TC 287: Cafe Book Club – Presence by Amy Cuddy – Part 2

TC 287: Cafe Book Club – Presence by Amy Cuddy – Part 2

Welcome to the Cafe Book Club! Our illustrious panel of transformational thinkers are “present” and accounted for!

This week we’re discussing “Believing and Owning Your Story”, chapter 2 of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy, PhD, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.


First, a quick definition of presence:

What is Presence?

Presence = “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.”
Mikhail Baryshnikov – An Example of Presence in Performance

What is the Authentic Self?

“So here’s the question: What is the authentic self? What exactly does it mean to be true to yourself? Is it what your friends have in mind when they encourage you to ‘just be yourself’? Is it the feeling we have when we’re ‘being real’? Can we expect to be the same person, in every circumstance, at every moment? How many selves are there, and how is it determined which one we express?”

“Before we answer that, let’s talk briefly about the broader question: What is the self?”

The three most important things to understand about the self, particularly as it relates to presence:

The self is:

  1. Multifaceted, not singular.
  2. Expressed and reflected through our thoughts, feelings, values, and behaviors.
  3. Dynamic and flexible, not static and rigid.

So, how do we go about identifying the best parts of ourselves, the parts that feel the most “real” to you? Amy offers the following questions:

Identifying the Best Parts of Ourselves

  • What three words best describe you as an individual? Write them down.
  • Which one is most essential to who you are?
  • Briefly reflect on WHY it’s important to you, and a specific time when you demonstrated that value.

Okay, so why is being aware of and living consistent with my values important? Here’s what the science shows:

Self-Affirmation Theory

Self-affirmation is a Big Idea.

But not, as Cuddy tells us, in the Stuart Smalley cheesy “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!” kind of way.

Here’s how we know it works: Social psychologists have created a little test to stress you out and then measure your response. It’s called the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST).

Imagine being asked to give an impromptu 5-minute speech in front of a panel of judges who are told to simply look at you sternly and offer no positive feedback. THEN, while still in front of those judges, you need to count backwards from 2,083 by 13 with the judges barking at you to “go faster”.

I’m getting stressed just thinking about it. . .

Well, here’s what’s fascinating: Usually, when people go through that experience, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels spike. BUT, if they first reflect on a core value that is very important to them and write a brief description of WHY it’s important to them, they can go through that stress test WITHOUT the typical spikes in cortisol.

What’s surprising about these findings is that the participants affirmed their personal core values — not values or abilities that were relevant to the stressful tasks at hand.

That’s awesome. It’s the power of Self-Affirmation Theory. When we are aware of and living consistent with our values, we’re more powerful.

“It makes us feel less dependent on the approval of others and even comfortable with their disapproval if that’s what we get.”

Believing Your Own Story

So the key is not psyching yourself up or saying “I am the best at this task” or “I am a winner”. Your boldest self emerges through the experience of having full access to your values, traits, and strengths and knowing that you can autonomously and sincerely express them through your actions and interactions. That is what it means to believe in your own story.

How You Tell Your Story Matters

“Becoming present is not just about knowing and affirming your story — it’s also about how you narrate your story. Telling yourself what matters is one thing, but equally important is taking control of how you tell your story — to yourself and others”.

We are very excited to continue our study of this powerful book. Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below, or head over to our Forum and join in the discussion!

Upcoming Big Ideas from Presence

  • Presence – Attuned and expressing your personal power
  • Self-Affirmation Theory – You’re Awesome!
  • Priming and Nudges – Build your personal power
  • Expand your Body – to expand your personal power
  • iHunch – Hunching over your phone diminishes your power
  • “I’m Excited!” – Reframe feelings of fear or nervousness as excitement
  • Boldest Version of You – Move like that. Today.

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