Review: Presence, by Amy Cuddy

The mind-body connection is something that has always interested me. I find it fascinating that solely addressing psychological issues can, in some cases, treat physical conditions like chronic pain or digestion issues. That is only one example of how appreciating the mind-body connection – something that can seem almost mystical – can improve your life.

What’s interesting about this is that the connection runs both ways. What you do with your body also shapes your mind. It’s a simple truth that contains immense power.

Presence elaborates on this. It’s an engaging read, densely packed with the how and the why behind using your body to change your mental state.

Simply put: if you hold your body as if you are confident, you will feel confident. If you physically act as though you are scared, you will become scared. We know that the mind leads the body; the body also leads the mind.

The logic behind this is intuitive. I’m sure you can think of a time where forcing yourself to smile has made you happier, or when hunching your shoulders and trying to disappear has rendered you a nervous wreck. As Cuddy explains, these effects are more dramatic than you might realise – a few minutes with poor posture measurably changes your hormone levels (for the worse, of course).

This isn’t a philosophical discussion of the spiritual joys of yoga. Presence is quantifiable, repeatable science.

*

Should you read it?

The book is Cuddy’s famous TED Talk (which currently has almost ten million views), only in more depth. So you might be wondering: should I buy the book, or is watching the TED Talk good enough?

You should buy the book if:

  • you loved the talk and want to learn more,
  • you watched the TED Talk a while ago but haven’t been applying its lessons,
  • the science of body language fascinates you,
  • you are intrigued by the concept but not completely convinced,
  • you have unanswered questions, like how power poses work if you have a physical impairment,
  • you have ever suffered from imposter syndrome

On the other hand, if you enjoyed Cuddy’s TED Talk and use power poses often, you might find the book is simply more of the same.

*

What does Presence mean for creativity? Can you apply these lessons to your artistic endeavours?

Oh, yeah. Big time.

Creative thinking works best under finely tuned and often contradictory mental states. What those states are probably varies between people but some would be widely applicable. For example, you need to be energetic (to think up new ideas and power through the obstacles) without being hyperactive (to focus on the task).

You also need to be confident without being arrogant.

Everyone has something to offer the world. Everyone has things that they need to improve. It’s easy to forget these truisms. It’s even easier to grow discouraged. Setbacks are common and sometimes a bad review can get under our skins, despite our best efforts. Presence allows us to moderate these emotions, to hack our brains for fun and profit.

The lessons of Presence focus on getting you through the normal, everyday challenges – job interviews, public speaking, dealing with confrontation. The techniques work because the confidence boost allows you to be truer to yourself; when you are comfortable with what you are doing and who you are, you focus less on what other people think. You dedicate yourself more to the task at hand.

Is this relevant for creativity? You tell me.

Confidence isn’t a dirty word, nor is it something that ‘other people’ have. Literally embodying confidence might not make you feel more creative directly but it will help you persevere in the face of difficulties.

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