that if you smile, you will become happier, which, as we know, is actually true.

The big idea here is that actions can shape thoughts. And so, to take another example, inner-city charter schools force a dress code on their students. One famous charter school, KIPP, demands that their students sit up straight in class and nod each time the teacher makes an important point. They even have an acronym for this, SPARK.

I will take charge of my own learning by following the KIPP principle of SPARK: Sitting up straight, Paying attention, Asking and answering questions, Reacting to show I’m following along, and Keep tracking the speaker.

Why make such a big deal of posture in the classroom? Why make posture out to be so important that it is one of KIPP’s guiding principles? Because once you’re sitting up straight and nodding, it’s actually hard not to pay attention. Cuddy’s way of putting this: “fake it till you become it.”

This whole line of inquiry leads to some simple recommendations for the rest of us. Perhaps sitting up straighter at our desks will make us more productive. Or perhaps just holding our spouse’s hand will improve our relationship. Perhaps little acts of kindness—a door held open, a hug—actually make us kinder people.