TC 290: Cafe Book Club – Presence Part 5 – How Powerlessness Shackles the Self

TC 290: Cafe Book Club – Presence Part 5 – How Powerlessness Shackles the Self

In this week’s Cafe Book Club podcast, host Robin Masiewicz and her guests discuss chapter 5 of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges
by Amy Cuddy, titled “How Powerlessness Shackles the Self (and How Power Sets It Free)”. Learn how Priming and nudges can build your personal power.

Amy Cuddy says “I hear or read stories of personal powerlessness every day. Although the details differ, the basic sketch is so often the same: a change is accompanied by a self-perceived loss of power and strength and followed by feelings of insecurity, anxiety, discouragement, and defeat. Then come physical manifestations of powerlessness along with loss of confidence and ambition.”

This depleted state, which can result from a small setback or even just the normal life changes we all go through, convinces us that we lack the power to control the situations that we’re in. Then opportunities take on the aspect of threats to be avoided, and feelings of fear further reinforce our sense of powerlessness, keeping us locked in an exhausting cycle.

Woman breaking free of chains on wrists

When we feel powerful, we feel free – in control, unthreatened, and safe. We feel positive and optimistic, and our behavior is largely unrestricted by social pressures.

Powerlessness activates a psychological and behavioral inhibition system, the equivalent to an alarm-threat response where we are more attuned to threats than opportunities. We feel generally anxious and pessimistic, and we’re susceptible to social pressures that inhibit us and make our behavior unrepresentative our our sincere selves.

When we feel powerless we cannot be present.

Power makes us approach. Powerlessness makes us avoid.

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.

– Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BCE – 65 CE)

Social Power versus Personal Power

Social power is characterized by the ability to exert dominance, to influence or control the behavior of others. It is earned and expressed through disproportionate control over valued resources like food, shelter, money, tools, information, status, affection, and so on.

Personal power is characterized by freedom from the dominance of others. It is infinite, as opposed to zero-sum — it’s about access to and control of limitless inner resources, such as our skills and abilities, our deeply held values, our true personalities, our boldest selves. Personal power makes us more open, optimistic, and risk tolerant and therefore more likely to notice and take advantage of opportunities.

In short, social power is power over — the capacity to control others’ states and behaviors. Personal power is the power to –the ability to control our own states and behaviors.

Unless and until we feel personally powerful, we cannot achieve presence, and all the social power in the world won’t compensate for it’s absence.

How Does Power Shape Our Perception?

Benefits of Feeling Powerful

  • Power can protect us  – against judgement, rejection, stress, and even physical pain
  • Power can connect us – people who feel powerful are more likely to forgive others
  • Power can liberate our thinking – helps us make good decisions under complex conditions
  • Power can synchronize us – our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, bringing us closer to presence
  • Power can invite action – feeling powerful makes people proactive
  • Power can make our actions more effective – providing a lift in high-stakes situations
  • Power affects our physiology – it impacts our levels of testosterone and cortisol – two powerful hormones

Priming Exercise – Infuse yourself with feelings of confidence and strength

Recall a moment when you felt personally powerful. A time when you felt fully in control of your own psychological state – when you had the confidence to act based on your boldest, most sincere self, with the sense that your actions would be effective. Maybe it was at work, at school, at home, or in some other part of your life. Take a few minutes to remember and reflect on that experience of your personal power, on how it felt.

Questions to Consider

  • When you are in your authentic power, what does it look like, feel like, what are you doing and saying?
  • What keeps you from being powerful?
  • What actions can you take to be powerful?
  • What skills will you work on to be self empowered?
  • What actions can you take to be powerful in your work?

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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