A very convincing, evidence-based explanation of how our posture has a huge impact on how we think, feel, and behave, Amy Cuddy’s Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges is the book of science-backed empowerment we all need. It’s the bestselling follow-up to her popular TED talk, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are”.
After a brain injury in college, Amy Cuddy began a lifelong fascination with identity, self-confidence, self-doubt, and how good performance happens. When she became a psychology researcher, Cuddy began investigating the role of the body in determining or changing psychological states. In this book, she explains all the research, her own and that of others, that demonstrates the power of body posture to change mood, thoughts, and behaviors. Basically, using open, expansive postures (shoulders back, head up, chest out – things that make you physically bigger) leads to greater feelings of confidence, calm, and self-efficacy, which translates into taking more risks, having better pain tolerance, and much more. On the flip side, getting stuck in contracted, closed postures (hunched shoulders, crossed arms or ankles – anything that shrinks you into less space) makes you feel and act more timid and powerless. Cuddy gives specific examples of how this works, also digging into the role of gender, cultural differences, and more.
My favorite thing I learned in this book is the concept of “personal power”, as opposed to “social power”. Where social power is the authority and status that allows you to direct or control other people, personal power is an inner feeling, a wellspring of resources that gives you the capability of meeting any challenge or situation with poise. You can have personal power without having social power, and it’s not something anyone externally can take away from you. It’s personal power that is increased by changing your body language. I loved how understandable and achievable Cuddy made this concept through clear writing and good advice.
The second-best concept from this book is the “iHunch” – this is less empowering, but very important. Cuddy describes research into the effect of continually hunching over a mobile phone (which she dubs iHunch or iPosture), research which indicates that this posture not only has bad health effects but also makes you feel and act more powerless. For me, that was an important cautionary tale, giving me just one more reason to get off my phone.
If you want to feel better, perform better in challenging situations, or just generally have more confidence, I definitely recommend you read this book – or at least try a power pose or two. It turns out that, as long as you do it in private and not to grandstand or intimidate, standing like Wonder Woman with your hands on your hips or manspreading in a chair might just be good for you.