“Focus less on the impression you’re making on others and more on the impression you’re making on yourself.”
So writes TED legend and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy in her first book, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, a captivating, in-depth guide to unlocking the true potential and power within each of us. Amy, whose famous talk on “power posing” has reached nearly forty million people around the world, has expanded and deepened her research in Presence; her new book explores the myriad of ways that simple physical actions can actually rewire our brains, and teaches us how we can use that knowledge to become our best, most authentic selves in any situation — particularly the ones that matter the most.
In a galvanizing talk to IVY members, Amy shared her best insights and stories from years of research. IVY Magazine sat down with Amy to distill some of her most salient advice for the national IVY community. Read her insights below, and check out Amy’s page on IVYtv to find out what it takes to become your boldest self in every situation.
Forget the “mind-body” connection; your body is the one speaking to your mind
When people hear the words “body” and “mind,” they think “mind-body,” but I really think the action is “body-mind.” The body is speaking to the mind.
I spend a lot of time in my book going over this. Think about yoga, which has more effects than any other kind of cognitive therapy. There’s really good science from great schools showing the effects of really simple yoga interventions on things like post-traumatic stress. Thinking about improving is hard to do, but having your body tell you that you feel better is much easier. You don’t run into the same blocks or the same self-doubts that shut you down.
Scientists have even looked at “locked-in” patients, or patients who are paralyzed in every way and cannot communicate. Physicians struggle to figure out whether they’re conscious or not, and one way they can figure that out is to actually look at the motor cortex while they have the patients thinking about walking. If the patients are conscious, the motor cortex will be activated even if they are just thinking about walking. They’re not actually moving. For the motor cortex to be activated just while you’re thinking about it is just incredible. The body and mind are closely related in ways we don’t even appreciate yet.
I’m not saying that cognitive behavioral therapy is at all bad, but I do think that letting your body lead you is incredibly powerful. It tricks you into thinking that you’re more powerful than you actually are.
To overcoming fear in high-stakes situations, think deeply about your core values, even if they’re unrelated to the task at hand
One thing we all try to do is psych ourselves into thinking we’re really good at the thing that we’re about to do—say public speaking—and maybe we’re not actually good at it. That’s okay. One way to do well at public speaking is to affirm a value that really does matter to you.
Say you really care about service, and you think about why that matters to you. Maybe you reflect on a time when you helped other people and how that made you feel. Then, you go in and take a test. You do a lot better on that test—even though it’s completely unrelated to service—if you’ve affirmed that value. The reason is that you are attuned to your real, best self, and you know that it’s sturdy. So no matter what happens, you still have that value that’s core to who you are.
We get so tripped up by the exact task at hand that we don’t think about who we really are. When we do think about who we are and focus on it, that’s what we bring to people. And when we do that, it’s contagious. We get that energy back from them, and then it’s mutually contagious. It’s kind of magical.
Learn the power of your own power
It’s impossible to choose the most inspiring story I’ve heard because they all mean so much to me, but I think the one that, for me, captures all of it—just everything that I hope will happen—is a story at the end of the book about a woman named Kristin, who approached me after a talk.
Kristin was being badly sexually harassed at work by her boss, and she was feeling pretty powerless. She said she could feel herself getting smaller and smaller, as the boss got bigger and bigger. And somebody sent her my talk, and she knew she had to quit her job. Her first instinct was just to flee, then she said, that’s not who I am. So she did a little affirmation and decided she was someone who cares for other people and wants to protect other people. She decided she had to confront him. She stood in her house with her hands on hips and with her feet apart, and she played her favorite song. And she did that for a long time. When she finally walked back into town to the restaurant where she worked, she said, I felt myself getting bigger. By the time she got there, the guy that she seemed so afraid of before seemed smaller. She was taking her power back. She didn’t feel angry or dominant—she felt incredibly compassionate. She felt incredibly at peace because she was just so herself. She confronted him and told him that she knew he wanted to be a bigger person. She said she felt like it was a divine voice inside her speaking—she felt like it was someone else’s voice. But it wasn’t, it was her. It was her when she was her best possible self.
You don’t need to decide everything right now
The best piece of advice that I’ve ever received is that you don’t have to decide anything right now. Sometimes, I panic. If something feels pressing, I feel like I need to change it right away. So, a friend of mine asked me once, do you have to decide today? And I realized, very rarely do you have to decide today. That’s pretty powerful. And that also really allows you to be present.
You can’t force yourself to process something really quickly. We even have research on how sleeping on really difficult decisions leads to better actions. When you sleep, you’re compressing information so you can make a better decision in the morning. You don’t have to decide right now.
Power doesn’t corrupt; power reveals
One way to be more powerful is to let go of the baggage associated with the word “power.” It’s not social power; it’s not about power over other people. It’s about power over yourself and your own resources and being able to unlock them. We need to make peace with the fact that power may not be such a bad thing.
One of my favorite quotes about power is, “Power doesn’t corrupt, power reveals.” That was Robert Caro, who was LBJ’s biographer for many decades. We need to make peace with power not being as prickly as we think it is and also with presence not being as soft as we think it is. There’s a science there, and when you put them together, you get something pretty spectacular.