Something I’ve been focusing on for the past year and a half is on being more present. Being in the moment of what’s happening in my life at any given time. I’ll often catch myself either thinking about what’s next or what’s in the past, causing me to detach from the “right now” and sometimes missing out on valuable insights, information and ultimately true connectedness with those around me.
Sometime last year, Jennifer Wilson on our team recommended the book Presence by Amy Cuddy to one of our clients as a potential resource for helping her enhance her executive presence – her behavior, appearance and communication. I was intrigued by the name of the book and how it related to my interest in being more “in the moment,” so I decided to read it, too. You may have seen Cuddy’s TED Talk or even heard her present as the keynote at this year’s AICPA ENGAGE Conference. Regardless of whether you’ve heard or watched either presentation, I highly encourage you to read her book, and here’s why:
The book centers on your presence around others – how tuned into a given situation you are, how you are acting and behaving and how both of those things can make or break your performance in that situation. There are many take-aways that have shifted my perspective and helped me become more present, powerful and confident in the various events in my life (both professional and personal). Here are some of my favorite ideas from the book:
- Eliminating feelings of the impostor syndrome. This is the idea that you don’t deserve to be where you are – that you aren’t as skilled, experienced or qualified to be taking a role that others feel you belong in. In the book, Cuddy writes, “Impostorism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate more on how those judgements might poison our interactions.” She then continues to explain how we can reduce these feelings, which take away our power and cause us to perform worse than we’d like.
- Using power poses. Cuddy explains the science behind her recommendation that we “power pose” before an event, an interview, a big meeting, or a big discussion in that doing so causes us to have a more powerful presence during the event, and to perform better as a result. Cuddy’s staple power pose depicts Superwoman or Superman: placing your hands on your hips, feet planted firmly, shoulder-width apart and standing straight with your chin raised. Dominant body language makes us feel more confident and powerful, and has others perceive us that way, too. Since we don’t want to intimidate others with overly dominant body language and posture, Cuddy suggests the power-posing-before-the-event solution.
- Using nudges. Nudges are small tweaks we make that over time cause us to shift the way we think or act. Cuddy explores why human beings have a difficult time attaining big goals (and New Year’s resolutions) and how we can instead focus on nudging ourselves, to see the changes we want to see. One example Cuddy shares is that when you’re anxious, telling yourself to calm down helps you do the opposite. It reminds you that you’re not calm and makes you feel even more anxious as a result. Instead, she suggests telling yourself “Get excited!” She cites a study that found participants performed far better when they told themselves to get excited, compared to telling themselves to calm down. Coincidentally, my husband has used this very approach with me when I was about to speak on a new topic or attend an event with unfamiliar people, encouraging me to “Get Excited!” I now know the science behind it and use it for myself, too.
I believe that many of us aren’t fully aware of the physical and cognitive behaviors we engage in that prevent us from being fully present – to be our true, authentic selves – and performing at our best. This book took a different approach than I expected to, teaching the meaning of being present. While it didn’t instruct me to stop thinking about the past or the future, it made me aware of what happens when I don’t stay present to my situation and who I’m being. Not doing so causes me to risk being someone who is not as powerful as I could be because I’m not bringing my full self to that moment with the people I’m with.
These are just a few of the eye-opening insights I gleaned from the book. Everyone could benefit by learning something from the content – women, men and children. We can all benefit from learning ways to perform better in the various situations in our lives by feeling more powerful and confident. This book explains why and how to get there. I strongly encourage you to read the book and if you do, I hope you’ll share with me what insights you gained!