Presence by Amy Cuddy

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.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

As a rule, I don’t read a lot of self-help books. Making changes in your life, your thought patterns, etc. is so personal a process that usually I don’t see how any given celebrity is qualified to give me advice. However, recently my therapist recommend I check out Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and I was hooked within the first two pages. I’m passing this recommendation along to you too, because I think this is a book that almost anyone can find something useful or inspiring in.

In Untamed, Glennon Doyle uses her own experiences to describe the way many people live without even realizing it: she realized that she was trying to be the person the world wanted her to be, instead of being true to herself. She unflinchingly breaks down the restrictive expectations, cultural conditioning, and institutional pressures that had driven her (and may be driving all of us) to numbing addictions, restlessness, and chronic dissatisfaction. She urges her readers to abandon the world’s expectations and build a life based on individual desire and imagination. She speaks especially to women, who typically are called by society to be quiet, selfless, efficient, grateful, and basically “good”, and who are run ragged striving to reach these goals. The book is both a memoir and a call to action: rather than trying to fit yourself into a box, reclaim your untamed self and be brave, creating the truer and more beautiful world you imagine for yourself.

I loved this book not only for the advice, which was powerful, but for Doyle’s honest telling of her story. It’s the story I love to read, fiction or non-fiction: our hero suffers through hardship and loneliness, then wrenches herself free and carves her own path (and it doesn’t hurt that she finds true love along the way). It’s also the message I love to hear (and strive to spread): no one should decide what your life looks like except you. Not your family, friends, religion, culture; no one is in charge but you. This is a powerful thing to hear in a time when more than ever we define ourselves by the groups we belong to and how well we fit in, measure up. Doyle is suggesting (and I think she’s probably right) that the freedom to be ourselves without apology and without shame is the best way we have to make a better world and a better life.

If you’re looking to check this book out, be prepared to re-read, to pause, and to take notes. With this book it’s important to take it slow and make sure you’re soaking it all in. But if you’re looking to be empowered, if you’re feeling stifled or lost or dissatisfied, I recommend you try this book for a thoughtful, eye-opening (and often funny) experience.

The Little Book of Lykke (Looka): Secrets of the Worlds Happiest People by Meik Wiking

Meik Wiking’s concise The Little book of Lykke (Looka): Secrets of the Worlds Happiest People  is a practical, quick read, with international statistics and easy to read graphs that gives a nice synopsis of his company’s (the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen) analysis and overall synopsis of the worlds happiest people and how not necessarily money, but time allocated and spent, from work schedules, to parental paid leave, welfare, healthcare, commute times, compassion, kindness as well as getting to know your neighbors, and helping others all play important parts in the overall happiness of individuals. Denmark is the place to be if you’re into free higher education, equal pay, equal parental leave, free healthcare, and a work culture and society that promotes walking, riding bicycles, and taking public transportation that is effective and efficient. Well…but you might say I’m not going to move to Denmark or planning on marrying a Dane. Which is good that The Little Book of Lykke gives small and big examples of things to do or changes to make in your daily life.

As an American, one can only imagine, that the United States scores very low in most of these categories, especially some of the more important ones like welfare, healthcare and parental paid leave. I just heard on NPR recently that… “suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the past two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent. In the wealthiest country in the world we American’s are somehow still missing out on how to take care of each other, especially our children and our elderly. Wiking’s book focuses on measuring happiness and he provides tools and encouraging tips on small changes to begin making in one’s daily life. Each chapter has several “happiness tips”. In the promotion of trust and kindness he suggests set time aside weekly to practice “Five Random Act of Kindness to do This Week:

  1. Leave a gift on someone’s doorstep.
  2. Learn the name of the person at the front desk, or someone else you see every day. Greet them by name.
  3.  Make two lunches and give one away.
  4. Talk to the shy person who’s by themselves at a party or at the office.
  5. Give someone a genuine compliment. Right now.

“The point of all this is that while we can improve trust levels in the short-term by training our empathy muscles and teaching our kids to cooperate rather than compete, there is something we need to address in the long-term to improve trust and happiness…And it is judging our societies not by the success of those who finish first but how we lift back up those who fall.” So perhaps we as individuals are not going to be able to change suicide rates in our state or country, we can however, start making small changes like walking or biking to work one day a week, or being supportive of a neighbor or a co-workers endeavors. Start a community garden. Create a rewards system that promotes those around us that lift other up. Or move to Denmark. That’s what I’m thinking.