Have you ever found yourself put on the spot at work and suddenly seized by nerves so you’re unable to put two words together? Perhaps you hummed, you hawed, you spluttered out an answer that made little sense. Then walked away feeling frustrated and disappointed, because you knew exactly what you should have said but you just couldn’t find the presence in that moment to perform at your best.
Don’t worry. We all have these moments when we’ve let opportunities slip by and been left filled with self-doubt and regret. But imagine what a relief it would be if the next time fear took hold of your mind and body at work, you were able to still show up with confidence, courage and the ability to truly connect?
No we’re not dreaming. We’re suggesting that you cultivate more presence.
In her best-selling book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges, Associate Professor Amy Cuddy from Harvard Business School explains: “Presence is what enables you to communicate with passion, confidence and comfortable enthusiasm whilst still owning any nerves that you might have.” It’s what allows you to express confidence without arrogance, courage even in the face of fear, and connection without the need to control.
It emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves so that instead of fighting ourselves, we are being ourselves. As a result your thoughts, physical and facial expressions and behaviors synchronize so people feel safe with you, trust grows, and ideas travel.
Sounds pretty good, right?
Fortunately, Amy assures us, is that we all have moments of presence. It’s just that most of us don’t yet know how to summon presence when it escapes us at life’s critical moments. So what can you do to cultivate more presence at work?
In this book Amy suggests:
- Reclaiming your personal power – Wait! Don’t tune out at the word ‘power’, because the research on this is fascinating. Instead of thinking about power as the desire to control others, think about it as the effortless feeling of being in control of yourself. Lucid, calm and not dependent on the judgments on others.
Studies have found that when you feel powerful, you’re more likely to approach challenges and goals because you feel more optimistic, positive and proactive and less under threat. Whereas when you feel powerless you’re more likely to avoid challenges and goals because you feel more anxious, pessimistic and self-focused and more attuned to threats than opportunities. So stop shying away from the idea of being powerful and re-frame personal power as something you value and want.
- Expanding your body language – Amy’s research suggests that carrying yourself in a powerful way directs your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and body to feel powerful, to be present and even perform better in situations ranging from the mundane to the most challenging. In fact, hundreds of studies (and she shares many of them) have found that expanding your body posture and movement can make you feel more positive and confident and less anxious and self-absorbed.
This is because power posing activates your behavioral approach system that makes you more likely to assert yourself, approach and seize opportunities, take risks, and persist. She suggests that adopting power poses throughout the day – for example stretching like a starfish when you first wake up, standing like Wonder Woman, or keeping your shoulders back and chest open when sitting in meetings – isn’t about what your body language is communicating to others, but what your body is communicating to you.
- Nudging yourself forward – Rather than expecting big changes quickly, try to nudge your presence forward. Nudges are nano-sized investments that lead to medium-sized gains. Requiring minimal psychological and physical commitments they offer short-cuts to changing our behaviors that can shift our beliefs over time.
Nudge yourself towards presence by feeling a little more courageous, acting a little more boldly and re-framing your nervousness as excitement about the opportunity unfolding. When you see yourself doing something with courage or competence once, you can recall that experience the next time you face a similar challenge, making it easier to perform well a second time, a third time, and so on. So be sure to savor these moments.
Amy’s most quoted recommendation from her research is to: “Fake it until you become it.“ And while I believe this needs to come with the caution about the dangers found with the prolonged faking of emotions, I’m not actually sure that this is what is happening when you take the steps she’s recommending.
Having shared Amy’s research with many female leaders, I believe that the small nudges provided by power posing actually opens them up to the courage, confidence and potential that is often buried deep inside them. It brings their strengths to the surface so there’s no need to fake what they’re feeling, just the opportunity to truly step into the people they are capable of being. As Amy herself suggests in one part of the book: “It’s the key that allows you to unlock yourself—your abilities, your creativity, your courage, and even your generosity … It doesn’t change who you are; it allows you to be who you are.”
Grab your copy of Amy’s book Presence:Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges or check out Amy’s TED Talk here.
How can you nudge yourself towards more presence?