Habits Matter

Our psychology and mental health is a two way street. Our internal states can affect our actions and habits, but our actions and habits can also affect our internal states.

Studies have shown that changing our facial expression and posture can influence what we think and feel about our world. For example, in one study participants were instructed to watch a cartoon and rate how funny they thought it was. While watching the cartoon, one group was told to hold a pen in their mouth in a way that made them unconsciously mimic a smiley face; in the other group, participants were told to hold the pen in a way that mimicked a sad/anguish face. Researchers found that those who mimicked the smiley face ended up finding the cartoon funnier [1]. This is one demonstration of how our external expressions can affect how we view the world.

Similarly, there has also been research to suggest that our posture, even when mimicked, can have an external → internal affect on how we view ourselves. Those who mimic a slumped posture often feel less confident in themselves, while those who mimic an upright posture feel more confident in themselves [2]. Something as simple as carrying our bodies in a different way can be a catalyst toward long-lasting changes.

When we deviate from our normal code of behavior, by trying new habits, we can start a change in ourselves that wouldn’t occur if we stuck to our everyday routine. For example, when introverts act in extroverted ways by initiating conversations with others (even when it makes them uncomfortable or feel awkward), they end up thinking about themselves more positively after the fact [3]. By acting in new ways we learn to see ourselves in a new light.

So these are just some examples of how changing our outward expressions can influence our self-perception. It’s not always the case that personal change must come from within – such as through introspection or meditation – sometimes it helps to just go out and try things (even when they feel “out of character”) and see how they affect you.

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Articles mentioned.

[1] Is the Perceived Humor of a Video Clip Affected by a Smile? [PDF]

[2] Body Posture Affects Confidence In Yourself

[3] Introverts Feel Better About Themselves When They Interact with Others

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