The intensity with which you grip a pen as you sign a contract or write a check says something about how you feel at that moment. The question is whether you're aware of those feelings.
In a study, researchers asked subjects whether they'd like to donate funds to the needy in Haiti. Some subjects were told to grip a pen tightly; others were instructed to maintain a loose grip.
The tight grippers donated more money. Researchers concluded that strong clutching of the pen stoked these subjects' desire to contribute, and looseness made the others less connected to the cause and less apt to open their checkbooks.
Subtle body movements also shed light on how we think. Research shows that people who use eyedrops may temporarily feel sad because the drops generate teary eyes.
If that's hard to believe, try this experiment: Extend and raise your middle finger. Even though your intent isn't to express hostility, you may experience a flash of fury as if you were flipping someone off.
By gaining awareness of how body motions affect your feelings, you can exert more control over your emotions. You may find it's easier to avoid making inflammatory statements over the phone if you "zip your lips" with your fingers. As long as no one sees you, this can become your own private cue to think before you speak.
Experiment with different gestures and gauge the corresponding emotional triggers. Whether you clench a fist to muster inner strength or clap once as a reminder to focus, little movements can prod you to produce.
Take these steps to use body movements to your advantage:
Stand tall to convey key points. To underscore your passion or forcefulness when you speak, keep your back erect and balance your weight on both feet if you're standing. Slouching can make you feel less assertive or indecisive, and make you appear more dubious to others.
Avoid unnecessary movements. Rampant fidgeting can increase your anxiety or impatience, even if you think it helps you relax. Train your body to keep still, and assess the difference.
Keep your hands away from your face. Hand-to-face movements can feel artificial and make you feel like an actor playing a part. Example: Cradling your chin in your hand probably won't help you listen, but you may become self-conscious.
Force a smile. It won't always work, but sometimes a warm smile elevates your mood and increases your openness to others.