Book Summary

Presence By AMY CUDDY

Amy Cuddy has an incredible story. She got into a car accident years back. She was sleeping in the back of a friend’s car when her friend hit the guardrail. The friend over corrected and the car rolled several times Amy was ejected from the car and slammed her head into the highway as the rest of her remained inside a sleeping bag.

Doctors told her. “Don’t expect to finish college. You’re gonna be fine and considered high functioning but you should consider finding something else to do.” Well she ignored that advice, got into college and she found herself teaching at Harvard Business School. Years later she became a TED talk sensation and has now written this great book presence.

All of this from a girl that felt like an impostor from the moment she tried to get into college to the moment she became a Harvard Business professor. How did she find the confidence to get over the self-doubt and the doubts of doctors? To work her way up the ranks and become a huge success? How did she overcome the feeling of an impostor every step along the way?

Well among other things, she leveraged the power of her body to influence her mind to do the impossible. You see the mind is always looking at the body for signals on how it should think and feel. In the book Amy states that your body shapes your mind, your mind shapes your behavior and your behavior shapes your future.

Let your mind tell you that your powerful, deserving and you’ll become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself. The body’s influence over the mind is so powerful that you don’t even need to be aware of it. Its influence can happen subconsciously.

In a 2015 study from the University of Auckland participants had athletic tape adjust their posture forcing some into an upright posture and others into a slouched seating position. They found measurable increases in the mood of those in the upright position. They felt less nervous than those who were taped in a slouched position.

You have to look at the mind as a young child looking up at an adult. The body is the authority when it comes to the way that we feel. How we position our bodies can make us feel empowered or dis-empowered. The feeling of empowerment or dis-empowerment can have a huge impact on our productivity.

When dis-empowered we make more mistakes as shown in a 2008 study in the publication Psychological Science titled lacking power impairs cognitive functions. It found that subjects primed to feel powerless made significantly more mistakes than those primed to feel powerful.

Next we become easily distracted and highly impulsive when feeling dis-empowered. Amy Cuddy summarizes a study in her book by stating feeling powerless made it hard for people to block distracting information and to control their cognitive impulses.

Lastly we neglect our goals. Amy states that powerlessness induces something called goal neglect: the general phenomena of failing to remain focused on a goal which prevents you from executing the necessary task.

How about when we feel empowered? Other than it just making us feel great how does it actually improve our performance. Well first of all it makes us highly resilient to pain and setbacks. In one study participants took a leadership questionnaire. They were then told at random if they fit either in a high-power category or a low-power category. They were then asked to submerge their hand in a bucket of ice water. The researchers told participants that they could remove their hand at any time but that the goal of the study was to see how long participants could keep their hand in the water

The results: not only did the people in the high-power category keep their hand in the water nearly 45 seconds longer than the lower-power subjects did, they showed fewer nonverbal signs of pain.

Next empowerment enhances creativity. Powerful people are more creative because they are less self-conscious about expressing feelings and beliefs which frees up and expands their thinking. In one study subjects were asked to imagine if they were applying for jobs in a marketing firm and had to come up with names for new products including a pain reliever and a type of pasta.those who were primed to feel powerful invented more novel names than those who weren’t.

Lastly, people who feel empowered have higher executive functioning that means they are more decisive and they are more assertive. This is because empowered people feel more resourceful. They don’t rely on the behavior of others.

All this talk about empowerment and dis-empowerment can feel a little wishy-washy. We’re some tangible evidence that one is feeling empowered how can we actually know well empowerment can actually be measured within the body. Empowerment has a hormonal signature in the body when empowered your body increases the amount of testosterone and it lowers the amount of cortisol in your system.

When most people think of power they think of school bullies or a power-hungry boss or an unethical dictator. But this type of power is characterized by high testosterone and high cortisol. In a 2005 study titled hormones and ethics understanding the biological basis of unethical conduct co-author Robert Joseph’s explains that testosterone furnishes the courage to cheat and elevated cortisol provides the reason to cheat.

If we have a way to keep our cortisol low and testosterone high we act more for the good of others and are a lot less self-serving. Amy conducted a series of studies that showed an increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol simply by holding power poses for 60 seconds at a time. She states that in the sample of men and women, the high power posers showed a 19 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol.  Low power posers show the opposite pattern.

So if empowerment is found by increasing testosterone and lowering cortisol and power posing generates the empowerment effect in the body and the mind, then what can we do to cultivate this empowerment throughout the day?

Well here’s what we can do in the morning. When you go into the washroom to brush your teeth hold a Superman pose put your arm on your hips and the other hand brushing your teeth. As you look powerful in the mirror you’re giving your brain signals of empowerment. At work, get up from your desk and stand. Do wide stretches by opening your chest and your shoulders. Walk around the office or outside with some swagger and put away that phone. The ‘phone posture is one of the most dis-empowering postures you bring yourself into; that hunched over look.

Next if you get on a phone call with a client put on a headset and stand up and talk using body gestures. Prior to a presentation or an interview go into the stairwell or a washroom stall and raise your hands above your head and hold it for sixty Seconds. Now this sounds goofy and you know you might get caught and get some weird looks but the effect is dramatic.

She tells about many stories of people going for interviews and auditions and performing insanely well after doing this simple gesture.

Next during a meeting or negotiation have your shoulders back as you sit and make your body as wide as possible. If there’s a chair beside you just rest your arm on it this will fuel the feeling of empowerment that you need to have a successful negotiation or meeting.

Leave you with two quotes from the book “taking control of your body language is not just about posing in a powerful way it’s about the fact that we posed in a powerless way more often than we think and we need to change that so be mindful of your body positions throughout the day. They have a dramatic effect on how your mind functions expanding your body clears your head making space for creativity, cognitive persistence and abstract thinking.”


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