Recently at the College of Cardiology's 59th Annual session, researchers from the University of Michigan released the results of a study crediting exercise early in life with helping to develop empathy, leadership skills, and self-esteem later in life. Dr. Elizabeth Jackson, MD, MPH, a co-investigator on the study, said, "It seems that physical activity through team sports and exercise classes may have benefits beyond physical fitness," and went on to explain how empowering children through exercise early can have positive effects down the road.
This is just the most recent of several examples of how moving your body can move your mind and have lasting impact. After all, body language isn't just about your outward appearance, it's also about your inward emotions. The knowledge that you're putting your best body language forward is part of the equation, but the physical movements associated with better body language can actually change your mindset. Altering your body language can increase perseverance during problem solving, facilitate forming positive thoughts, and even elevate your mood.
- Folded Arms Untangle Problems – A 2007 study by Friedman and Elliot in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggested that crossing your arms can signal your brain that you're buckling down and help you persevere and power through when trying to solve certain difficult problems.
- Head High, Hopes High – A 2004 study by Wilson and Peper in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback found that participants could more easily generate and recall positive thoughts when sitting in an upright position — with the spine straight and head held high — rather than a slumped position.
- Practice Makes Personality – A 2003 study published in Cognition and Emotion by Schnall and Laird showed that, when participants were directed to practice body language and facial expressions associated with happiness, anger, or sadness, they not only felt the associated emotions, but continued to feel them even after the exercise was complete.
So the answer to the question "If I'm alone in the forest and there's no one around to see it, does my body language matter?" is "ABSOLUTELY!" Practicing good body language in private means you'll not only be bettering your brain in the moment, you'll also be turning your techniques into permanent habits for the future. Like the children in the study who exercised, practicing good body language now will lead to constructive habits down the road.