Presence – Amy Cuddy

I finished reading this book a few days ago and already feel like I’m carrying a bit of it around with me in my life now. Some books have that effect. I think about it all of a sudden during the day and force myself to stand up just a bit straighter.

Presence is very clever and insightful. If your attention span is limited, you may get caught up in the science and explanation of scientific studies, but I’d encourage anyone who feels a bit insecure (at work etc.) to give this a read.

Cuddy draws from her own life experiences, and those of others, to demonstrate how the feelings we experience of insecurity, anxiety and fear are completely normal! And better yet, she demonstrates research that has been conducted on how to overcome this using nothing but our own body language.

The truth is, we aren’t meant to be overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness when we know what we’re doing. I’ve always been frustrated with myself for sabotaging situations where I know what I’m talking about, but I get flustered and intimidated and come across as if I have no idea. (I’m really intelligent, guys – really!)

Presence stems from believing and trusting your story – your feelings, beliefs, values, and  abilities…

Presence isn’t about pretending to be competent; it’s about believing in and revealing the abilities you truly have. It’s about shedding whatever is blocking you from expressing who you are. It’s about tricking yourself into accepting that you are indeed capable.

Sometimes you have to get out of the way of yourself so you can be yourself.

Fear and anxiety can hold us back from performing well, and the idea of Presence is to improve the way we hold ourselves so that our body overrides the brain’s reaction of freaking out. I didn’t ever realise why I do this –

One particularly telling gesture of powerlessness may not look dramatic at first glance: wrapping a hand around the neck. We do this when we feel especially uncomfortable, insecure, and unsafe, physically or psychologically, and we are clearly signaling fear and the sensation of being under threat. Why do we make this gesture? To protect ourselves from the jaws of a predator by literally covering the cartoid artery.

I put my hand over my neck all the time! Even when just chatting to people I know well. So why do I feel insecure at time like that? Why do I need to signal my powerlessness? What could happen if I learned to stop doing that?

As Cuddy demonstrates, the way we hold our bodies actually influences how we feel. So by standing in a powerless way, I am actually led to make myself feel more powerless and awkward around people.

I love this quote from Henry James –

I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.

Firstly, I love singing and my singing teacher used to tell me that it is scientifically proven to make you happier 🙂 But this idea goes beyond singing.

I.e. I don’t stand tall because I’m confident; I’m confident because I am standing tall.

I don’t talk loudly because I feel in control; I feel in control because I am talking loudly.

I love the message of this book and I’m looking forward to using some of the techniques discussed when giving scary presentations at work or talking to important people. In fact, I wish I had read this ages ago. I would have done much better at university and could have avoided so many awkward and terrible scenarios when I entered the corporate world.

I’ll leave you with this one last excerpt from Presence

Too many of us suffer from pervasive feelings of personal powerlessness. We have a terrible habit of obstructing our own paths forward, especially at the worst possible moments. Too often we acquiesce to feelings of powerlessness. We consent to them, which does nothing but reinforce them and take away from the reality of our lives.

But we can use our bodies to get to personal power. A mountain of evidence shows that our bodies are pushing, shaping, even leading our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Read this book if you:

  • Are feeling crap and you don’t know why
  • Could use a confidence booster
  • Are about to face something somewhat terrifying and would like some reinforcement

(Hint: stand in a Wonder Woman pose)


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