Put your shoulders back!

Photo by Becca Matimba on Unsplash

It’s a common refrain many of us heard throughout our childhoods: “Stop slouching.” “Put your shoulders back and sit up!” Slouching is even more common today with all of us hunched over our phones from early ages.

I really never gave much thought to how posture influenced the rest of my life until I arrived at the doorstep of my gym looking for a personal trainer. After a few decades of desk-sitting, stroller-pushing and screen-watching, to my surprise and dismay I couldn’t do much of anything with my upper body when we first started working together. All that slouching left my shoulders and upper back locked. “We need to open you up!” were her first words after my initial fitness evaluation. While I started a new workout regime as a stress-reducer and vanity project, what it resulted in was a huge impact to my presentation skills. Posture is something that truly affects our entire being.

The amazing byproduct of my fitness reboot was that I realized not only had I been letting this “work posture” dictate my fitness level, but that same work posture was holding me back from feeling confident, assured, and most likely communicated to the people in the room that I was not open to the ideas or the dialog. Which couldn’t be farther from what I was trying to convey!

Try this yourself: envision yourself pitching an idea to someone. Sit up tall, place your hands comfortably on the table, with your shoulders back. You will likely find this posture promotes even breathing and a more relaxed and open demeanor. It’s easier to engage someone in a dialog and feel more passionate about the material you are presenting. Sitting upright, you almost have to make eye contact. Now, assume what I call “phone posture”. Grab your phone and sit naturally as you would scrolling through your social feeds at your desk but then put the phone on the table leaving your body in the exact same place. What happens? It’s likely your shoulders are rounded, you take up less space visually and you appear introspective and closed off. Even our breathing can be different when we are slouching vs. sitting upright. Basically, we are not very energized while sitting this way so think of what we must be conveying to the outside world. And I think we do this a lot more than we are willing to admit!

At least once or twice during a meeting I find myself completely aware of my posture, breathing and overall body language. It’s very easy to slip back into bad habits, I know. The key is being aware of what you are doing and when. That hyper-awareness for me always results in a slight shift in my posture, shoulders back, a good deep breath and an overall opening of my upper body. As a result what the other people see is a relaxed and confident woman who is receptive to listening and absorbing all that is going on in the room. I get a lot more out of meetings when I do that.

This awareness is such a vital tool for me. It helps me move from dependable participant to engaging thought leader. Who doesn’t want that? And it’s the easiest thing to do: no extra research, no prepping meeting notes and no rehearsal needed! Next time you find yourself in a room full of people, notice how you are sitting and interacting with your surroundings. You might be surprised what self-awareness and a few small adjustments can do to your performance!

Keri Mantie is the genius fitness coach whose smart advice and common-sense approach helped me get back into great shape after years of lackluster workouts. My renewed commitment to fitness led me here to entrepreneurship: it’s all connected. If you’re interested in her POV check out her blog. And, for additional proof that body language can influence how you feel, check out the TED talk by social scientist Amy Cuddy.