Most people are aware of the importance of body language, but few actually put into practice some of the basics that we all intuitively appreciate as true.
This is because, predominantly, our bodies react to our thoughts or the situations that we find ourselves in. So our bodies reflect our emotions, but it is also possible – and sensible – to deliberately change our body language whether we’re feeling the corresponding emotion or not. Indeed, it is common sense that if our body shape reflects our feelings, then we can change our feelings by changing our body shape. In psychology circles this area of study is called proprioception.
In some situations we may already be doing this instinctively: we may force ourselves to stand up straight and walk with vigour when about to confront a noisy neighbour; we may exaggerate a relaxed pose to convince ourselves that we are not a nervous flyer; or we may adopt an arrogant strut in order to ‘get in the zone’ before sport.
There are many more examples, but a simple place to start in our everyday life is by deliberately smiling more often. Smiling is perhaps the most infectious communication gesture we can adopt (it is proven that the majority of people will smile back to a stranger’s smile) and the benefits are circular, both toward others and ourselves. There is compelling evidence that our health improves when we smile more often.
In his entertaining book 59 Seconds, Professor Richard Wiseman instructs us to ‘smile more…try to imagine a situation that would elicit a genuine smile and maintain the expression for between 15 and 30 seconds’. If you find it difficult to summon up a happy image in order to do this, in the same book he cites experiments that prove that even when subjects were unaware of directly smiling (such as when holding a pencil between their teeth without touching their lips, forcing their muscles upward) this still had a significant effect on mood. So, if your imagination fails you, pick up a pencil!
Consciously putting extra smiling into our routine may seem odd at first, but the benefits are considerable. In most cases it is sheer forgetfulness that we don’t produce our smile more often, so using a memory aid can help. Put a reminder in your wallet, or set an alert on your phone as a nudge to smile.
Whatever works for you, the message is simple and the message is backed by science: