Confidence: a slippery fish, a flaky, fair-weather friend, and as soon as things get a little rough it’s, “Sayonara, I didn’t sign up for all of these stupid problems,” and Confidence is out the door. Confidence most recently slipped through my fingers when I relocated to Toulouse, France, to teach English to children. I’d been looking forward to this for the better half of a year, as if I now had a long-stay visa to Harry Potter World. I pictured myself with a croissant in one hand and a bottle of Bordeaux in the other, sitting by a river and parler-ing français with my nouveaux amis.
But if the flight to France was the fairytale wedding, living in Toulouse is the marriage. Finding an affordable apartment in an unfamiliar city is no joke. As for friends, apparently I’d left all of mine in the United States, whoops! Teaching English to elementary students is also no easy feat. And then there was the daily blow to my confidence, French, that crazy language with a million verb tenses and sounds that leave my face aching at the end of the day. I was left wondering how I would ever regain the confidence that got me here in the first place. And then, I thought of power poses.
In 2012, social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a now infamous TedTalk about the power of body language. As she explains it, when we're feeling down or vulnerable, we attempt to make ourselves smaller — hunch our shoulders, fold our arms, what Cuddy calls "low power poses." When we're on top of the world, after wiggling that KitKat free from the vending machine, we react naturally by spreading our arms, opening our chests, lifting our gazes to the sky in a high power pose.
Cuddy theorizes that this feeling of success can be manufactured by the pose, in the same way that smiling can induce happiness: in just two minutes of adopting a high power pose, Cuddy claims, you can boost your own confidence levels and change the image you present to the world. She suggests you do power poses before you need a dose of confidence, rather than during the interactions themselves.
Worth a shot, I thought.
For a week I would adopt a different power pose every day, just for two minutes, first thing in the morning. For extra-good measure I also opted to repeat self-aggrandizing mantras out-loud, a practice that is also supposed to have confidence-boosting effects. Just when my arms started to ache, two minutes would be up, and I’d go about my day, visiting apartments I couldn’t afford, spreading the English language to the far corners of the earth — you know, the usual.
Day 1: The Wonder Woman
I stood with feet hip’s distance apart, hands on my hips, chin up, smile on. Opening my chest and planting my legs firmly, not to mention that million-dollar smile, was supposed to lower my cortisol levels and prepare me for a calm, confident day.
My Mantra: "I am OK. I am more than OK. I am good. I am great. Just so great." (It's hard sometimes to lie to yourself so much, but sometimes it must be done.)
The Aftereffects: Maybe it was the placebo effect, but afterwards I felt a little lighter, a little more optimistic. Right after, I went on a run for the first time in two weeks. "This is a new me!" I thought. But the immediate burst of energy faded as the day dragged on, and by nighttime I found myself back where I'd started, curled in bed with Scandal, chomping down on Bueno bars.
Day 2: The Jack Dawson
Determined to try again, I hopped out of bed to an alarm labeled "Confidence!!!" This pose turned out to be my favorite — Cuddy calls this one the “Mick Jagger,” but I prefer to think of the ever hopeful, ever optimistic, strikingly-girlish Jack Dawson (Leo, how my love for you never dies). Perhaps it was just a perceived rush due to strained neck muscles, but focusing so much energy acutely upward left me with a dizzying euphoria, a giddy high that I didn't get in the Wonder Woman (and perhaps for this reason, it remains my favorite pose).
My Mantra: That day I channeled Jack pre-wreckage by spreading my arms wide: "I'm king of the world!" I thought, imagining myself on the brink of a new life overseas.
The Afereffects: Today I had to teach, and as I stepped into the classroom with a new attitude I told myself a complete lie: "Because I am a native English speaker, I am completely qualified to teach beginning courses in English." With my newfound confidence, I taught all of the kids that day to sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," which became an instant hit. Not groundbreaking, but not bad either. My confidence grew just a little bit more.
Day 3: The Frank Underwood
I propped my feet on my rocking, broken desk, clasped my hands behind my head, and spread my elbows. This pose is designed for the office-goer, seeking confidence at the desk before approaching the Big Boss for a Big Raise, or whatever office life is like. Not only intended to lower stress levels while seated, the "make yourself bigger" effect is supposed to send a clear message of superiority to co-workers (and really, nothing says CEO like feet on a table).
My Mantra: I mirrored Frank Underwood's ethos as I recited in a southern drawl: "Power is my food. Combat is my sleep. Blood is my oxygen. Politics is my blood. Sleep is my enemy. My enemies are my food."
The Aftereffects: Did I rush out to throw some meddling journalist in front of a train? No — but this exercise gave me the rush of power necessary to start an apartment search. I saw three apartments that day: a studio cardboard box with a hotplate in the closet; a dirty one that smelt of festering hot yoga clothes; and a beautiful studio, showed to me by a beautiful French man, in the heart of the city, and far outside my price range. I decided not to despair, and rather thought of this as my "Unit 6: Looking for an apartment" French vocab course.
Day 4: The Sheryl Sandberg
Palms planted, leaning in, I could see why this power stance is meant for the boardroom, at a polished wooden table, surrounded by rapt colleagues. Perhaps this stance might calm you down on the day of your big powerpoint presentation (again, is this what an office is like?), but gripping the porcelain sink basin just made me consider the cleanliness of my sink.
My Mantra: "I am a goddess," I said. "I am powerful, infinite, I am a creator and destroyer of worlds." (I was reading a lot of YA this week, in case you can't tell.)
The Aftereffects: Today's challenge was to see another apartment, since I'd found a spot on French Craigslist that seemed promising. The moment I walked in the door, took in the spaciousness, the location, and the normal, nice, oh-so-chill roommates, I knew I had to make it mine. So I channeled Sheryl, put on my "I am your future roommate" face, and hoped for the best.
Day 5: The Womanspreader
Turns out, manspreading is not just for men hogging space on the 6 train anymore — it's for everyone! Instead of a dedicated two minutes, I took the opportunity to lounge about my room for a good half hour, spreading my legs and arms as much as possible. This is another pose meant for the office, where splaying yourself is supposed to calm you down as well as send off the message, "Hey, either that girl's thighs are chafing or she's just confident AF."
My Mantra: "I am confident AF."
The Aftereffects: I can at least attest that this pose is extremely comfortable. That night, I worked up the confidence to do something entirely out of character: I accompanied a friend to a swing dancing event in town. I still can't tell you what a Lindy Hop is, but I tapped some sweaty middle-aged men on the shoulder anyway, stepped on toes, and tried not to look too bewildered when I was spun around. Oh, how I swung with foolish abandon that night!
Day 6: Warrior II
Cuddy acknowledges the confident power of this yoga pose, so I decided to mix in a bit of yoga to my self-affirmation routine. Thirty seconds in, though, my confidence flopped when my thighs started jiggling and my knees collapsed. I reverted to Child's Pose.
My Mantra: Whoops.
The Aftereffects: Perhaps like my ambitious Warrior II, my lesson plan with the first graders that day proved too much, the English phrase "How old are you?" still beyond the capacity of their tiny French mouths. But I practiced the patience and humility I had learned that morning and repeated and repeated and repeated: "How old are you? How old are YOU? How OLD are you?"
Day 7: Starfish
The end of my week, and I channeled the accumulation of my positive energy by opening my chest and spreading my legs and arms wide. The sheer breadth of this pose had become my recipe for exhilaration, which tilting back my head and staring at the ceiling exorcist-style seemed to amplify.
My Mantra: "Today is a day made for the taking. I shall take this day for my own."
The Aftereffects: Perhaps my spread-eagle posture and nonsensical affirmations sent out some good vibes into the world, because lo and behold, I got a call from my dream apartment. The search was over, and relief swept easily over my extended limbs.
Confidence posing will not make you a better swing dancer, but it might help in your apartment search. Perhaps it was the mere intention of wanting to change my outlook, and posing and positive self-talk was just the manifestation of that intention — but over the course of a week, adopting these postures for just two minutes a day, I definitely felt lighter. Turns out forcing yourself to have a positive attitude actually changes your attitude.
Weeks later, I can now face the day without placing my hands on my hips and fabricating mantras so self-absorbed they’re already Kanye West lyrics. Power posing and mantras might not always be a part of my routine, but I can say, with confidence, that they are important weapons to have in my arsenal.
Images: Giphy (2), Jane Brendlinger (8)