Dress for success.

You’ve probably heard that before, right? Have you ever considered WHY it matters? And especially during this remote time, if all you’re doing are audio calls and no one is actually seeing you, why can’t you just do your work in a hoodie and sweatpants?

You can. But you won’t do it as well.

One of the latest areas of psychological research that I’ve been geeking out on is the concept of Enclothed Cognition. In a world where everyone is looking for fast ways to boost performance, this is one of the fastest. Please watch <6:00 video below or continue reading…

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Enclothed cognition is the premise that what we wear has a massive impact on our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviors. A study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology describes enclothed cognition as:

the systematic influence that clothes have on wearer’s psychological processes. It proposes that enclothed cognition involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors: the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of actually wearing them.

In the studies, they separated people out into three different groups. One group wore a painter’s coat, a second group wore a lab coat and a third group simply looked at a lab coat.

Which group performed best?

The group wearing the lab coat. They were more focused, attentive, and made better decisions. But, WHY?

If a coat is a coat, and if it doesn’t really matter what type of coat it is, why didn’t the group wearing the painter’s coat improve performance? Simple—the painter’s coat had no symbolic meaning to the participants. When they put on a lab coat (or a “doctor’s coat”), it had the symbolic meaning that they’d be attentive, focused and make better decisions. It improved their psychological processes.

The group that looked at the lab coat speaks to the power in the “enclothed” part of enclothed cognition—you must actually physically experience WEARING something to have an impact on your performance.

It is really no different than a high-level athlete putting on a game day uniform. When they put it on, they know it’s game day. That game day uniform prompts them to think differently, feel differently and perform differently. Their brain makes the association of the symbolic meaning of the game day uniform and what they will do.

Whenever I speak to teams and organizations, I’m asked for tools that people can put in their toolboxes to perform better immediately. If we’re talking about remote peak performance, wear the same things in your home office that you wear in your regular office.

Common sense, yes. Common practice, ???

To start, go into your closet and look for a certain shirt, sport coat, dress, etc., that you remember wearing when you did something well; perhaps when you nailed a presentation, proposal, or lead a key team meeting. Because you’ve done it, that clothing has symbolism. Your brain intuitively says:

“When I wore this, I did that.”

What if you don’t have a particular piece of clothing in your closet? Choose one. I’m betting if you look closely, you have SOMETHING that makes you feel fantastic. Put it on and give your presentation, proposal or lead your team meeting. You’ll kickstart the association of remembering that, “when I wear this, I do that.”

Enclothed cognition is part of a larger field of psychology called Embodied Cognition, where the body affects our brain and our psychological processes. Stay tuned for future geeky Outperforming research, but for now, dress for success. It’s a massively impactful, but often overlooked, way for us to improve performance.

Keep Outperforming,