How to deal with the big moment: don’t fake it, become it.
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I heard a social psychologist named Amy Cuddy speak recently about the power of body language on personal self confidence. She suggested that through trials and studies at prestigious universities it has been proven that people who take a powerful posture naturally feel more powerful.
Cuddy, a professeor at Harvard Business School, suggests that power poses have an impact on our personal testosterone and cortisol levels – and perhaps raise our chances of success in stressful situations when we aren’t quite sure of ourselves.
It’s obvious that our posture and non-verbal communication have an impact on how others see us. But what’s really useful is the knowledge that how we carry ourselves impacts us as well.
I learned this first hand 20+ years ago from my high school wrestling coach.
I was always a good wrestler. And before long I found myself surrounded by older wrestlers at weigh-ins for tournament finals. I remember trying to make myself even smaller than my 112lb body already was. I hung back, with that feeling of “I don’t think I belong here” – although I had obviously earned the right. I didn’t want anyone to notice me. As if I were an impostor posing as one of them.
I made it, and subsequently lost in, 7 tournament finals matches in a row. That’s hard to do. That has an impact. When every eye in the gym is on you and one other kid and you lose. I was winning 30+ matches a year every year, beating everyone – until that stressful moment when it was time to really produce my best effort. I had trouble doing that for some reason. I lost to a lot of kids who weren’t better than me – maybe just better prepared to deal with the moment. The biggest impact was losing the 1992 state tournament final by a single point. I’d lost several finals matches – but somehow, once again, made my way to the championship finals at the state tournament. Talk about feeling like I didn’t belong. And against a returning undefeated state champ. Something wasn’t right. So I lost again. But by just a single point.
Looking back it occurs to me that I how I handled it before the actual matches may have been how I was getting beaten each time. In 1993 Coach Frank Simpson finally dropped the bomb on me and told me something that changed my life:
“You’ve got to not only believe you’re the best – because you are, you’ve got to make them believe it too. Act like a champion and you’ll become one.”
Amy Cuddy says it this way: “Don’t fake it until you make it. Fake it ….until you become it.”
And so I did. A simple change in psychology and body posture changed my success as teenage athlete. I won 43 matches in 1993, several tournament finals in a row, including my second region title, and the big one – the ultimate stressful moment – against a returning state champion in his own home town – the state tournament. I wiped tears from my eyes as I stormed onto the mat before it began. I stuck my chest out, looked up into the crowd of thousands, said a prayer, and believed from the opening whistle. And when it was over I raised my arms in the air, jumped into Coach Simpson’s arms, and cried some more.
A simple change in posture and body language changed my outcome.
Now, at nearly 40 years old, I sometimes consider how often I fold my hands, slump my shoulders, divert my eyes, and hope the moment just passes without me having to lose something.
Because the moment always comes. There’s no stopping time and events predetermined to happen.
“I’m really meeting my first child today. My twins today. Interviewing for that job today. Getting married today. Having that hard conversation.”
Stand straight. Shoulder back. Chest out. Make eye contact. Smile. Tell them your name.
I love you,