Mind Your Body: Taking a Stand

By consciously assuming a confident or cheerful physical stance, you can empower your inner optimist.

By Katie Gilbert, published on July 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The advice that Kay Kay Magi received from her tennis coach hardly seemed earth-shattering at the time: Stand up straight throughout the match. Keep your chin up and your brow unfurrowed, even if you're losing. Project confidence at all times. But the teenage player soon found that adjusting her posture to mimic aplomb not only manipulated her opponent's morale, but her own mood as well.

Studies of posture and its effect on emotions confirm Magi's hunch: By consciously assuming a confident or cheerful physical stance, you can empower your inner optimist. One study, conducted by Simone Schnall at the University of Plymouth in the UK and James Laird at Clark University, indicates that people who adopt postures and facial expressions associated with happiness generate cheerier autobiographical memories than those who embody sadness or anger. Improved posture won't necessarily remove the sting from news that you've been laid off, but it may help you come to a rosier interpretation of neutral, everyday circumstances, like introducing yourself to a group of strangers.

"The literature suggests that holding your chin up and throwing your shoulders back could help you feel better about yourself in ambiguous situations," says Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor at Universite Blaise Pascal in France who has conducted posture and emotion research. "People with their chins down and their shoulders rounded are going to be less receptive to potentially good information." So sit up straight when receiving praise to intensify the glow.

Scientists are finding that the neurons involved in sensations, motor functions, and emotional memories are highly interconnected, which means an act like smiling can activate the emotional state that typically accompanies it. Don a smile, and you encourage your neurons to mimic the patterns that they create when your grin is uncontrollable. As Magi says, "If you're putting on an act for others to see, you can end up fooling yourself, too."

Heads Up

Become an upright citizen.

  • Straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back, and raise your chin. For an added shot of confidence, put your hands on your hips.
  • The most potent mood effects occur when you use both facial expressions and posture.
  • Get into the habit of going through a quick posture drill every time you hang up the phone, or set an alarm to remind yourself.