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During my 30 years as a skydiver and 20+ years of competing and coaching I have always tried to do everything I can to enhance my performance. As a member of the Norwegian national 4-way team between 1994-2003, I embraced our philosophy to utilize any factor that would make us better skydivers at no actual (financial) cost. This was a key factor for us since we didn’t have the financial funding equivalent to those of our competitors at the time; namely USA and France in the 4-way open class. In addition to studying specific skydiving techniques (4-way in particular) such as randoms, blocks and exits and studying videos for hours and hours on end, I tried to learn as much as possible about physical training and how to be in the best possible shape for the sport I love so much. I have read dozens of books about mental training and my team practised visualization as a part of our daily routine.
While coaching I have often stumbled across people who have doubts about their own performance. Visualization doesn’t seem to be the key answer to those who still had that little self-doubt about themselves. Somehow I couldn’t make them get rid of that monkey on their shoulders – you know - that annoying little guy who tells you how little you know, and that this is actually not going to work no matter how much you believe it.
The root cause of the problem really dawned on me after I took up an old passion of mine (show-jumping with horses) after having been some 20+ years away from it. I started studying body language, first of all to learn how to read the horses better and secondly to let the horses understand what I wanted to tell them. It is a fact that 60-90% of our communication is non-verbal. So to say the least; body language is far more important than what is actually coming out of your mouth.
I found myself at that other end of the scale in a ‘new’ sport; suddenly I was being coached and someone else was telling me what to do. It was a true eye-opener. Things I would take for granted in skydiving would be the same things my riding instructor would take for granted. Basic stuff, I am sure, but to a newcomer it would physically seem as huge and mysterious obstacles. My instructor would explain things and I knew what he/she meant, but I just couldn’t do it! I either lacked the balance or skills or knowledge. It was so frustrating! I would watch videos and study other riders as well as visualizing what I wanted to do. Sometimes it would work, but a lot of times I found that I lacked that last bit of confidence in myself as a rider to actually make it happen.
Power pose in the bathroom or somewhere private before you enter ‘the arena’, and see what it can do for you
Then, thanks to my husband, Nicolai, I stumbled across Amy Cuddy and power-posing. All it requires of you is to change your posture for two minutes. We are all influenced by our non-verbals. As earlier mentioned, 60-90% of our communication is non-verbal. In other words; what you physically expose to other people and ‘pretend’ to be is more important than the words coming out of your mouth! We all know that our minds change our bodies. What if we turn that around and ask ourselves; ‘can the body change our minds?’
We have several non-verbal expressions of power dominance. Animals and humans express themselves in similar ways; by opening up. For instance; look at athletes crossing the finish line after winning – their arms are up and out. This position is often referred to as ‘pride’. Did you know that people who are born blind do the expression called ‘pride’ when they win at a physical competition? This shows how universal and old these expressions of power really are.
Think of any stressful situation you are in as a competitor or athlete, or going to a job interview or holding an important speech or lecture. How would you like to appear? I am sure you have an idea of yourself looking powerful, certain and self-confident while making a flawless appearance. We know that testosterone which is the dominance hormone and cortisol which is the stress hormone have a very important impact on how we actually measure and feel ourselves as dominant or powerful people. Scientists at Berkeley found by a series of experiments that by staying in a powerful position for two minutes, the testosterone levels increased by 20%, whereas the cortisol levels decreased by 25% ! People who were told to hold powerful poses for two minutes before a job interview were most likely to get hired than those holding low poser poses for the same amount of time.
After I studied it, I tried it. I went to a private room at my local riding school and stood there for two minutes holding my arms up and high, spreading them out in the ‘pride’ position. Then I went out to my horse and started riding. It was amazing. Admittedly I am sure I didn’t do everything technically correct, but oh boy – my confidence level and my drive and the way I lead the horse was just something very different to what I had felt before. I felt like I was flying with that horse over the hurdles! It was an eye-opener. The monkeys were gone and I felt like a million dollars.
So try it. All it requires of you is two minutes of your time. Power pose in the bathroom or somewhere private before you enter ‘the arena’, and see what it can do for you. Your body will change your mind! It’s amazing. You might even notice that by just raising your arms, you’ll start feeling happier and more vigorous. You just want to smile!
Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it! Do it enough times until you actually become it.
Please help spread the word. Have a look at Amy Cuddy’s talks on power posing for more help; below is a short and a long version. If you have 5 or 20 minutes to spare, see how to fake it till you become it.