Were you ever told as a child to smile, even when you did not feel like it? I have never been one to encourage behavior that doesn’t feel authentic, or to suggest that only positive feelings are okay to have. So imagine my surprise over these last several years as I have learned that smiling, and other physical behaviors, can actually alter our internal mental state. Smiling can actually bring a more positive outlook and perspective, even if we didn’t have that perspective when we started smiling. Wow.

As it turns out, our brain is very connected to our body, and vice versa. We are all intuitively aware that our emotional state changes our body language (worried = frowning, resigned = slumped shoulders, guarded or unsure = arms crossed carefully around in front of our chest). It is a bit of a news flash however that our body sends information to our brain that changes our mood. The emotional data travels both ways!

How is this useful? Because we can adjust our mood by changing our body. Mood follows body! Just as a deep breath may calm our internal nervous system, smiling may lift our mood, even if we have to force it a bit to start. This slight change makes us more open to others around us, who likely will smile back, reinforcing the mood.  And with the ability to test stress and assertiveness hormones, researchers have discovered conclusive evidence that our conscious posture just prior to a likely stressful event, like an interview, public speaking or a test, can improve our confidence and calm us, enhancing our performance all around. Open postures with arms up or on hips, legs open with both feet on the ground are examples of what has been dubbed “Power Poses” for their ability to regulate the internal chemistry of confidence.

The effects are real and lasting as the hormones in our body shift and the neurotransmitters in our brain adjust to the positive data….a habit worth forming. So smile, raise your chin and put your hands on your hips. The twinkle in your eye is the bonus.

See the work of Amy Cuddy for more details.