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10 Cool Mind Tricks that Give You an Edge

There's finally proof that you can manipulate the way you think just by making little body movements so you feel happier and more confident.

You know that annoying saying “There’s no such thing as a quick fix”? Well, science has proven that it’s a bunch of crap. There’s a ton of fascinating data that explains how little things you do with your body can subconsciously—and instantly—influence your thoughts. “The brain associates certain physical feelings with specific emotions,” explains Art Glenberg, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University. For example, research shows that if you hold a cup of hot coffee while talking to someone, you’ll feel more emotionally warm toward the person. We dug up a slew of other scientifically proven strategies that can give you an advantage in a variety of situations. Want to feel more confident? Done. Need to brainstorm a genius idea for your boss? Check. Read on to learn the brilliant shortcuts to achieving your goals.

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1. IF YOU WANT TO... Radiate Big-Time Confidence

THE TRICK: Sit with one arm on a chair’s armrest, the other arm draped along the back of the chair, and one ankle casually crossed over the opposite knee.

WHY IT WORKS: When people take on that position, they feel an instant power boost, reveals a new study from Northwestern University. In fact, the researchers found that when a participant used the posture around her boss, she seemed much more influential, even when she was actually lower down on the office food chain. And a separate Columbia University and Harvard University study sheds light as to why: Sitting in an expansive, dominant pose (any position that takes up space, like the one described above) triggers a rise in testosterone levels—making you feel more powerful—at the same time that it decreases the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in your system, giving you that calm, got-it-all-together edge.

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2. IF YOU WANT TO... Prevent a Petty Fight from Blowing Up

THE TRICK: Nod your head yes.

WHY IT WORKS: On a subconscious level, we associate actions with the feelings that tend to direct them. So if you nod your head, it tricks your brain into being more agreeable with whatever you are hearing at the moment, according to a University of Missouri study (On the flip side, shaking your head no can make you feel more negative about a person or situation.). That means that the next time you want to stop a stupid argument from escalating before it gets out of hand, just nod your head as you listen to the person talk—you’ll feel more open and, therefore, able to find ways to compromise.

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3. IF YOU WANT TO... Stop Overthinking a Situation

THE TRICK: Wash your hands with soap.

WHY IT WORKS: A recent University of Michigan study found that whenever people washed their hands after making a decision, they were less likely to second-guess the choice they’d already made than those who skipped sudsing up did. The research participants were asked to evaluate different products, like music CDs, and then choose a few to take with them for free. The participants who washed their hands after picking a CD were less likely to wish they had chosen a different one to bring home than the people who hadn’t rinsed off afterward. So if you’re obsessing about whether you did the right thing or replaying a mishap in your head, this move can figuratively clean your mind of those nagging thoughts. Interestingly, previous research found that this trick can also make you feel less guilty after doing something not so nice, like lying to a friend. Don’t have a sink nearby? Use an antibacterial wipe—it’s just as effective.

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4. IF YOU WANT TO... Make a Tough Decision

THE TRICK: Hold a heavy object, like a paperweight.

WHY IT WORKS: Researchers at the University of Amsterdam discovered that when people held a heavy clipboard, they assigned more importance to their own opinions and a greater value to things around them than people who held lighter clipboards. Translation: Holding something hefty can help you give more weight to whatever you’re considering. So if you need to make a judgment call on an important issue, like whether to take a new job or move in with your boyfriend, having a few pounds in your hand can trick your brain into evaluating the situation in a more serious way.

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5. IF YOU WANT TO... Brainstorm an Awesome Idea

THE TRICK: Press up on the underside of your desktop or a table with your fingertips.

WHY IT WORKS: In a Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, experts found that this gesture causes a spike in creative thinking. The reason? The motion flexes the arm muscles you use to bring things closer to your body, which your brain associates with openness and creativity (The study also found that when you press down, the opposite happens, so you feel closed off and less accepting.).

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6. IF YOU WANT TO... Summon your Inner Bitch

THE TRICK: Put on a pair of sunglasses.

WHY IT WORKS: The key here is that your shades make you subconsciously feel concealed, so you’re more free to do (and say) whatever the hell you want. To that end, new research in Psychological Science proved that when study participants wore sunglasses, they actually acted more selfish than volunteers who wore untinted glasses. Well, now we know why so many celebs wear theirs 24/7.

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7. IF YOU WANT TO... Feel Chill and Totally Relaxed

THE TRICK: Hug a guy.

WHY IT WORKS: When women get a whiff of a man’s hair or skin, they instantly feel more relaxed, as evidenced by a recent University of Utah study. Researchers think that the scent has some sort of calming power on the brain. And it doesn’t need to be your BF or husband: A quick embrace from any dude (your dad, a platonic guy friend, your brother) will have the same effect. Just don’t go hugging your boss the next time you’re stressed about a big work project—that’d be awkward.

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8. IF YOU WANT TO... Solve a Problem Fast

THE TRICK: Take a few steps backward.

WHY IT WORKS: Researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, tested this theory by having one group of volunteers walk forward and then take a simple test and another group walk backward and then complete the same exam. Turns out, those who took a step back gave more accurate answers and performed way better on the test than those who took a few steps forward beforehand. Scientists speculate that the backward movement nudges the brain to go into problem-solving mode—it’s like your mind is putting the cliché “take a step back and see the big picture” into action. Try it out the next time you need to fix a snafu at work or troubleshoot an issue at home.

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9. IF YOU WANT TO... Sharpen your Memory

THE TRICK: Doodle on a pad of paper.

WHY IT WORKS: Scribbling little drawings and mindlessly practicing your “Mrs. Michael Fassbender” signature can actually make you more likely to absorb info you hear (such as at a meeting or during a lecture). In fact, doodling boosts memory by almost 30 percent, according to a University of Plymouth study. Pretty cool. One reason scientists think it’s so effective is because drawing may engage the area of the brain that might otherwise be used for daydreaming and zoning out.

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10. IF YOU WANT TO... Figure Out the Next Thing in your Career Path/Love Life/etc.

THE TRICK: Lean your upper body forward.
WHY IT WORKS: Scientists at the University of Aberdeen outfitted study participants with motion sensors and discovered that whenever they thought about the future, their bodies tilted forward. Evidently, our perception of physical space (i.e., moving forward) and time (i.e., thinking about what’s coming up) are hardwired together in our brains. That means this trick can help you visualize the future more vividly, so you’ll have an easier time planning something, whether that’s a career move or the kind of guy you want to be with someday.

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