I was a junior in high school when I discovered the boy I had a crush on had a crush on someone else. Heartbroken, I took to my bed. I wore a Lanz flannel nightgown for days and listened to Cat Stevens. Finally, my mother declared enough of this self-pity. Her instructions: “Wash your hair, put on a nice dress and, for goodness sake, smile. You will feel better.” I did as I was told and, of course, she was right. Finally, science has caught up with what our mothers have known all along.

Mom’s Advice: Comb Your Hair, Dress Your Best
Looking groomed and pulled-together matters. Research shows how wearing clothes that fit well and are slightly dressy affect self-confidence. Wearing clothes you feel good in makes a difference in how the world sees you and how you see the world.

Mom’s Advice: Stand Straight, Chin Up
It’s empowering. “Be as big as you are,” says Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard. She advises women MBA students to stop crossing their legs and hunching over. Men are more comfortable physically taking up space whereas women often minimize their physical presence. Sitting upright with two feet on the ground and outstretched arms in a high power pose correlates with higher testosterone (a hormone associated with dominance and power) and low levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress).

Mom’s Advice: Smile, Smile, Smile
Facial expressions reflect and affect mood. A smile has many proven benefits: optimism, motivation, immunity, stress release…and it makes us look younger. Plus, it’s contagious.

My mother’s words of wisdom echo in my mind constantly. And I find myself repeating them to my own children: “Be yourself — the best self you can be.”

Samantha Boardman MD
Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry and Public Health
Assistant Attending Psychiatrist
Weill Cornell Medical College