Learning from Martians and Power Poses

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Filed under: Christina's Blog

Learning from Martians and Power Poses

We were happy to hear Matt Damon earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Mark Whatney, a fictional NASA scientist, in the movie, The Martian.

In this film, Damon’s character is stranded on Mars after being presumed dead by his crew. Left to fend for himself, Whatney draws on his wits, humor and a limited amount of supplies in attempt to make it out alive.

It was a quirky, captivating story, but there was an earnest quote from Whatney near the end of the film that really struck a chord with us.

He said, “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you. Everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem, and you solve the next one, and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”

While we might not be stranded on a planet far from Earth, the same rings true in a business environment. Entrepreneurs, small-business owners and managers risk increased difficulties when they ignore or deny the problems associated with their daily work.

By staying present in the situation and tackling what needs to be done, one problem at a time, people can persevere — and excel — through tough times.

Mission: Possible
We can do amazing things against seemingly impossible odds, but first we must believe it can be done.

Take the four-minute mile, for example. Many thought it was an absurd goal until Roger Bannister defied the odds in 1954.

Two months after accomplishing the feat, Bannister and John Landy broke the mark in the same race, proving to the world it was no anomaly.

Now more than six decades later, high school students are breaking the mark. Chicagoland’s Lukas Verzbicas became the fifth prep athlete to run a sub-four-minute mile, doing so in 2011 at Sandburg High School. And those aren’t the only odds Verzbicas defied.

The next year, Verzbicas sustained massive injuries in a cycling crash while training for a triathlon. His spinal cord was so damaged, a neurologist believed Verzbicas would never walk again.

But as Whatney said, you can either accept it, or you can get to work. Seven months of grueling rehabilitation later, Verzbicas competed in another race. It’s more than tenacity, it’s a quality that Albert Bandura called self-efficacy, one’s belief in one’s own ability.

“I feel very blessed,” Verzbicas recently told The Daily Southtown, a suburban subsidiary of the Chicago Tribune. “When I was told that I wouldn’t even walk, I just didn’t believe it. It says a lot about how a positive mentality helps when you’re going through (adversity). That’s what keeps me improving, a positive attitude and a strong mentality to not give up.”

When a person believes in something, whether it be running a four-minute mile or coming back from a serious injury, the unattainable becomes attainable.

It’s all in the mindset of choosing differently in our daily lives — whether it be at work, in a social situation or at home with the family. Staying positive, belief in oneself and striving for greatness go hand in hand.

We recently saw Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor famous for her TED Talk on power and nonverbal behavior, speak at the Union League Club of Chicago. Cuddy, like Damon’s Whatney, talked about the importance of presence and bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges.

But it’s harder for some people to be present, to introduce their boldest self to their problems, than others. So Cuddy gave a useful trick, which can be seen in her TED Talk. It’s called power posing.

People who stand or sit in a dominant position for two minutes can actually program their minds into thinking they are powerful. And what do powerful people do? They tackle their problems head-on.

In Cuddy’s research, after just two minutes of power posing (think of the way Wonder Woman stands), subjects boosted their testosterone and lowered their cortisol levels, the hormones responsible for stress.

So the next time you’re greeted with a problem at work — or with friends or family, or maybe you’re feeling like you’re stranded on Mars — consider holding a dominant pose for two minutes. It could help bring out your best self, and who doesn’t want to be their best?