So Confident It’s Scary?

Power Poses

On a recent visit to Caribou Coffee, I got to engage in a lovely conversation with a past student who was working as the barista. As we ambled through our topics (which college he is transferring to, what credits transferred, etc.), the student told me, “You scared me on our first day.”

“What?” I exclaimed.

“You didn’t know that?! Yes, you scared me!” he said. “I had heard you were confident, he continued, “but when you came into class that first day, whoa!” (His face registered surprise and he stepped back, hands up, as if warding off imaginary me), “you were CONFIDENT!”

Now let me tell you. While I do love teaching, on the first days of class I am a WRECK inside. My armpits sweat, my hands get clammy, and I have a hard time keeping a straight line of thought. I feel like I stumble over my words. I get a sweat mustache. This comment, coming from a student I would have described as confident himself (he is a theater major: vocal, smart, and dynamic), caught be off guard and, quite frankly, delighted me.

I was shy as a child. The more people I talk to, the more I learn that many of us feel this way— so you may be able to relate. I was fearful of adults, fearful of new situations. I HATED the first days of school for fear of meeting new people. And even though I have taught now for a number of years and adore my students, my stomach is still in knots the night before the first day of school.

Two things help me when I feel the vice grip of fear. The first is reframing the feeling of fear by telling myself it is a natural response (see my post on public speaking) with an adrenaline rush that we can choose to use for good or evil.

The second thing that helps me is yoga and power poses—whole body postures that exude confidence, both inside and out. (Before you label me “hippy” and quit reading this post, hear me out.)

warrior two

To anyone who has practiced yoga or seen pictures, power poses are familiar! These include the warrior poses: arms raised and fully extended, quadriceps and glutes engaged… These poses increase our heartrates and make us breath harder. (See Baron Baptiste
Journey Into Power  for a great introduction to yoga).

This concept of using power poses, a practice that is centuries old, had its benefits brought to light in a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

This TED talk is one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with it, Cuddy shares research and personal narratives that show how using high-power poses in times of performance (interpersonally, publically) will make us more successful. These body stances (think hands on the hips wonder-woman style or arms raised above our heads in a V for victory) when held for two minutes, have been shown to reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone).

For some reason, people seem to resist this idea of using our body to create our emotional state. I know this because I ask my students (after watching the talk) how many would be willing to use power poses before an interview or a speech. Many say they will not because it seems weird or unnatural. But I tell you, I am a walking example of the power of power poses (as my past student’s comment shows). I will close my office door before class, stand legs at shoulder width and raise my arms in victory for a few minutes before class. In my most trying weeks, I have a yoga mat in my office, and again, with the door closed, I will spend some time in warrior poses. I can tell you, the stress I feel before these sessions is greatly diminished once I have completed my time.

So, if you, like me, have moments where you really need confidence and lack it, I encourage you to and try this practice. We communicate to ourselves through the way we hold our bodies. Why not use every tool we can?

PS: If you are looking for a couple of accessible, easy yoga DVDs, I enjoy the following:
Yoga Journal’s Yoga for Stress
Yoga For Inflexible People


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