The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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April 16, 2016


The way we carry ourselves from moment to moment blazes the trail our lives take. When we embody shame and powerlessness, we submit to the status quo, whatever that may be, We acquiesce to emotions, actions and outcomes that we resent.  ... The way you carry yourself is a source of personal power -- the kind of power that is the key to presence. It's the key that allows you to unlock yourself- -- your abilities, your creativity, your courage, and even your generosity. It doesn't give you skills or talents you don't have; it helps you you to share the ones you do have. It doesn't make you smarter or better informed; it makes you more resilient and open.  It doesn't change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.

Presence: bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenge looks like the kind of book {self-help book, big new business idea book, big new business idea/self-help book} that I usually stay very far away from.  There's usually either something too gimmicky, or change-your-life-in-21-days-ish about them, that makes me roll my eyes and leave them on the shelf.  So I'm not sure what encouraged me to bring this book home from the library, but I'm glad I did.  It has something interesting to say, grounded in social science, and even though it does have some of that breathless all-you-need-to-do-is-one-simple-thing quality about it, that one thing seems credible and sensible.

It's a little hard to grasp {or re-state} what Amy Cuddy means by presence (without sounding like a self-help book myself) but as I understand it has to do with having your emotions, your thinking, and also (or especially ) your posture and body language aligned (in 'synchrony,' as she calls it) so that you can approach a challenging situation (a job interview, a difficult conversation, public speaking, an exam) with a kind of confidence or self-possession that helps you focus on that task and not on either your anxieties or fears leading up to it or your concerns about how it will turn out, and emboldens you. There's a strong focus on how your body language, your posture and your breathing can influence how you think or feel (not the other way around), and references to a lot of really interesting research studies that seem to bear this up.

There's definitely some of the 'so-many-people-have-told-me-how-this-idea-has-changed-their-lives' stuff here, but that's probably as much the fault of the genre as of the book. And if the idea of power-posing like Wonder Woman seems a little gimmicky (and it does), it's tempered by common sense., and by the author's insistence that there are 'self-nudges' and 'small tweaks' that can help. For example, I liked her story about resolutions...

I like the elegance of running -- a single graceful movement repeated; minimal gear; no gym; can be done outdoors virtually anywhere ... In the past, almost every New Year, I'd resolve to 'become a runner.' In my mind, a runner was someone who was self-disciplined, fast, and able to complete marathons. But if you start from scratch it will be quite a while before you meet those criteria, and I couldn't accept that. By focusing on the outcome -- being a runner as I defined it -- I was ignoring the reality that there is a whole lot of process in between. Every time I went for a run, it was short, slow and painful. Every run felt like a failure. And I didn't enjoy the process at first. In fact, every time I resolved to become a runner, I soon started to hate running. That was a real problem. ...
      Finally, I tried something different. I resolved to run just one time. And if I liked it, I'd run another time.  I'd run only as fast and as far as was comfortable. I wouldn't try to run through side cramps or keep up with my serious runner friends. I completely dropped the long-term goals, which were far too big and distant. .. I love to travel, but when I travel for work, I'm rushing in and out, taking no time to see or learn anything about the place I'm visiting. By just going for a short run, I could actually experience and see a bit of the place on foot. I also learned that I loved trail-running --running along paths out in nature. I don't run fast when I do this, but I relish spending time in the wilderness, so it's not really about 'becoming a runner' at all.
{Maybe because I think about 'becoming a runner' every time I watch the Marathon? :)}  But it says a lot, for cynical me, that I found myself wanting to think about all of this some more.  I've already put the book on reserve again and bookmarking the TED talk that was the starting point for this book.

1 comment:

JoAnn said...

I don't usually read this type of book either, but I've bookmarked the TED Talk and we'll go from there...

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