Read Minds and Lift Your Mood – Body Language Basics

by Vlad Dolezal on March 2, 2008

I was sitting with two friends at a dinner table. The talk turned to body language, and how it affects your mood. I proposed a simple experiment, which the others accepted.

So I put that cheesy-ass American grin on my face. One of my friends put a frown on his face. And the third one simply behaved normally.

Over the next couple of minutes, the wildest thing happened. I started having the time of my life. I was joking around, laughing, enjoying myself. The friend with the frown became grumpy and pissed. He eventually left early.

The only downside for me was that after holding that cheesy American grin for about 15 minutes, my mouth kinda hurt. But I was laughing anyway.

Everybody knows your mental state affects the way you hold your body. An unhappy depressed person will slouch and look at the ground. But some people don’t realize the opposite is also true. It’s a feedback mechanism. Putting your a smile on your face will make you feel happier.

Good news! You can consciously change your body language. Which means you can indirectly change your mood too.

Lift Your Mood

Try the following experiment:

1. Think of a thought or situation that mildly worries you.

2. Notice your body language. (Slouched shoulders? Maybe a frown? Shallow breathing? Anything else?)

3. Stop right there! Pull your shoulders back. Lean back. Lift your head. Now take three deep slooo..o…oow breaths. One….. Twoo….. Threeee. Now put a huge teeth-flashing smile on your face.

4. Keeping this posture, think the same worrying thought as before. The chances are, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore. You simply can’t feel too worried if you’re holding your body confidently and grinning at the world.

5. Optionally, keep that grin on your face for 3 minutes. It will make your day.

The 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule says you should focus on the 20% of your effort which generates 80% of the results. Body language falls squarely in that category. It’s very simple to change, yet it creates a dramatic difference in how you feel.

Change other people’s perception of you

Did you know that only 7% of what we communicate is words? 25% is voice tone and a whopping 68% is body language.

(Update: As Michael pointed out in the comments, the actual statistic is 7% verbal, 38% voice tone and 55% body language. Also, for example the 7% figure means that when verbal and nonverbal messages are in conflict, people will favour the verbal messages 7% of the time. See the Albert Mehrabian wikipedia page for more details.)

It makes sense that changing you body language vastly changes how others perceive you.

There are some things to do, and a couple of things to avoid.

Good body language to do:

1. Keep your legs shoulder-width apart when standing
Keeping you legs too close (like most people do) shows you don’t have much confidence. Keeping them too far apart is try-hard. That also communicates lack of inner confidence.

2. Hold your shoulders back
Stand up straight, holding your head high. Now pull your shoulders up around your neck, really tense. Now relax the shoulders, and let them fall in a comfortable relaxed position. That’s where you want to keep them.

3. Lift your chest
Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Imagine there’s a silver thread running from the front of your chest up into the sky. Now imagine that silver thread starts pulling your chest up. That’s what I mean.

4. Lean back
This applies mostly when sitting down. Leaning back communicates you’re cool and not needy. Just lean back comfortably and speak a bit louder.

5. Hold your head up high
This was a big one for me personally. I used to walk around looking at the ground. Nowadays I look at the scenery or look people in the eyes when walking. It’s amazing, but when you look up at the scenery and horizon, even a simple walk to the grocery store looks like a scene from a movie. Next time you walk somewhere, notice the buildings and the sky. See how that feels different from where you normally look.

Bad body language to avoid:

1. Slouching
This is a really bad one. Not only does it make you look weak and unconfident, it’s also bad for your health. It constricts your chest, making your breathing fast and shallow. That alone is enough to make you feel miserable.
2. Fidgeting
Moving the whole time is a sign of nervousness. Others can really feel it.

Read minds

When I first started learning about body language several years ago, I had no idea how the people I was talking to were feeling. I couldn’t tell if they were enjoying the conversation or were bored out of their minds.

Now I can tell exactly how the conversation is going by little nuances in the other person’s facial expression. Real mind reading to some people.

If you’re at a point in your life yourself where you have no clue about body language, that’s cool. We’ve all been there. Below I share some of the most basic and easily noticeable body language cues.

1. Folded arms

This universally means the person is being cold, defensive, and stand-offish. It’s why you often see bodyguards standing like this.

Let’s say you’re standing in a group of people. If someone has folded arms, chances are they’re not having fun. You might also see them looking around and if you look at their feet…

2. Feet

Feet are a great body language cue. It’s completely unconscious, but very obvious once you look for it. Look which direction the person’s feet are pointing. If they’re both pointed towards the rest of the group, they’re interested in the conversation.

If one of their feet is pointing towards the exit, it means they would rather be somewhere else. People also often point one of their feet at the person in the group they’re most interested in.

3. Eye contact / looking around

This one’s a little bit more subtle than the previous two, but still pretty easy to notice. If a person is looking around a lot, it means they’re looking for something more interesting. If, on the other hand, their eyes seem glued to the person they’re talking to, they find the person very interesting.

Changing you body language

You have enough information now to make some basic changes in your body language. Don’t worry if you don’t get it quite right.

It took me personally about a week until I figured out the natural confident state. During that first week, I held my chest too high and out, my shoulders too far back, I was leaning back too much. In short, I looked completely ridiculous for a week.

I figured a week of looking ridiculous was a small price to pay for subsequent years of good body language. And boy, was I ever right.

Another view of body language

To finish off, I’ll present you another school of thought about body language.

This school of thought believes changing your body language isn’t enough. Body language is, after all, just a representation of your inner state. You should instead notice your body language, figure out what that means about your inner state and then work on that.

For example, let’s say you find yourself fidgeting nervously. Instead of just making yourself stop in the moment, you would ask yourself what you’re feeling nervous about. Then you would go and do something about that.

Changing your body language is a quick fix. Taking care of the cause means you don’t need to worry about changing your body language. It will become naturally confident once you remove all inner game issues.

Whichever approach you adapt, good luck.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Djo March 2, 2008 at 23:49

The smile thing really works, I’ve been doing it for some time now. Try it, it’s great !

For the rest, well, gonna try now and see how it goes ^^


Unr3a1 March 5, 2008 at 16:47

Very interesting… I like it.


Anonymous March 7, 2008 at 21:44

Don’t forget about free language learning software from


Anonymous March 10, 2008 at 19:55

wow this is amaziing! Thank you soo much for all of the tips..Im soo happy I found this blogg.


Anonymous March 16, 2008 at 06:25

definitely something all of us “nerds”, “computers guys”, engineers”, what have you should learn. just like school, its so much easier and quicker to learn concepts that others have already found out, than to figure out on your own. The way I figure, pretty much all of us who read this are the nerdy introverted type … fake it until you make it. learning linux, learning how EFI works, learning assembly, C++, VisBasic, are just the same as learning how to work, deal, and interact with “normal” people. the same thing with eating healthy and working out. we all exercise our brains. we all should realize that exercising our social abilities (one could construe it to be the ability to consciously manipulate people) and to exercise our bodies is just as important. who wants to be the lonely genius who is in to much physical pain to move when they hit their ’40’s!


Anonymous March 16, 2008 at 10:12

You said:
Did you know that only 7% of what we communicate is words? 25% is voice tone and a whopping 68% is body language.

Could you please tell me where this amazing statistic comes from?

I would particularly like to know how the figures were derived.

What sort of experiment would one use to differentiate between the various communication media?
What control methods to know that communication is being channeled through body language rather than voice tone?

I suspect that the figures are fabricated (which is not to say that they are incorrect)


Anonymous March 16, 2008 at 20:12

Well, according to the statistics in a psyc class I took at Harvard, these statistics are very close. The exception being 80% of the visuals (body language).


Anonymous March 16, 2008 at 22:17

Interesting. I’d be curious to see some actual clinical testing. Thanks for sharing.


Anonymous March 17, 2008 at 01:39

This was taught to me by my mentor (Dr. Wallace Ellerbroek) clear back in the 70’s. He was a psychiatrist and master of reading body language. (Google him.) It’s also mentioned by James Branch Cabel in his book “Beyond Life”, published in 1919.


Shauna March 17, 2008 at 15:31

Absolutely great advice, and proven to be true. I use a lot of the same body language factors when teaching small classes to help me determine the pace of the lesson, and my approach to the students.


Anonymous March 18, 2008 at 14:45

NEVER DO IT – as a result of a fake good mood eventually you will get a real depression……. DON’T play with the feelings that come from above…….


Anonymous March 18, 2008 at 18:25

…from above what?! Don’t be silly.


Anonymous March 19, 2008 at 06:07

pft, feelings don’t come from anywhere but your own head. life is so much more enjoyable when it’s yours and not left up to whatever “above” is!


grant czerepak March 19, 2008 at 08:33

Wikipedia FACS

FACS publication

Body language is pretty meaningless, however facial action is universal across cultures. In fact, your facial expression can influence your emotional state just as easily as your emotional state can influence your facial expression.

A good discussion of facial action is in Malcom Gladwell’s book “blink”. In it Paul Ekman discusses his development of the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and his related research.


Anonymous March 20, 2008 at 02:08

bah are ya for real. i know guys that smile and are nearly on the brink of ending their life. ya can never how someone is by just “reading their body language” so i deem this site a waste of time. just go get a hobby and stop complaining


Fox Wesley Buchele March 21, 2008 at 11:22

I remember watching one time on ‘Reading Rainbow’ when i was 6 or 7 that smiling actually makes you happier, and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Tyler March 21, 2008 at 20:50

I really want to say that im extremely grateful to the poster of this… It’s always a very good reminder….. Thanks… This’ll make my day atleast “That” much better (Holds thumb and finger closely together), which is always good ^_^.


Amanda March 21, 2008 at 22:56

If you are in a bad mood, also try putting on a silly grin and doing a really silly movement (like pretend to walk in place while moving your arms like you are skiing). You will get an instant mood boost! Silly = good. Enjoy.


Virtually Sweet March 21, 2008 at 23:09

I feel this is really helpful information to have…I tend to be very intuitive, but my husband could learn a lot from this post!

I do find it ironic how many people shoot down psychological facts and theories which make perfect sense, yet readily believe anything, no matter how fantastical if it was written in the bible.

I think the more we learn about how our minds and bodies relate, the better off we all will be.


Anonymous March 22, 2008 at 00:35

To the commenter who knew lots of guys who smile and yet are on the brink of apparent suicide…1. Misery is just as contagious and it appears to have affected you and 2. there are many people who smile only with their mouths and it never reaches their eyes. People who observe that fake smile are never convinced and neither is the persons mind or body.

Coincidentally,this topic was covered today on


some1 March 22, 2008 at 23:44

Something I find is that if I am leaning forward while doing anything – eating, on the computer, doin HW, driving, whatever – I get in a rush and stress a bit. When I lean back and put my shoulders down I am a lot more relaxed. This is also really true on AIM, I always lean back when talking on AIM


Anonymous March 23, 2008 at 05:19

i figured some of this out a while ago, i keep telling people they can change their own attitudes and moods but no one believes me. i just tell them “i’ve done it, so i know!” i have to walk a mile and a half to and from campus everyday, i look at the scenery, i smile at passers by, and it has become my favorite daily routine.


Mandi March 23, 2008 at 11:45

This is all good stuff. Even Tony Robbins says the same thing. Kinda like a “fake it ’till you make it”. These techniques really work.


Anonymous March 24, 2008 at 07:47

When I fold my arms I’m not being defensive or stand-offish, it’s usually a vain attempt at hiding my too large stomach that I’m embarrassed about. One shouldn’t assume that they can “read” someone’s mind or intentions simply by body language. Things are not always what they seem.


Anonymous March 24, 2008 at 12:26

I really thank you for these tips 😀

They really seem to work… I tried them just as I read your blog and I feel a lot calmer and a bit happier.

So I really thank you for helping people like me who have a bit difficulty with people who can be a real pain in the ass 😛

Thank you very much, again. ^_^


Anonymous March 25, 2008 at 23:16

True…A lot of people cross their arms for other reasons, it may be more comfortable. But I think reading someone’s body language must involve all of their motions, including eye contact, hand placement, posture, and not based on only one or two actions.

For example, if you’re crossing your arms to hide your “too large” stomach you could still have excellent posture, good eye contact, and talk with energy and enthusiasm. You should use all your observations in making a decision.


Tobin Hunt March 26, 2008 at 04:37

I’m not disagreeing with the general theme here, but I see that same sort of statistic rolled out by so many people its ridiculous – ‘68%’ of our communication is just body language, yeah right! Could you quote the research study where you found those exact figures documented please? If not then don’t just make up statistics like that, its disingenuous.


Anonymous March 26, 2008 at 06:21

well said


Anonymous March 27, 2008 at 05:48

Ah, I see that my point has already been covered, but let me offer corroboration. I also have a big belly, and while I’m pretty sure I am not crossing my arms to hide it, it cam be a decidedly comfortable way to hold your arms if you’re fat — just resting them on that big cushion. I do it all the time, including times when I am definitely receptive to what is going on — at a play, for instance.

I should add, though, that I do see other people put off or intimidated by my crossed arms. Whether that’s an apprehension of a universal body grammar or just reflects the popularity and influence of articles like this, I couldn’t tell you.

Finally, despite the above, I do agree — from my own experience — that smiling and other positive body stances really can improve mood. Skeptics should just try it. Especially the smiling, which is reinforced by the surprising number of people who smile back.


oliGOfree March 27, 2008 at 09:49



Nicolai Kjærgaard March 27, 2008 at 16:03

First: Thank you for a very good article – it is really helpful for us guys that really don’t think about such stuff..

Second: I’ve read that some of the comments say the thing you wrote:

Did you know that only 7% of what we communicate is words? 25% is voice tone and a whopping 68% is body language.

It is correct, but it needs to be reworded a bit. All the numbers you’ve written are correct.
What it means, is that in every normal conversation you have, you of course use words all the time. But what our brain weights most, when it has to get a meaning from the conversation is the body language, because just by looking on you body language, you brain automatically detects if you’re ironic about the subject, positive, negative, or what that else could be. The voice tone is very important as well in this process. Those numbers aren’t fabricated or “ridiculous” as Tobin Hunt says. It was just not expressed clear enough.

Thank you
– Nicolai K


Blackdove March 28, 2008 at 01:32

You are what you think-positive affirmations in any form whether for the mind or the body can only be beneficial to a more enjoyable and successful life.


Inquiry Wizeard March 28, 2008 at 16:24

For you skeptics that are poking and prodding what you think is wrong try backing it up with your own proof or stay off this thread. Honestly do the skeptic work yourself and then come back. Have a good one.


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 19:01

Honestly I disagree, smiling is proven to put a drug through your body to make you energetic. It’s a primal instinct, like when a Lion snarls and shows his teeth his body then gives him the adrenalin or whatever it is he needs to fight.

This is entirely different then changing your mood. You could still be upset with whats around you or have a sever dislike of pizza at the moment, your simply more energetic and active.

If your drinking a soda and watching TV while your sick you might be distracted and feel less sick, but you haven’t been cured.


Anonymous March 28, 2008 at 19:12

Thank you! What a great blog. There is one contribution: when your al not tall (like me, I’m 5,4) looking directly in the eyes of your counterpart makes you totally forget the difference in heigth.


Thaddius March 29, 2008 at 05:55

To those who doubt some of the things listed here and mark them up as “Messing with something Above” and ridiculous, look up Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Derren Brown. You would be amazed to see what is possible my manipulating and reading body language. I have been researching NLP for years and have used it extensively.


Soldier Svejk March 29, 2008 at 14:20

Well, bravo for programming yourself Thaddius. Are you a computer yet?

While i understand and agree that it’s possible to affect your own mood, it does seem a bit incomplete somehow as a “philosophy” of life. Where does the “bad” mood come from and what is it trying to tell you about your life?

People like Derren Brown seem a bit weird to me, like there’s still something missing somehow. It all seems to be an exercise in “control”: controlling your mood, controlling yourself, controlling other people.

To me the emphasis should be more on freedom. Being able to lift your mood is not an end in itself, otherwise it would ok for us all to be grinning idiots sitting on our happy couches eating our happy meals while the happy world goes to shit.

However, personal progress is possible, and being able to lift your mood can help you to feel more capable to actually change yourself into what you want to be. Even so, I still don’t think it’s like some some secret scientific “switch” that the “initiated” are wise to. Life is much bigger than that, not just being “fitter, happier, more productive”….


greyburny March 30, 2008 at 20:04

Body language is never to be read by just 1 stance or twitch but by a combination of positions and motions. A bloke scratching his ear could just mean an itching ear. A bloke scratching his ear, then his nose, possibly followed by his arse on the other hand could mean he doesn’t like what he hears and that he thinks what is being said stinks.


anonymoose March 30, 2008 at 21:55

thanx ill try this maybe i can figure some things out


CannedAm March 31, 2008 at 07:20

I have noticed in the course of my life that I develop a strong dislike toward people who perpetually look angry. I’ve found that they’re not necessarily angry…maybe stressed or annoyed or whatever…but that continuous scowl (which most don’t know they have) puts me right off. I want nothing to do with those people. I hope I don’t come across that way myself.


Anonymous April 1, 2008 at 00:30

As tempting as it is to change how I feel, I think it is more important to feel how I feel. To notice it wordlessly and process it until it passes. Less in control but less controlled as well.


Anonymous April 2, 2008 at 00:42

What the hell is “American smile”?


wicky_boy April 2, 2008 at 12:26

Soldier Svejk, I applaud you wholeheartedly. Good for you!


JOLLY ROGER April 2, 2008 at 17:26



This is the new language well so it seems. So everyone goes on about it, like it’s never existed, like they’ve been shown the holy grail of a secret understanding of human interpretation. We are born to recognise it. If we need a TV programme to highlight it we’re doing a pretty shity job at being human beings. Granted body language is succinct, subtle and underhanded at times, but if you’re concentrating on where someone is crossing their hands while talking to you, “because that means your being defensive bah blah blah.” You probably haven’t realised their conversely pissed off internation in the fact you’re pointing that shit out and not listening to a word they say.

…more at


Basketballguy April 3, 2008 at 05:05

wow, nice post
i never realized how important body language is
Nice 🙂


Anonymous April 4, 2008 at 21:42

To the guy who said he crossed his arms to hide his “too large stomach”, that IS being defensive. Duh. So basically you just demonstrated that he’s right.


El Jefe April 5, 2008 at 03:05

I found this interesting and perhaps useful, but i believe that it is foolish to go about smiling and acting happy all the time just because it makes you feel good. Maybe sometimes its better to just be honest with yourself and with others and admit that everything isn’t always just dandy. Programming yourself like that can potentially make you very two-dimensional, the true essence of life consists of multiple feelings; thats why we naturally feel them. However, being cognizant of you body language, and the ability to be appear relaxed and confident to others (and actually feel so) is a useful skill.


shawnev April 5, 2008 at 18:11

Want proof! get it for yourself! here is how. When in a group of people do this, stand with your arms crossed, shoulders down, legs close together. If they are reading you then they will take on the same posture. the most insecure people will follow first. don’t say a word, just let your body talk!


rzfree April 6, 2008 at 00:06

Which at the end puts you where you belong nevertheless, or maybe not, I call this infantility sorry


Matt April 6, 2008 at 03:40

Awesome advice! Thanks for taking the time to help us all!


Anonymous April 8, 2008 at 04:45

Its psychologically correct!
See the bit on the Facial Feedback Hypothesis…


Athena April 12, 2008 at 14:50

There’s actually a really good book that explains this sort of thing in more detail, but it relates body language to business, and how to use it when dealing with people in a socially critical setting (meetings, interviews, etc)

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease


Anonymous April 13, 2008 at 20:25

wow, that’s so cool!


Doc KC April 30, 2008 at 04:45

Great blog on body language which is SO extremely powerful as a communication tool!

Here are two more techniques to try:

1. Tilt your head way up to the ceiling and smile. How do you feel? For some reason, Tony Robbins had me doing this simple exercise and no matter what my mood was…it was lifted just a bit from doing this.

2. No matter how you’re feeling, put it aside and smile at a complete stranger on the street or in his/her car while waiting at a red light. See them smile back and feel how this changes your mood.

Doc KC


Brandon C May 9, 2008 at 18:30

Ok I hope I can read the car sales person that I found at


Anonymous June 2, 2008 at 04:09

Good luck reading your used car salesman…he’s been trained to project confidence and trust..and be assured he IS reading YOU, and will take full advantage of your body language so he can earn a living to pay his bills.


Anonymous June 3, 2008 at 12:38



JOLLY ROGER June 3, 2008 at 14:39



Karl - Your Work Happiness Matters June 16, 2008 at 03:04

I don’t think slouching is bad as long as it’s in the right circumstance like a coffee house or a bar. Overall I do agree you can’t slouch at work or at an important event. You want to look confident and ready to go.


fairyhedgehog December 26, 2008 at 11:54

“I figured a week of looking ridiculous was a small price to pay for subsequent years of good body language. And boy, was I ever right.”

I love the way you’re willing to take risks to see if this stuff works. When it works for you, we know that there is at least one person that it works for, which is useful information for me at least.


Emperor of China January 9, 2009 at 16:39

To the perfectionists: wether it’s 67% or whatever isn’t the point, it’s just supposed to illustrate that you communicate more by bodylanguage than you’d think you do. And of couse crossed arms don’t have to mean what the article says, but c’mon, it’s psychology! I can’t be as precise as math is, so OF COURSE you have to see those things in context. Time, scenery, situation, weather (you might cross your arms if you’re cold) and all that stuff have to be included in evaluating what’s going on. This article is just kinda generall advice, as I see it


xyz January 28, 2009 at 16:24

Yes there are times when your fake smile will not put away the reason for the stress, like an unpaid bill, or unattended paperwork, but it will put you in a better mood to go head on and get to it. The times I found this was really useful, when you are feeling down for almost no reason. Maybe because the weather is bad, maybe because ‘I just dont feel like smiling”, maybe because I am just too tired. Those times, realizing that you are feeling like this for no real reason, its just a feeling, faking it gives you a better chance of actually making it.


anonymous too March 27, 2009 at 05:40

haha woah awesomes tips already figured out some of them but they help a lot 😀
thanks for sharing!


Anonymous June 2, 2009 at 19:05

I realy like the feet one!


Lloyd Knapman April 26, 2010 at 17:22

Amazing blog btw mate 🙂 Loving it tbh 😀

Also, I am going to see if I can follow this and tell what moods people are in through out the day, im going to try it out later when I go out with a few mates to town 😀


Michael June 13, 2011 at 17:34

The 7/38/55 rule (not 7/25/68 as you claim) has nothing to do with what percent of communication is verbal. Rather, the 7% means that when verbal and nonverbal messages are in conflict, people will favor the verbal message 7% of the time.

The rest of this article was great, but I thought it was important to point out this misconception.


Vlad Dolezal June 13, 2011 at 22:15

Ah, thanks for the correction!

I heard that stastic probably 3rd- or 4th-hand, so it’s quite likely I got something wrong. So… thanks 🙂


Jasper March 8, 2012 at 15:47

Thanks for the article, Vlad. I need my mood lifted after the stress I’ve been going through lately. My car broke down. I can’t find a car repair anywhere. While I was searching for repair men in my area your website popped up. It helped.


Bellaisa July 6, 2012 at 20:03

Hi Vlad – glad I found this website!

The first part of the article was much needed! Without explaining my personal issues, let’s just say that I needed to remember that something as simple as smiling can lift my mood up quite quickly. I find that signing a positive, upbeat song helps as well.

I gotta say about the body language perception thing, it is dead on. There is a woman who attends a local library that I go to, and she often slouches over her computer and makes a ton of weird, random noises – and to me she seems like the least confident and unhappy woman I have ever seen. She is my reminder to stand tall and look happy.

Cool insight about the feet too. I will have my eyes open for now on!
Bellaisa´s last post ..How To Attract a Guy With Body Language


Bellaisa July 6, 2012 at 20:04

Whoops, I meant singing not signing. lol – Although I do know a little American Sign Language!


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 4 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: