Power Poses, Yoga and Rocking That Job Interview

My favourite TED talk has to be Amy Cuddy’s talk on power poses. It is a simple idea, that changing your body language, using powerful poses and taking up space can change your life, and if we all do it, we can change the world. Through her research, she found that striking “power poses ” such as the victory V (arms in the air) before key tasks including job interviews increased confidence, reduced stress and lead to greater success. She linked the poses to hormonal changes including increased testosterone and reduced cortisol.

Cuddy presents some convincing evidence to support her argument, but it is her own story of overcoming the feeling that didn’t belong I need academia that is so engaging.  Apparently, she hadn’t planned to tell this story and it is her authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable that is so moving. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it now.

As someone who has struggled with shyness, often feeling that I didn’t fit in and dreading being the centre of attention, I really related to her story of overcoming these barriers. Her solution is to deliberately use powerful, confident body language, and “fake it until you become it”. She suggests practicing powerful poses before key events such as job interviews or presentations.

I often talk to young people (usually girls) who are fearful of making presentations, sometimes to the point of avoiding opportunities, and I’ve shared my story. I too used to be terrified of presentations, but, after avoiding them all through school, I realised I had to get over the fear. It was preventing me doing things that I wanted to do and knew I was capable of.  Part of the Careers Adviser role is to facilitate groups and I wanted to be able to do it. So,  I pretended to be confident, acted how I thought I would act if I was confident, and eventually I actually did become confident. Now training  and working with groups is what I enjoy most, which was a real surprise at first.

Some psychologists have now found a problem in that they cannot replicate Cuddy’s findings  (they have a habit of doing this every time a theory gets popular). But I’m going to stick with the power poses, or at the very least, remember to pay attention to my body language and posture when under pressure, whether that is a job interview, a difficult meeting or a presentation.

People initially decide how to treat you based on first impressions, which are made up of how you look, what you wear, tone of voice and yes, body language. If you look confident, people assume you know what you are doing. Striking power poses in the toilet before an interview might seem a bit whacky, but if it helps you remember to take up space and stand tall and confident, then stick with it, I say.

Of course, you don’t have to wait until you are in the toilet to prepare. A good yoga session is the perfect tool to get in the zone.  Some of the power poses that Cuddy describes are actually quite similar to yoga poses. Virabhadrasana (warrior) poses encourage expansion in all directions; it’s impossible to do warrior without taking up a lot of space and channeling strength.  Cuddy talks about “starfishes” which are similar to the five pointed star often used to prepare for Virabhadrasana.

Back bends like salamba bhujangasana (sphinx), bhujangasana (cobra), ustrasana (camel) and urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) require opening up and expanding in the chest area, which is the opposite of the powerless and submissive shrinking that Cuddy observed in her subjects. Gomukhasana (cow face pose) is another pose that opens up the chest and shoulders. There is at least one research study which found a link between cobra pose and the production of testosterone, the hormone linked to confidence, dominance and risk taking.

Cuddy doesn’t have much to say about tone of voice, but I would add a bit of chanting to my pre-interview yoga practice, to get my voice warmed up and find my vocal power (singing loudly in the car is a good alternative).   Finally some deep, calm, breathing and meditation to slow the heart rate, calm the nerves and remember that whatever happens I am fine.

It’s ok to be a bit nervous when you are in the spotlight of an interview; it just shows that this matters to you. What is not ok is when you come out feeling that you didn’t get yourself heard or show your true self. I hope these tips can get you to the point where you can be your authentic self and show what you are capable of!

Making Yourself Lucky

Chance and luck play a huge part in the direction our lives take, not least when it comes to finding jobs and opportunities to work.

One friend of mine, who had been frustrated with her lack of progression at work, finally found her perfect job as the training manager for a group of Care Homes, by chatting to an acquaintance at the school gate.  Another friend, a university Careers Adviser who liked her job but had become rather fed up with the long commute, just happened to be chatting to a colleague in the canteen and he mentioned that one of his students was applying for a Careers Adviser post down the road from where she lived.  She applied – and got the job!

In the last month, I’ve come across:

  • a sixteen year old client who was offered an apprenticeship with his uncle who happened to be building a house (he’d never thought of construction as a career before)
  • an adult client who set up a wedding planning business after having been asked by two friends to plan their weddings,
  • a young woman who happened to be shopping in the local corner shop when she noticed a sign saying they needed a part-time assistant.  It just happend to fit perfectly around her family responsibilities!
  • a computer programmer who was under notice of redundancy, and happened to mention this to a client who then offered him a job in their IT department, doing more practical work that he thoroughly enjoyed

Ask a random group of people how they got their current job, and the chances are, many of them will have got their job through a friend or acquaintance.  In fact, the CIPD estimate that 70% of jobs are found through informal means – through friends and family, proactive networking, speculative applications and cold calling.  There is always a huge element of chance involved in this – whether we happen to meet that random stranger, make the right phone call at the right time (just when gap in the organisation has appeared) or  get chatting to the right person at the school gate. Of course, the more approaches you make, they better your chances of succeeding.

Even in more formal job search methods, there is still an element of chance – whether we happen to buy the right paper, visit the right agency or look on the right internet site on the right day.  These chance encounters can lead not just to a new job, but to a whole new occupation that we might never have considered if we hadn’t happened to see a particular advert or meet a particular person.  Like it or not, most of us are not particularly rational when we choose an occupation.  We don’t research the full range of occupations; we stick to what we know about.  We don’t carefully match our likes and dislikes against the demands of the job; we take what happens to be available and looks vaguely suitable.  Chance plays a very big part in this.

So, if luck and chance play such a big part in career choice, is there anything we can do to make ourselves luckier?  I came across some descriptions of psychological experiments designed to find out just this.  In the first, some volunteers were given a newspaper and asked to go through it counting the photographs.  Unbeknownst to them, the researcher (Howard Wiseman) had inserted an ad which said “Win a £100 by telling the researcher you found this”.  People who rated themselves as lucky before the experiment were more likely to see the advertisement – perhaps because they tended to have their eyes on the bigger picture and spot opportunities that the unlucky people missed.

In another experiment, he asked people to help him get a letter to a random person – say Kate, an events manager, in Cheltenham – by passing it on to someone they knew by name, who might be able to pass it onto someone else who could get it to her.  Amazingly, many people around the UK could get it to her through just 4 contacts.  Some people who had volunteered for the experiment, however, didn’t pass the letter to anyone at all.  When questioned about this, they said it was because they didn’t know anyone who they thought could help.  These people also tended to be those people who rated themselves as unlucky before the experiment began.

He concluded that lucky people tend to have a wider social network and to see that network as being full of people who could help them.  Lucky people are living in a “smaller world” and are more socially connected to other people around the country.  When they need a plumber in a hurry, a new client, some good advice or a new job, they are more likely to know someone who can help them.  Happy coincidences are a frequent occurrence, because of their wide social network.

So, if we want to improve our luck, the key seems to be in widening our social networks – taking the trouble to talk to people, being friendly and interested in the random strangers we meet, smiling at the neighbours we recognise, starting conversations with people around the coffee station, using social networking sites and getting out and about in our communities.

This is not a new conclusion.  There is a whole approach to career planning known as Planned Happenstance, which suggests that rather than setting ourselves an end goal, we should keep an open mind, and develop the skills and attitudes necessary to generate positive chance encounters and be prepared to make the most of them when they present themselves. The “Happenstance” refers to the luck element in this approach, while the “Planned” refers to planning to maximise lucky events and our ability to make the most of them.

Attitudes such as curiosity, enthusiasm for learning and willingness to take risks are a key part of this approach, as are networking skills.  Advocates of Planned Happenstance suggest taking part in lots of activities that interest us, developing new skills and trying out many new experience (work, travel and leisure), which will generate many chance encounters, and thus increase our chances of something really lucky happening to us.

So, next time you think about going to a professional conference, a party, a yoga retreat or an evening class, remember that another good reason to go is that expanding your social network could improve your luck!




Childhood Dramas At Work

A story about my meditation journey

Meditation can bring up a whole host of negative emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, hurt – and sometimes all that seems to happen is you sit there with them.  You try to make the difficult feelings welcome, accept them, and experience them fully.  You notice that your throat is tight, your stomach is churning, your chest is squeezing, there are tears in your eyes and you try not to back away from these uncomfortable sensations.  When this happens over and over again, you wonder what the point is – nothing seems to be getting better. But then sometimes you have an amazing moment of clarity that is felt on a very different level to the moments of clarity that you might experience through more logical analysis.

So, here is a part of my meditation journey and my moment of clarity.

A situation arose at work where, due to a re-organisation, my position within my work team shifted.  I had been occupying what was really my dream job, and a very central position in the team.  Because of my role, I was often the first to be consulted by my senior managers and I had a lot of influence with them.  We would have little meetings without the rest of the team.  I also got on very well with them and they felt like friends as well as managers. They made it clear that they valued my work and my inputs. But with the re-organisation, a more senior manager was parachuted into that central role, and my role was changed, so that, although on the same grade, I was now on the periphery of the team working at much more of a distance from my senior managers and with no special relationships.  Suddenly, they were having little meetings, and I wasn’t invited.  Emotionally, it felt like a real kick in the teeth and I took it really hard, much harder than I should have done.

Every time I sat down to meditate, I felt overwhelmed with negative feelings of hurt, anger and sadness.  It felt like a really personal rejection, although logically I knew that there was no rejection intended.  I had been usurped and my position had been taken by this new manager.  Logically, it was hard to blame anyone – no-one had particularly chosen this situation, least of all the new manager.  But emotionally, I was in bits.  I just couldn’t get past it.  I found myself turning into a person I didn’t really like very much, full of negativity and bitterness.

Every time I sat to meditate, all these feeling arose, and all I could do was notice them.  They didn’t go away.  I began to feel a bit disillusioned with meditation since it didn’t seem to be turning me into the wise and compassionate person I wanted to be.  Sometimes I did loving kindness meditation, and tried to extend loving kindness to my work colleagues, but I couldn’t really feel compassion at a deep level – it was all my head rather than my heart.

But one day, as I sat to meditate, an image came to me that was so powerful it did transform how I felt.  I was suddenly a little girl again, on the periphery of my family.  My Mum and Dad and my younger sister (by six years) were close together and I was on the outskirts.

I think that this was a powerful emotion of my childhood.  I remembered photos of myself as a toddler, my Mum and my Dad together, so close before my sister was born.  Even when she was a baby, she was just a super-doll for us all to play with.  But as she grew older, she seemed in some way to replace me.  She was easy-going, compliant, cheerful and seemed to navigate her social life with ease.  I was awkward, spiky, shy and moody.  The more that my Mum seemed to prefer my sister, the more I did things calculated to annoy my Mum.  I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and different to every one else.  I never quite fitted in.

The image that came to me so powerfully in meditation was the three of them, posed as in the photos of my early childhood, but I am now on the periphery and she is at the centre.  I wanted to take my younger self in my arms, give that little girl a big hug and say, you know what, actually you are great just as you are.  You don’t need to change to fit in, you don’t need to pretend to be anything other than yourself, and you are of value.  You are lovable.  I sat for longer focusing all my compassion on my childhood self.  Other feelings seemed to soften and dissolve.

Later I extended that compassion to my sister who never asked for that role in the family. This wasn’t hard as my sister and I have always got on well and I always cared for her.

I also tried to extend that compassion to my parents, which was a little harder.  Now I am a parent myself, I know how frustrating children’s moods and behaviour can be, and that a parent can love a child and be frustrated by them at the same time.  I try to empathize with my mother who was probably doing the best she could.

I was also able to extend this compassion to my work colleagues in a way that felt more genuine than it ever had done previously.

I realised that in every job I have had, I have made great efforts to occupy a central position in my manager’s heart, by working hard, being excellent at my job, being helpful and being emphatic to my manager’s stresses.  It’s a pattern that I have repeated over and over with new managers – get my good work noticed, be super-helpful, then make friends.  It’s generally worked – my managers have rewarded me with challenging projects, praise, recognition, support and friendship.  But when my relationships with managers don’t work out like this, I take it hard.  It’s like they have reneged on their side of the deal.  That is not the ending I am looking for.

I began to wonder what it would be like to be different at work – less dependent on others for validation.  Less willing to please.

Transactional Analysis has a lot to say about how parent and child relationships get repeated in adult relationships.  The classic book, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested, is “Games People Play” by Eric Berne.  I read it a long time ago and I studied it again on my counselling diploma.  So maybe I already knew these things about myself and my relationships in an intellectual, analytical way. I probably did some kind of exercise in class about it.  But in meditation, I really felt them deeply for the first time.

I wonder how many difficult work relationships between managers and the people they manage are really the result of people bringing their childhood stories into work and re-enacting them, possibly hoping to achieve a different outcome.

Thinking of the people I have managed, some do really like to please.  One spent the first few months of our relationship greeting me with “what have I done?” as if she expected to be told off by the teacher.  Some like to make friends, whilst others expect a more hierarchical relationship.  They are probably all, to some extend, either repeating a comfortable pattern or looking for a happier ending.


Meditating for Motivation

Lack of motivation can be one of the biggest barriers to taking control of our careers.  It’s all too easy to find ourselves stuck, in jobs that are sapping our energy, stressing us out and not allowing us to achieve our potential.

No matter what career stage we are at, it is so easy to build a web of de-motivating thoughts that can become a mental cage, keeping us firmly stuck. If you are in this gang you might recognise these thoughts:

  • I don’t have time
  • I’m too busy/tired/stressed to think…
  • There aren’t any jobs out there that pay well enough/are local enough/give me the hours I need
  • I might fail…
  • There will be too much competition
  • Maybe things aren’t so bad here anyway
  • I don’t know where to start
  • My family need me
  • I’m not qualified enough
  • I’m not confident enough
  • I’m not that kind of person

These thoughts flit through our minds whenever we think about career change, and we don’t do anything about it.

Think about how much you have done to actively manage your career in the last few months. Have you learnt a new skill, made some professional contacts, looked at job ads, updated your CV, researched an organisation you are interested in, used social media to build your brand, taken on a challenging project to raise your profile? If the honest answer is that you have not done very much, chances are that motivation is your biggest barrier.

It is worth noting that you can have different levels of motivation for different activities. You might be very motivated to get fit, but less motivated to learn to play the ukulele. You might be super motivated to do a good job for your employer, but less motivated to look after your own career.

Motivational interviewing theorists, Miller and Rollnick, identify two components to motivation – knowing the change is important and believing that you can successfully make the change.  If your beliefs in either of these areas are negative, then motivation to change will be low.  So, if I am really fed up with job and think it is important to get a new one, but don’t feel confident that I can actually succeed, motivation will be low.  Motivation often hits a low point after people have applied for a few opportunities and been rejected, as confidence dwindles.  Alternatively, I might be quite content in my job and confident I can get a new one if I need, so motivation may also be low, because career management doesn’t seem important to me (and I may be lapsing into a state of complacency).

Motivational Interviewing is an approach which builds on an empathic relationship between the helper and the person being helped, and there are a range of excellent questioning techniques which the helper can use.

Meditation can also be a very powerful tool to help build motivation.  The beliefs that we have (no jobs out there, not qualified enough) can seem very real and concrete, and can weave together in our minds to form a solid barrier to progress.  These thoughts may even be operating below the level of our conscious awareness if we are not in the habit of noticing our thought patterns.

Meditating can help us to notice the thoughts that pop up in our minds.  In sitting quietly and listening to the chatter of our minds it can be quite disturbing to realise how many negative and self-limiting thoughts we have.  These thoughts might be based on things that other people have said to us, negative experiences, or things that we say to ourselves.  We often latch onto these negative thoughts and build a story around them, entrenching them in our belief system.  Before we know it, we have deep seated beliefs that prevent us from getting started on making changes or cause us to give up easily.

A good activity to try in meditation is to imagine our minds are like the sky, and thoughts are like the clouds that float across it.  They are temporary, and arise and disappear again.  If we find ourselves getting involved with a thought and developing a story around it, we can notice this is happening, and then let the thought go.  Because thoughts are temporary they do not have power over us.  Just because we think them, it doesn’t mean they are true.

Practicing this meditation often can help develop a sense of spaciousness in our thoughts which can make room for new ideas, thoughts and ways of being.  It can create the space for positive thoughts to creep in (“Maybe I could…” or “What if I tried…”).

Regular meditation over a period of time can help to dissolve that barrier of seemingly solid, permanent, negative thoughts which have woven together to prevent us moving forward.

I’m not aware of any research looking specifically on the impact of meditation on career motivation but there is plenty of research on the wider benefits of meditation. Combining meditation with career coaching/guidance could be a powerful combination for getting unstuck.







Yoga and Career Development – an odd mix?

I have been a career development practitioner for 21 years and a yogi for 27 years, yet it is only in the last few years that I have started to see the connections between the two, and how yoga and meditation can really support career development and help people to make decisions and find fulfilment in their careers and working lives.  Meditation and mindfulness practices can clear the mind of clutter, making it easier break through barriers and make decisions that just feel right.  Yoga asanas (poses) can generate the positive energy and focus required to see things through to completion.

I am not a yoga or mindfulness teacher, but do try to practice yoga and meditation every day. I am on my own journey, and my practice has helped me to be more compassionate, more positive, more resilient, and less stressed and anxious.  Yoga has helped me face many workplace dramas from a calmer and stronger place.  More recently, I have added mindfulness into the mix.  It has helped me to focus on what I really want from my career and my life.  Yoga has always been for my own personal development, but the more I practice, the more sure I feel that it can be used to help others with their career development.

My career has always been in the career development of others.  I have worked with young people and adults, all struggling to make decisions and take control of their careers.  More recently, I have also worked in training and development, and organisational development.

Over the years I have studied counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, coaching, motivational interviewing, solution focused approaches, and borrowed from all of these approaches to help my clients and colleagues to take control of their work and their careers. Often the biggest barriers to career development are finding the motivation to get started and see things through, and the courage to make a change.  Now it feels like time to borrow some techniques from yoga and mindfulness to see whether they can help others to move forward in taking control of their careers.

This blog is the sweet spot then, between three of my passions – career development, yoga and writing.  I will tell you more about how I identified my passions in another post.  For now, I hope you find something useful in this blog.  If it gives just one person a great idea or some inspiration, then I’m happy.