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Saturday, April 9, 2016

Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges

Overview: Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Superman—transforming from everyday folks into
superheroes—those superheroes can serve as basic examples to help us all become our best, or what I call our “super-selves.” Harvard social scientist and professor Amy Cuddy burst onto the scene with her now famed 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are.” She’s expanded her TED Talk into this deep, research-based bestselling book that further proves her central claim: Your body and your thinking can change your personal chemistry, which can move you from feeling powerless to powerful—changing your mindset, behavior, and even your life. Cuddy teaches us about how to be authentic and present to better connect to others. Then she provides a plethora of studies and stories to hammer home her points as she teaches us how to prime ourselves before critical events to boost the power hormone, testosterone, in men and women alike. Thus, by priming ourselves with simple but powerful exercises and showing up as who we are—our authentic selves—we craft a winning strategy to us help nail our next presentation, meeting or job interview.
1.     Presence: What is presence?  It’s “…the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” Being committed to your own values, emotions, and beliefs helps. You must sell the real you to yourself before trying to sell yourself to others. By being true to yourself (authentic), you project power, passion, confidence and enthusiasm, and others catch those feelings from you.  When you’re fully present, your speech, posture, and non-verbals align and get in sync, and people notice. And when you’re not “present” people spot incongruities at an unconscious, but strongly felt, level.
2.     The Authentic Self: Being authentic makes us feel powerful, positive, engaged and filled with purpose. To identify your best self, try this self-affirmation exercise. Write down: 1. Three words that best describe you; 2. What’s unique about you that leads to your best performance; 3. When at work or home do you feel natural; 4. What are your big strengths and when and how can you use them. Speakers and students who do this exercise show less anxiety and perform better in speeches and tests than others. The power of engagement comes from self-affirmation—telling yourself your authentic story, believing it, and projecting it. Presence breeds confidence and the ability to take in contrary information without being defensive.
3.     The Imposter Syndrome: When we feel like we don’t belong or don’t deserve to be where we are despite our accomplishments. In short, we often feel like a fraud with self-doubts, especially prevalent among high-performing men and women. With the imposter syndrome, we feel like life controls us (external control) rather than us controlling life (internal control). Concerned about not living up to our billing or perfection, we spend much of our time on our image and not our authentic selves. Such self-monitoring keeps us from being who we are authentically. We get isolated, and the feeling of isolation actually activates the same part of the brain that pain does!
4.     Powerlessness and Power:  With change comes self-perceived loss of power, then insecurity and anxiety—this is why we hate change.  Power activates our behavioral “approach” system and makes us open to opportunity and optimism—acting as our best, most authentic selves. But powerlessness activates the inhibition or “avoidance” system making us feel anxious and pessimistic—less likely to act as our best, most genuine selves. And when we feel powerless (and anxious), even if we want to show our best selves, we can’t. We’re inhibited from taking in the kind of data we need to make better decisions. Powerlessness makes you not able to focus, more self-absorbed (alienates you from others).  When you feel like the control in your life is external and not internal, you start to feel powerless. That leads to an array of negative things —poor focus, reasoning, memory and being self-absorbed. Anxiety causes self-absorption which alienates us from others and makes us less attractive—negative and depressed—to be around. On the other hand, feeling powerful works the opposite way. For example, people primed to feel powerful before a test or a presentation do far better than others who are not so primed. Moreover, believing that the locus of control is internal, note external (beyond our control) makes us feel powerful, in control, and more open to suggestions to improve.
5.     The Body Shapes the Mind:  When we strike a power pose—become spread out and larger, not smaller and more contained—it affects our brain and the way we show up. Holding an expansive pose for two minutes, especially before a critical event (test, speech, interview), raises your testosterone, lowers cortisol, puts you in a dominant frame of mind, and improves your performance. By contrast, when you are hunched over an iPhone or wrapped up in a cross-armed, self-protected stance and strike a low-power pose, you experience the opposite of power. In sum, power poses make people feel better, more powerful, and more optimistic.

6.     Nudging: Gentle self-nudging can move us toward greater presence.  Nudging yourself to at least slow down and not make snap decisions under pressure can save you from the consequences of poor judgment. Power posing nudges up your set point of power and the more we do it, the more it reinforces our mindset.  Nudge yourself to not set big goals—start small and keep it up. And, rather than telling yourself not to be anxious, tell yourself to use the “excitement” to do your best—experiments support this tactic. Just reframing our emotions pushes us from feelings of powerlessness to being powerful. 

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