What goes through your mind before you walk into an important meeting?
If you're like most people, it's a mixture of positive and negative self-talk along with rehearsing your key points.
This thought jumble -- "What if they don't like me?" "What if I trip?" "No, I can do this." "Don't forget to ask about x..." -- gets you rattled and frantic at the very moment when you need to be calm and focused.
Here are two techniques to help you quiet the clutter and become more powerful.
Before a high-stakes interaction, go into the bathroom and spend two minutes in front of the mirror doing this:
- Tell yourself: "I have a right to be here!"
Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran of "Shark Tank" fame confesses, "When I first started the show, inside, I was frightened to death."
Corcoran struggled in school (in her book "Shark Tales," she confesses to straight D's.) She carried those scars into her adult career and being "in the Shark Tank with powerful men" touched those old insecurities.
Corcoran overcame her fear, by telling herself, "I have a right to be here." That mantra won her a seat on "Shark Tank" (she had to compete for it) and it helped her hold her own until she got comfortable.
Telling yourself, "I have a right to be here," diffuses the imposter syndrome, the "I'm out of my league" feeling that we've all experienced in high-stakes situations.
- Power pose
Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy has documented how positive and negative body language shapes your self-perception and your hormone levels.
In Cuddy's experiment, done in collaboration with Dana Carney at Berkeley, one group spent two minutes doing low power poses -- head down, shoulders sunk, eyes averted, looking small. The other group did high power poses -- hands on hips, chest lifted, staring boldly out at the horizon a la Wonder Woman.
Then they took a saliva sample. The high power posers showed a 20 percent increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). The low power posers saw a 10 percent decline in testosterone and a 15 percent increase in cortisol.
Cuddy says, "These 2 minute changes (in body stance) lead to hormonal changes that can configure your brain to be either assertive, confident and comfortable, or really stress reactive and feeling shut down."
In her moving backstory, Cuddy (watch her Ted talk on YouTube) describes how as a young student her identity was wrapped up in "being smart." But a serious car accident at 19 damaged her brain and her IQ dropped by two standard deviations.
Afterward, she struggled in school feeling like a powerless imposter, until, on the verge of quitting, an angel advisor told her, "You are not quitting. You are going to fake it. You are going to do it and do it and do it, until you have this moment where you say I am really doing it."
Cuddy faked it well enough to wind up teaching at Harvard where, years later, she encountered a struggling student who confessed, "I feel like I don't belong here."
In that moment Cuddy realized she actually had forgotten about faking it, she belonged.
Her advice to the student, "Don't fake it 'til you make it, fake it 'til you become it."
Next time you're nervous, spend two minutes power posing in the bathroom and remind yourself, you deserve to be here.
Lisa Earle McLeod is the author "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."