There’s a reason teachers are always telling students to sit up straight: when we slouch or hunch over, we impair blood flow to the brain, clouding our thinking and making it more difficult to concentrate. Sitting up straight and tall, on the other hand, has been shown to make it easier for people to engage in positive thinking and to access enjoyable thoughts and emotions. In one study, when college-age study subjects were asked to recall happy memories—spending time with friends, acing an exam, striving for success—it was physiologically easier for them to do so while sitting erect as opposed to slouching in a chair. At three or four stations along the treasure hunt clues are accompanied by sweets and treats.
Here’s why: Our mind connects slumping over with feeling powerless or defeated. When we slouch, we essentially give our brains permission to tap into helpless, hopeless, or depressing thoughts. Not an ideal frame of mind for starting a 10-week performance-enhancing program that aims to change your life for the better. Slouching also inhibits the breathing process itself.
Hunching over essentially robs all the organs and muscles within your core of the space they need to perform. Breathing suffers, and when you can’t breathe properly, you perform at a suboptimal level across the board. Another study led by the same researcher even linked sitting tall with improved performance on a math exercise. Subjects who sat up straight as they attempted to mentally count down by sevens from a triple-digit number rated the challenge easier than those who slouched while subtracting.
As you’re reading this right now, stop right where you are and check in with your spine. Don’t make any effort to improve your posture; the goal is to honestly assess your sitting position. Are you slouching? If somebody were viewing an X-ray of your body, would your vertebrae appear directly stacked on top of one another, or would they appear in more of a C-shaped curve? If it’s the latter, don’t criticize yourself; most adults slouch. But do use it as motivation to straighten your spine, sitting up as beautifully erect as possible.
Make sure you choose a comfortable chair that allows you to sit with a straight back, the vertebrae of your spine stacked neatly on top of one another. Your feet should be flat on the floor, legs uncrossed, knees at a 90-degree angle. Palms can rest face-up on your lap. This is your new performance posture.