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Have you ever heard the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it.”?
Well, social psychologist, speaker and author Amy Cuddy has given it new light in her book Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges. She has re-coined the phrase to remind us that you CAN be that person to overcome the fear and anxiety associated with stressful situations and be yourself and truly present in the moment. She encourages us all to…
“Fake it ’til you become it.” -Amy Cuddy
Cuddy became well known a few years ago for her inspiring TED speech, Your body language may shape who you are, that has been viewed more than 43 million times. It begins as an informative speech about how your posture and physical presence can affect the way you handle stressful situations. The moving part comes towards the end when Amy shares her own story of overcoming fear and anxiety to be her authentic self in each situation. Cuddy shares her story more in depth within the book, laying the foundation for a greater understanding of her work.
What is Presence?
According to Cuddy, presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.” Presence is the ability to be your genuine self in the moment, not saying or doing what we think others expect from us.
Cuddy suggests all humans are multidimensional and shaped by our life experiences. We should embrace them all (the good and the not-so-good), because we are the only ones to have lived that experience in that exact way. With each situation, with each roll we play (mother, daughter, student, teacher, wife) we bring forth a different set of traits and characteristics that we use to live out that particular experience. None of them are wrong, and it doesn’t make you fake. Each set of traits is different like each situation and they shape who you are.
What Keeps Us From Being Present in Situations?
With hands shaking, heart pounding, sweat accumulating and all eyes on me, I began to speak. Wait, what was I going to say? The words were completely lost. I had practiced and practiced, and yet I couldn’t remember the material. This was me preparing to give my first two minute speech for Public Speaking class at age 20. Fast forward ten years later… I’m in the office preparing to conduct a personnel meeting. Everyone quiets and I begin, hoping they don’t notice the quiver in my voice and my trembling hands. It’s easier now, but I still find myself wishing I would have said this or done that. Why can’t I just say what I mean when I mean it?
When we focus on what everyone else is thinking about us, it inhibits our ability to focus on what we’re actually there to do. Cuddy provides evidence to explain how powerlessness and anxiety affect the way we react in high pressure situations. Knowing those feelings of self-doubt and anxiety personally, it’s comforting to know there is scientific explanation for it and it’s not just me.
How to Overcome Powerlessness & Anxiety
In order to overcome these strong feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, Cuddy tells us to build personal power. She says, “the path to personal power is also the path to presence. It’s how we, and others, discover and set free who we truly are.” It means being able to control our thoughts and actions in a positive way. It means influence comes from within.
Cuddy discusses how we gain personal power through body language and, more specifically, power posing. The book offers explanation, through scientific studies, of how bodily expressions and movements affect mood and thinking; although, I don’t recommend reading this section in the wee hours of the morning.
Self nudging is also addressed. It seems that going from faking it to becoming it takes some time and practice. Cuddy suggests making small, incremental changes that will build upon each other to create the best self for you. One specific example is to “slow down and allow yourself the time to calm down and make a well-rounded decision.”
How Presence has helped me
This book has resonated with me in a way that has changed my attitude toward many situations. I find myself sitting up straight in my car while driving. I check my expression when I’m in a funky mood, and I sit in a more open stance when I’m in public. (All because I want to be more approachable and less closed off.) If you’ve ever felt less than or find yourself regretting your actions in those high-pressure situations, this book is definitely for you.
“It’s about approaching your biggest challenges without dread, executing them without anxiety, and leaving them without regret.” -Amy Cuddy
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