TC 295: How to Pose for Presence and Self-Nudging

TC 295: How to Pose for Presence and Self-Nudging

We are concluding our review 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.

In this episode of the Transformation Cafe Book Club, we’ll be highlighting chapters 9 – 11 of Presence. This section summarizes some of the main points of this great book and shows us how we can apply what we’ve learned.

You don’t have to try and turn yourself into a super-hero overnight. Anyone that’s made a New Year’s resolution to achieve some huge goal like “lose 100 pounds” knows that by February you’re back to your old habits. Research tells us the key is to nudge ourselves; take baby steps – make small incremental changes. Each small success reinforces our behavior. Smiling, sitting up straight, and power posing aren’t difficult to do, but doing them regularly can incrementally change your set point. Over time this leads to big behavior changes. Below you’ll see some suggestions on how to incorporate these small changes into your daily life.

From Chapter 9: How to Pose for Presence

When Should We Power Pose?

Power posing can be helpful. . .

  • before entering new situations, meeting new people, or speaking a nonnative language in a foreign country
  • when speaking up for oneself or for someone else
  • when requesting help
  • when ending a relationship – professional or personal
  • when quitting a job, and
  • before receiving – or giving – critical feedback

It’s important to notice the situations (and people) that trigger powerless body language – so that you know when to apply the preparatory power posing. You’ll also benefit enormously if you can get in the habit of checking in on your posture, both during challenging situations and generally throughout the day.


High Power Poses

Prepare with Big Poses

  • In some ways, every day is a challenge. Prepare by power posing first thing in the morning. Get out of bed and practice a couple of your favorite poses for just a couple of minutes.
  • Power pose in your home, office, and other personal spaces where you’re not constrained by cultural norms, stereotypes, or status. Look as dominant as you’d like and pose big in those spaces.
  • Make the most of privacy in public spaces – pose in an elevator, a bathroom stall, a stairwell.
  • Don’t sit in waiting rooms, hunched over your phone. Stand up or walk around.
  • If you can’t strike a pose physically, do it mentally. Imagine yourself in the most powerful, expansive pose you can think of. Be a superhero in your own thought bubble.
  • If you’re about to face a challenging situation and you have no other option but to sit, wrap your arms around the back of your chair and clasp your hands together. This forces you to open your  shoulders and chest.


Present with Good Posture

As important as it is to adopt bold poses before challenging situations, it’s just as important to maintain less bold but still strong, upright, and open postures during challenging situations. There are some subtle things you can do:

    • While you’re presenting or interacting, sit up or stand up straight.
    • Keep your shoulders back and your chest open.
    • Breath slowly and deeply – remember how much proper breathing can center us.
    • Keep your chin up and level, but don’t raise it so far up that your looking down your nose at people.
    • When your stationary, keep your feet grounded and don’t wrap your ankles. You should feel solid.
    • When you can, move around. Movement is more engaging for the audience and more energizing for the speaker.
    • If space allows, take a few steps, then pause in one spot while you continue speaking. Don’t pace.
    • Adopt open gestures: they are both strong and warm. For example, when our arms are outstretched with palms up, it’s welcoming and signals trust.

In this entertaining and informative presentation, Allan Pease demonstrates how using palms up gestures conveys a completely different meaning than palms down. You’ll also learn the origin of the expression “he’s got the upper hand”.

    • Avoid “penguin arms” where the top of your arms are pinned to the side of your body and you move only your hands.
Look Mom! I'm power posing!

Look Mom! I’m power posing!

  • Pause! Taking up temporal space and speaking slowly provides additional power.
  • Practice relaxing the muscles in your throat so that your voice lowers to its natural level. Here’s an exercise on how to release tension in your throat.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t allow yourself to collapse inward. Pull your shoulders back, unfurl, and power up.
Superman hero pose

Clark Kent after practicing power poses.

In chapter 9 Amy Cuddy also provides suggestions on how to mind your posture throughout the day. A couple of favorites include:

  • Take breaks to walk around throughout the day (highly encouraged where I work). Consider having “walking meetings”, which not only improve your mood; they also lead to better communication, worker engagement, and creative problem-solving.
  • Seize the social opportunities you have to stretch out, such as going to a gym, running, taking a yoga class, and dancing. Create opportunities to expand!

Create opportunities to stretch out and expand your body. This family has the right idea.

Chapter 10: Self-Nudging: Tiny Tweaks Lead to Big Changes

Slowing Down is a Power Move

Just as speaking slowly, taking pauses, and occupying space are related to power, so, too, is taking your time to figure out how to respond and slowing down your decision-making process in high-pressure moments. A rushed response is like making yourself physically small, it is an expression of powerlessness. It takes power to slow down. And, consciously doing nothing is doing something.

We don’t get there by deciding to change right now. We do it gently, incrementally, by nudging ourselves a bit further every time. 

Nudges are effective for several reasons:

First, nudges are small and require minimal psychological and physical commitment.

Second, nudges operate via psychological shortcuts.  It’s easier to adopt a new behavior when we are nudged via normative influence (deciding how to behave based on what’s socially appropriate) as opposed to informational influence (deciding how to behave based on an assessment of objective reality).

Third, our attitudes follow from our behaviors. This is akin to William James‘s well-supported hypothesis that we acquire our feelings from our expressions  – “I’m happy because I sing”.

Self-nudges are minimal modifications to one’s own body language and/or mindset that are intended to produce small psychological and behavioral improvements in the moment. They are tiny tweaks with the potential to, over time, lead to big changes.

When you give yourself a self-nudge, the gap between reality and the goal is narrow; it’s not daunting which means you’re less likely to give up. As a result, your behavior change is more authentic, lasting, and self-reinforcing. 

Whether it’s success in losing weight, learning a new skill or growing a business, the fundamentals remain the same. There’s a solution, a simple yet powerful way of looking at your growth through a different lens. The one primary motivator that leads us to persevere is baby steps.

That’s right, the answer to how to make your goals work lies in the movieWhat About Bob, starring Bill Murray as therapy patient Bob Wiley. Bob’s psychiatrist Dr. Marvin treats him for multi-phobic personality disorder by teaching him how to use baby steps, or to set small, reasonable goals for himself one day at a time.

What about Bob

Chapter 11: Fake It Till You Become It

As Amy Cuddy says in this chapter, we need to fake it till we become it. Not to manipulate others and gain power over them but to slightly trick ourselves for the moment so we can gain personal power to express the best, boldest, most authentic version of ourselves. Amy Frost suggests that it’s more a matter of practicing it until you become it, which has a different mindset than “faking it”. She would rephrase it “Practice It Till You Become It”.

We’ve really enjoyed our journey through this great book and learned a lot of great techniques to be our boldest self. We encourage you to share it with your friends and to put these techniques into action. Revisit the previous episodes for links to articles, books, videos, and to catch up on any of the topics you may have missed.

Now. . . where did I put my cape?



  1. Amy Frost
    Mar 22, 2016

    So profound!!!! Amy Frost suggests that it’s more a matter of practicing it until you become it, which has a different mindset than “faking it”. She would rephrase it “Practice It Till You Become It”.

    • Joel Berg
      Mar 23, 2016

      Excellent, and Amy’s suggestion is right on the mark! Even though the Latin “fecit” (prounced “fake it”) means E did it!!

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