In recent years body language has become a popular topic. Everyone wants to have the edge so they can see something others can't. But why does body language work? How do we know it’s an accurate way of understanding people? You're about to find out.
In the field of Cognitive Psychology there is something we refer to as the “Cognitive Triangle.” As you can see below, this diagram explains how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact with each other.
What we learn when we study this concept is that our thoughts directly affect our emotions.
Thoughts → Emotions. What you think is what you will feel.
Here are two examples of how our thoughts affect our emotions in real life situations.
1. Thoughts → Emotions
a. Example: Suppose you have a big presentation coming up at work. In your mind you constantly think (Thoughts), “I’m so bad at speaking in front of people, what if I mess up?” These types of thoughts lead to you feeling (Emotions) tense, anxious, nervous or even afraid. (To be continued…)
b. Example: Take a similar situation, a date. Someone you really like asks you to go out with her. In your mind you are thinking (Thoughts) to yourself, “I’m not good enough for this girl. There is no way she is honestly interested in me.” Your emotions will always reflect your thoughts. Because you allowed these thoughts into your mind, you then feel (Emotions) self-conscious, insignificant, uncomfortable, removed and separated. (To be continued…)
So what happens after we have these sour, negative emotions festering inside of us? Our emotions directly impact our behavior.
2. Emotions → Behavior
a. (Example a. continued…) The day when you are supposed to give your presentation arrives, and you are feeling (Emotions) tense, anxious and nervous. Maybe you're downright terrified. Your fingers are trembling (Behavior) and your mouth is drier than the Sahara desert. You slink your way to the front of the room and begin. As you present your work to a room of onlooking bosses and co-workers, your voice shakes and you stumble over your words. You repeatedly clear your throat and use the word “umm” exactly 137 times in only five minutes. (Your co-workers are kindly keeping count for you in the back of the room and will tell you their count later on.)
b. (Example b. continued…) As you meet your date at her favorite restaurant for dinner, you feel (Emotions) even more self-conscious, insignificant, uncomfortable, removed and separated. Because you feel self-conscious, you focus on not messing things up instead of listening to what she has to say, unknowingly separating yourself from the conversation. Since you feel insignificant you put yourself down in front of her, showing her how little you think you are. Your feelings of discomfort makes you squirm around in your seat all evening. You cross your arms and look anywhere but her eyes.
Thoughts → Emotions→ Behavior That is why body language works. When you look at other people going about their lives, how their body behaves is a direct reflection of what they are thinking and feeling inside. (No - this does not mean you can read their minds.) So how do these two stories end?
3. The final result? You Got Exactly What You Thought.
a. At the end of the day, when the meeting was over, your behavior reflected both your Thoughts and your Emotions about that situation. You lived right into what you had allowed your thoughts to say. You were bad at speaking, and you messed up your big day.
b. The night after your dinner, your date goes out with her friends. They ask her how the date she was so excited about had gone. Your ex-date tells them you didn’t listen to anything she had to say, you were awkward and put yourself down. “I won’t be seeing him again,”she tells her friends. In the beginning you told yourself you weren’t good enough for this girl, and you turned out to be exactly that.
Body Language works because it reflects people’s Thoughts and Emotions.
In everyday life, the cognitive triangle usually works as we have just discussed. Thoughts → Emotions→ Behavior. While this is the case, it can be used to our benefit. The most simple way of doing this is by changing what we think. Some psychologists call this changing our “self talk.” Lets look at what would have happened if you had simply chosen to think about yourself in a different way in both of the examples we examined.
1. Thoughts (New and Improved)→ Emotions→ Behavior
a. You recognize that you normally tell yourself negative things before a presentation. This time, you make a change for the better, telling yourself in your thoughts, “I AM THE BEST SPEAKER OF ALL TIME AND I AM GOING TO ROCK THE HOUSE!”
Your optimistic thoughts make you feel encouraged, enthusiastic, cheerful, and confident. When your big speech comes up, you speak with confidence, clearly and concisely. Every word demands attention because it is said with enthusiasm. It’s clear that you believe what you are saying. Those guys in the back of the room aren’t counting anymore. Like everyone else in the room, they are fully focused on you, and all the important things you have to say.
After your speech, your boss hunts you down and tells you how impressed he is. He then makes you CEO of the company and you live happily ever after. Okay that last part might be much. Your boss, in his satisfaction, offers you a raise.
b. Instead of being nervous about your upcoming date, you focus on the good qualities you can bring to a potential relationship. You think to yourself, “I’m a genuinely caring guy, I like long walks on the beach, I’m in touch with my emotional side, and I love communicating. Then you change your thoughts. You tell yourself, “I AM AN AWESOME GUY WHO DESERVES A GIRL LIKE THIS ONE!” These new and improved thoughts ignite feelings like excitement, confidence, comfort, and optimism.
The evening of your date, you listen with interest because you’re not worried about making a good impression; you already know you will. When she asks about you, you speak of yourself with confidence. Because you are comfortable, you don’t wiggle around in your seat or seem awkward. Later that evening, the girl of your dreams tells her friends that she is definitely going to be seeing you again. Even though she may not have been able to read it, your Attraction Body Language sent her all the right signals.
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