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Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
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Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy

Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy CuddyAmy Cuddy’s TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” has been viewed 7.75 million times since it was published on YouTube in October 2012. The twenty-minute presentation makes the case for adopting “power poses,” body positions that communicate power, such as the “Wonder Woman pose,” with hands on hips, legs shoulder-width apart, and chin tilted slightly upward. Holding a position like this, whether you believe you have any power or not, has actual physiological effects, increasing testosterone (“the dominance hormone”) and decreasing cortisol (“the stress hormone”). These chemical changes influence our outlooks and attitudes, so that what starts as merely a gesture of confidence and authenticity becomes actual confidence and authenticity.

In Cuddy’s new book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Little, Brown, 2015), the author delves deeply into the science that she only skims across in her TED talk. She begins with a definition of presence, which is the opposite of powerlessness (“Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself--your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities”), then walks us through examples of what it’s like not to be present in moments of importance: we speed nervously through answers at job interviews, or we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the things we have, or we’re certain that we have neither agency nor efficacy in situations where we should be excelling. In one especially convicting chapter, she describes the widespread condition she calls “imposter syndrome,” that belief held by many of us that says we don’t “belong here,” that at any moment someone will expose us for the frauds we know we are.

Cuddy follows this chapter with a lengthy exploration of the feeling of powerlessness. “Feeling powerless undermines our ability to trust ourselves. And if we cannot trust ourselves, we cannot build trust with others,” she writes. It all gets very close to touchy-feely, cosmic mindfulness in tone and rhythm, but Cuddy acknowledges this and then presents the science. She moves between storyteller and scholar modes (and back again), which can take some getting used to. The presentation of research in the first half of the book reads like a scholarly literature review, and the author is deliberate about citing the scientists by name, which can be difficult at times to slog through.

Then a funny thing happens when she gets to the chapter about postures of power and postures of powerlessness: each cited study makes it more difficult not to be convinced that this isn’t just about positive thinking or daily affirmations, something she warns us away from in the book’s early pages. Power poses--that is, positions of the body that communicate openness or bigness--are demonstrated again and again to influence positive thinking and better moods, while powerless poses--positions of the body that are folded in and closed up--have the opposite effect, even when subjects don’t know anything about the poses they’re assuming. Across cultures, among people of differing physical abilities, and over a range of experiences from post-traumatic stress to teenagers dealing with depression, taking two minutes to stand with arms raised and spread apart, like Usain Bolt crossing the finish line, has a measurable, desirable impact on a person’s actual attitude. In one study, subjects who were physically unable to strike a power pose merely had to envision themselves posing in order to obtain the desired results.

Once she lays all the science down, Cuddy moves to practice and application, with advice for making tiny changes (“nudges,” she calls them) in physical behavior until we are no longer merely posing, but becoming present and authentic. “Don’t fake it ‘til you make it,” she writes more than once. “Fake it ‘til you become it.”

The writer concludes with several anecdotes about people whose lives have been changed by following her advice. “You changed my life,” they often write, but she reminds them (and us) that the changes are made by the practitioners themselves. “Behavior shapes attitude,” she says, and the multitude of stories she shares seems to bear this out. Her book is at times a challenging read, but for skeptics needing a heftier case than is presented in a twenty-minute lecture, it does more than an adequate job. A rewarding and unexpectedly touching read.

 

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Book Review: Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy - Executive Leadership Articles

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