Here are some examples of how your body posture may influence your state of mind:
- To increase perseverance, cross your arms. A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2008 found that when people crossed their arms while trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle, they persisted longer at the task than those in a neutral posture, who had their arms over their thighs. For solvable problems, arm crossing was associated with better performance. Though crossing your arms may give the impression of defensiveness or disinterest in interpersonal settings, it can be good for achievement, the researchers said.
- To increase willpower, tense your muscles. In a series of experiments published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2011, subjects who clenched their fists or contracted their leg muscles, for example, had better self-control in various situations, such as having to drink a nasty “health” tonic, withstand the pain of icy water, part with money or resist tempting foods. The study shows that “the body, not just the mind, can influence self-control,” the researchers said—or, put simply, “steely muscles can lead to steely resolve.” The key may be to firm your muscles before your willpower runs out.
- To improve your mood, smile. The old adage “grin and bear it” has proven value, as indicated in a study in Psychological Science in 2012. University students who simulated different types of smiles while performing stressful tasks had lower heart rates than students who donned neutral expressions, with a full-on “Duchenne” smile (which engages both mouth and eye muscles) linked to lower stress levels than social smiling (which engages just mouth muscles). And a classic study from 1988 found that activating smile muscles made people rate cartoons as funnier. For a more positive affect in general, try nodding your head yes and smiling more throughout the day. In contrast, just lowering eyebrows (in effect, frowning) had an immediate negative effect on mood in a 2012 study in Emotion. Interestingly, as some researchers have noted, Botox injections, which paralyze facial muscles, could have added positive effects since the drug inhibits frowning muscles.
- To be more levelheaded when shopping, assume a balanced position. Can the simple act of wearing high heels, stepping off an escalator or engaging in other “balance-activating” activities moderate your spending habits? Possibly, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Marketing Research, in which people made various buying decisions while in different states of balance—standing on one foot, leaning back in a chair, playing a Wii Fit game. When focused on their physical balance, they were more likely to buy a mid-range television, rather than a large expensive one or a small cheap one. They were also more likely to make compromise choices for a printer or a car.