For example, make yourself small. Look down at the floor. Maybe put your hand on your neck. Cross your legs.
Whether or not you originally felt great, just two minutes of holding this kind of pose has been found to lower testosterone and increase cortisol, making you feel less confident than you did before you started posing like this.
Sit like you own the place, with your feet propped up and your hands behind your head. Stand like you're a rock star.
Your body will start sending signals in the opposite direction, making you feel more powerful than before you began posing.
Primates ascending into alpha roles in their social group experience changes that result in
1) heightened testosterone, driving increased dominance
2) lowered cortisol, leading to less stress-reactive behavior
Effective human leaders are found to have similar patterns of testosterone and cortisol in their body, resulting in dominant and non-stress reactive behavior. These are leaders who are assertive yet laid back.
In Cuddy's experiments, people with higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol were more more likely to be positively evaluated in a job interview. They were more optimistic, even at games of chance. They seemed more able to simply be themselves, and were more likely to be described as "authentic," "enthusiastic," and "comfortable."
The most interesting part of these experiments is that Amy Cuddy did not identify powerful and powerless candidates through any sort of screening process, or through in-depth psychological tests. She simply by posed people in either a high power pose or lower power pose, selecting at random, before putting them in a stressful experimental situation. Two minutes in one of the high power poses is all it takes for a person's testosterone to increase and cortisol to drop, both at statistically significant levels. The low power pose had a similarly significant effect in the opposite direction.
In other words, the difference between feeling powerful or powerless could be as simple as changing how you stand or sit.
Amy Cuddy delivers a great twenty-minute talk about her research here.
To me, this suggests a reason why yoga is so popular. Yoga is essentially a 60 to 90 minute flow from one high power pose to another.
(If you don't think yoga is a good workout, you need to do a real yoga class). My understanding of the origins of yoga is fuzzy at best, but it seems agreed that yoga was originally developed thousands of years ago as a tool to help meditation, not as a form of exercise. Meditation was the main task, and yoga was simply a tool to help train the mind.
It makes complete sense to me that yoga can actually change how you feel and how your mind works. That's what it was made for, and Amy Cuddy's research provides a nice piece of science to support the continued practice of an ancient art.