"Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations. If you adopt their attitudes, then the possibility won't exist because you'll have already shut it out." -Mae Jemison, astronaut

Monday, October 27, 2014

Posers!

A while back I was listening to a fascinating TED Talk on "power poses" by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. Recently, an article on the same thing passed over my desk.

Anton Krupicka DNF's Nolan's 14, 2013. Not a power position.
And then I watched a quite dramatic shift in running strength and stamina in a mate, after making a comment to them during a big hill climb on a run. The mate had confidence issues. Something most of us, including me, have gone through. That defeating self-talk that goes something like this:

This is stupid. Why am I even here? I'm slowing down the group. They don't want me here. I'm so slow.

I watched the mate climbing the hill, adopting a very hunched over posture, head down, arms limp. I sheepdogged back down, as I typically do if there's someone behind on a group run, and spoke from my heart. Before my brain even registered what, if anything, might be the best thing to say. Seeing that body language was like looking into a mirror in my past and the base brain in me fired up. I can't remember exactly what came out but it was something like, "It's fine to walk, but POWER walk! Use those arms! You're not a zombie!"

Over the past two weeks, I've seen this runner's posture completely transform on runs. When I sheepdog (which seems to be happening less, because I swear they're stronger and faster already), I hear a quiet self-talk, "I am not a zombie!" The arms are swinging and boy, oh boy, there's power! Physical and mental power.

The mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. Amy Cuddy's research showed that individuals who adopted "power poses" for just two minutes increased their testosterone levels (measured in their saliva) significantly, whilst decreasing cortisol levels significantly. Testosterone is essentially our power and dominance hormone. (Yes, even girls have some and it's important to.) Cortisol is a major stress hormone. We want low stress but high feelings of power in our lives. Power, for those squirming in their seats, is not a dirty word. It does not mean coercion or cruelty. Power is simply "the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way." It is the ability to influence the course of events.

Power poses are simple. Essentially, think silverback gorilla. Expand, make yourself bigger. Arms wide, feet apart, standing or sitting or laying down.

Wide legged, wide arms. I'm confident. Lost Soul 100 Miler, 2013 (new CR)
Amy Cuddy did not "discover" power poses, but she sure highlighted the important relationship they have to self-confidence, risk-taking, and success (e.g., nailing the job interview). She put data to what Buddhists have been saying for over a thousand years. The mind influences the body and conversely, the body influences the mind. It's not a one-way street.

Since I'm a runner, I love to see how and where science can play at improving my performance. Most generally, how it can improve my FUN (which can relate to performance, yes).

I went back to have a look through my photos from start lines to see whether I could spot any relationship between my pre-race posture, my mindset at the time (recalling how I felt in terms of my race confidence), and my resulting performance. I also had a quick look at a few elite start photos from other races, just to see what other anecdotal information I could find. Naturally, I know I probably have a huge selection bias here, but rest assured I'll be keeping an eye on the postures of my fellow competitors on race morning ;) Whatever you do, don't fold your arms over your body (Anton Krupicka fully admitted going into the 2013 Speedgoat 50k with "an undue amount of competitive angst." Look at the photo below - it shows.) And whatever you do, don't touch or hold your neck with your palm. That's the lowest power posture of all and I'll be onto you!
Speedgoat 50k, 2013, elite field, start line. Spot the winner (even his feet are wide!)

Fake it til you make it. It's real. Be a poser. Give it two minutes before the start of your next race, tempo session, or tough long run.

And when you catch yourself at a low moment during that race or run, force a smile, force a laugh, and lift your head as if a string was pulling you up through the spine and crown of the head. Swing your arms!

I'll leave us with a wonderfully appropriate quote, attributed to so many, that I can't reliably name one:


"It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting." 
Practice this pose BEFORE your next challenge :)