Could Simple Things Like Stretching, Smiling, And Sitting Up Actually Make You Work Better?

Yes, says science.

Could Simple Things Like Stretching, Smiling, And Sitting Up Actually Make You Work Better?

If you’re reading this while slumped over your smartphone or hunched in front of your laptop, chances are that you’ll be less assertive with the next task you have to tackle.


Why? Because, as a growing body of research is finding, the way you hold your body shapes the way your mood will hold you. In other words, your posture predicts your feelings–and your work.

Amy Cuddy’s a main reason the power of posture’s become so palpable. She’s the Harvard social psychologist whose power poses you may be doing as you walk down the sidewalk. As she explained in a TED Talk, we tend to think of nonverbal communication in the way that we judge others–she has slumped shoulders, he looks tense–while leaving a subject.

“We tend to forget,” she says, “the other audience that’s influenced by our nonverbals: ourselves.”

In your face

True fact: People who smile all the time are annoyingly happy.

“As soon as we are born, we begin developing rich neural pathways between the behavior of smiling and positive emotion and memories of positive emotion,” Dana Carney, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told the San Francisco Gate.


Psychologists have seen this for a while. Back in 1988, German psychologists asked experiment subjects to put pencils between their teeth, producing an inauthentic–but still functionally effective–smile.

Psychology Today writer Karen Kleiman summarizes the experiment:

Participants were told to hold a pencil between their teeth while performing a task that involved rating the degree of humor in cartoons. Holding the pencil in the mouth this way forced the individuals to smile. Try it, you’ll see. The pencil can be lengthwise between the teeth, or hanging down from the tip between your teeth. Either way, you get the forced smile. Other participants were instructed to hold the pencil between their lips without touching the pencil with their teeth, and this forces the muscles to contract resulting in a frown. The authors hypothesized that participants who were led to smile would judge the cartoons as funnier than participants who were led to frown.

Which is exactly what happened.

As Kleiman notes, smiling is so effective because it may reduce the body’s stress response when you’re in a brief period of stress, regardless of whether you’re happy or not.

Stretch it out.

But knowledge about the power of poses and of facial expressions has been accumulated outside of scientific labs for a while now–like the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga, which is now finding a (toned, balanced) body of research surrounding it.

Yoga–and other mindfulness practices, such as meditation–can change the way your very genes express themselves. How? In short, yoga helps tell your body that if you’re stressed, you can still relax, which allays both anxiety and hypertension.

And yoga can stretch your productivity, too: experiments suggest that 20 minutes of practice can improve your reaction time and memory.


So if you’re feeling down, awareness of your body can pick you up. And if you’d rather grump hard, good news: That can be a gateway to productivity, too.

Hat tip: San Francisco Gate

[Image: Flickr user Mike Baird]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.