Physical Signals to Pay Attention to For Well-being

September 21, 2021


Dr Sven Hansen

I love tennis. The Australian Open is one of my favourites. Despite the late nights, watching these gladiators confront the boundaries of their skill under sustained pressure is thrilling and inspiring. It also highlights the important role of presence.

Whether a fan or not, to watch these women and men master their on-court presence is a lesson we can all learn from. Out there on court, with a screaming crowd or broadcast to millions, a player is under intense scrutiny through sustained pressure.

Consider the self-mastery of Tsitsipas weathering the storm of a brutal, on-form Nadal to come back from two sets down. Barty dealing graciously with defeat. Djokovic smashing his racquet in vicious rage against Zverev and coming back to win. The playfulness of Hsieh. Zverev’s sad eyes and exposing his stomach when things go wrong. The steadiness of Osaka. The power of Williams – and, ahh, the clothing.

We know that our physical signals determine how someone responds to you within 40 milliseconds. Given that emotions activate in around 300 milliseconds and thoughts in around 600 milliseconds, the body rules. What we show physically is based on how we master emotion and thought.

Resilience Podcast: Posture and Presence, Feb 2021

There are eight great lessons to help you face the challenges of leadership, parenting, politics, teams, and the hustle of making progress in a testing world. There is no one right way. This is a creative journey of building the presence you want to be in the world. Test the lessons for your own needs. Adapt and refine.

Discipline your Body. Your body sends the first signals. Are you confident? Are you open and warm? Are you fit for purpose? Are you dominant or submissive? What emotion is your body signaling? The body is tangible and malleable. Much more so than your emotions and thoughts. The body is where we must start.


To present in life, recovery the first requirement. Sleep, breathe, stretch and nourish yourself well. Your vehicle must be well serviced. The moment a match completes triggers a structured routine of recovery. Do you believe you are physically prepared for the day?

Dress right

Unlike other creatures, we adorn ourselves with clothing, gels, jewellery and hairstyles. Creative presentation is great. Are you presenting like a male peacock? What is the signal that you want to send to those you engage with?

Walk and Stand with Purpose

A limp in an antelope is an attack opportunity for a predator. Walk tall, directly, and maintain a spring in your legs. Keep your shoulders open and let your arms swing naturally. Stand with your feet apart, weight on the balls of your feet, balanced and ready to move. Do you have a video or picture of your gait?

Lengthen the Back of your Neck

Keep your spine light and long. This reduces the strain on your neck massively. Well balanced shoulders and neck make you look alert, ready, open and confident. When your shoulders hunch and your head bows forward (i-posture), you look beaten. The signal goes both inwards to your own hormonal status (testosterone down and cortisol up), and out to the impression others receive.

Never Expose your Stomach

We are a predator species. Exposing the belly is the strongest submission pose a predator can display. Watch Zverev. He really must stop this habit. Too much exposed flesh is a distraction at best. At worst, it derails your purpose.

Shut your Mouth

Only open your mouth to speak and in extreme exercise. Breathing through the nose is much better for health and performance. Leaving your jaw slack and hanging has no benefit. Deliberately keep your lips sealed, tongue soft and slow your breathing. This will also help you to listen better.

Restrain Emotional Outbursts

Smashing a racquet, swearing or angry outbursts might have been OK in McEnroe’s time. We are past it now. Destructive emotions must be checked and expressed with respect and skill. While rage appears to excite a part of the population (Kyrios vs. Thiem), we will advance faster when we learn to express the better angels of our nature – respect, tolerance and kindness.

Practise like Crazy

Just as you cannot pick up a racquet for a masterful forehand without years of practice, so you will need to practice this stuff. Suggestions:

  1. Watch different postural styles in contexts that you admire
  2. Review or record photos and videos of yourself in action
  3. See an experienced physiotherapist for a muscle balance assessment
  4. Develop a daily stretch and core strength routine
  5. Mitigate sleep deprivation, overload and hyperventilation
  6. Walk tall, sit up and rest well

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