[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss the incredibly important thing that everyone, including you, gets wrong about presence. We explore how to prime yourself for the best performance in the moments of pressure and high-stakes situations where other people are watching and judging you. We look at the results from thousands of experiments over the last few decades to uncover the fascinating truth about power and powerlessness.
We share the exact strategy you can use to shift your brain into the mode that allows you to view the world as more friendly, helps you feel more creative and makes you into someone who consistently takes action. We dig into all of these and much more with our guest, Dr. Amy Cuddy.
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Do you feel uncomfortable and conflict with others? Do you experience fear and anxiety when dealing with tough situations? Most negotiation tactics and strategies assume you’re already a master negotiator with nerves of steel, but that’s the wrong starting place.
In our previous episode, we discussed how you can get comfortable with having tough conversations and build the foundation to become a real master negotiator, using a simple and easy-to-apply framework. We discussed how you can deal with tough situations and conflict from a place of poise, curiosity and conflict with our previous guest, Kwame Christian. If you want to feel more confident in the toughest situations of your life, listen to that episode.
Now, for our interview with Amy.
[0:03:20.2] MB: Today, we have another awesome guest on the show, Dr. Amy Cuddy. Amy is an American social psychologist, author and speaker. She currently lectures on the psychology of leadership and influence at Harvard University. She and her work have won several awards, including being named one of the 50 women who are changing the world by business insider.
She’s the author of the 2015 bestselling book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Her 2012 TED Talk is the second most viewed talk of all time. Her work has been featured in Time, Wired, Fast Company, NPR, countless academic journals. Amy, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:55.5] AC: Thanks so much for having me, Matt.
[0:03:57.2] MB: Well, we’re very excited to have you on the show today and to dig into the meat of some of these – some of the work that you’ve done. I’d love to start out with presence. It’s something so simple and yet, people often view it as the wrong way, or misinterpret it. I’d love to understand when you talk about presence and its importance, what does it mean to you?
[0:04:17.0] AC: Yeah. I think when people hear the word and it is used a lot these days, especially when people are talking about things like mindfulness. It’s not well-defined in those context and discussion, so people are left to define it on their own. What I find they come to in their own process of defining it is that it must some permanent state that you get to if you do enough meditation retreats. It’s like a state that you get to where you’re always present and that’s not the way it works at all.
Presence, it is inevitably fleeting. No one can be present all the time. It’s a momentary state. It’s not a permanent state. It’s the state in which you are attuned to and able to access and comfortably express your authentic best self. Now, authentic best-self, there is another phrase that I think is used all the time and not well-defined. Let me just take a moment to say by authentic, I don’t mean unfiltered, right? I mean, there are times where we need to be mindful of who we’re speaking with and be respectful in our interactions and you could still be authentic.
I’m talking about the person that you are in the best moments of your life. If you think back, over the last say two or three years, think about the very best moments. These moments would be times when you feel totally connected, you feel – is probably an interaction with other people, you feel like that connection is real and deep. You feel odd, you feel seen, you feel hurt and you feel that you’re seen in hearing them and you feel happy and relieved.
That’s your authentic best sell. The question is how do you bring that person to your most challenging situations where you’re least likely to be present, right? Because you’re so distracted by all of your fears. How do you bring that authentic best self, which probably happens in the moment of your life when you’re with people who you know and care about and love and trust? How do you bring that into interactions with new people, where you’re maybe pitching something, or interviewing or giving a talk? How do you bring it into those situations?
[0:06:37.0] MB: That’s a great fundamental question. I want to dig into it. Before we do, I want to just come back to something. I think you pointed out a really important major misconception that a lot of people have about presence. Tell me more about this idea that we can’t be present all the time and that it’s a fleeting state.
[0:06:54.6] AC: We’re human, right? There are always thoughts and distractions that are poking their heads in and pulling this away. That’s okay. We would be artificial intelligence if we were able to do that. I think that we have to let ourselves off the hook a bit around expecting ourselves to be present all the time. Even if you’re in a really engaging, say talk, or you’re watching a great movie. The things that still fully engage you, you’re still going to be distracted at moments. You might have to go to the bathroom. I’m just giving you a really simple idea that distracts you from being present, right? To let yourself off the hook that you just can’t be present all the time. It’s impossible.
[0:07:39.3] MB: How does this idea of the authentic best self interact with the concept of flow?
[0:07:46.0] AC: I think there’s a lot to it. I guess, I would say flow is a supreme state of this that lasts also a bit longer. It might be – certainly people are present in those moments, but they also may not be interacting with other people when they’re in a flow state. The presence that I talk about usually involves human interactions and the pressures that come from human interaction, like the feeling that people are judging us, or the feeling that the stakes are really high in this situation, and that throws us off from being able to hear what the other person is saying. Flow I do think lasts a bit longer. It’s like an extreme form of presence.
[0:08:30.9] MB: I like that distinction, the presence you’re talking about is about situations where we’re interacting with other people where the stakes are high, where we feel like we’re being judged. How do we bring presence to those types of situations and what prevents us from being present in those high-stakes environments?
[0:08:48.6] AC: Well, I think the key is that we feel powerless in these moments. Feeling that you’re being judged and being very focused on the outcome as opposed to the process. Again yeah, feeling that the stakes are very high make it really hard for us to even remember who we are, well enough to be able to access that person and present that person.
The interesting thing is that when we're not present, it reveals itself to others, right? In some ways, not being present which is the same as not bringing your authentic self to the situation, it looks like deception. I get into the lie detection work, which I think is really a fascinating piece that fits in here. When people are lying, so when they're intentionally deceiving, there are these tells, right? There these signs that not everyone, but most people inadvertently send signals that they're not telling the truth. The main one there is not eye contact. Eye contact is actually a very poor signal of lying, because people learn very different things from their parents about whether you should make eye contact when you're being questioned. They learn different things in different cultures. Men and women might differ on that. Introverts and extroverts differ.
What you are looking for are asynchronous between the words the person is saying and the body language the person is using, because when you're lying, you are suppressing one true story and you're telling another different false story. Each of those stories comes with a set of emotions. You're basically not only suppressing the story and you're good at doing that with words, but you're also suppressing the emotions that go with that story and you're trying to fake another story with words and also get the body language right to go with that. It's almost impossible for us to do that.
What happens is that we see these asynchronous between the emotions that go with the words and the emotions that are leaking out through people's body language. When you're nervous and not authentic, the same kinds of things happen. People seem asynchronous. They seem off. Their words don't quite match what they're doing with their bodies, because you have too much to think about and not enough cognitive bandwidth to be telling the story and also matching your nonverbals to it. That's too much choreography.
When you are present, the opposite happens, right? You become aligned and synchronous, your words match your body language, you're not getting in the way of yourself, you're being yourself. That's one thing that comes across to other people.
Another is that you believe your story and people hear that and see that, right? You buy what you're selling. If you think about the show Shark Tank, which is I think a guilty pleasure for many of us. I love a psychologist and body language person. I love analyzing what's happening on that show and trying to predict who's going to do well and who's not going to do well.
What I find is that the people who do the best and this is really clearly backed up by a lot of research, which I'll talk to you about in a minute, but is that the people who do the best are the ones who clearly buy what they're selling. There's no reservation. You can hear their conviction, their belief about what they're selling. That is so important. That's an important cue, right?
If you're not going to eat the cookie that you're selling, why would anyone else eat the cookie that you're selling? When you're present and bringing your authentic best self forward, you believe that self, right? That's what's happening. What the research shows is that that is a really important variable, this this authenticity variable. In studies that I’ve looked at, VC pitches, or job interviews that people who are – how conviction about who they are and belief in their story do much better. Then so I would say the third piece, so you now have synchrony between words and nonverbals, you have believe in your story.
The third and I think this is so important, because people often conflate these two concepts; when you are present, you communicate confidence, not arrogance. Arrogance is often seen as a sign of confidence. It's not. In fact, it's more closely related to what we would call fragile high self-esteem. It's people who report they have self-esteem, but they really don't. It can be punctured really easily. Confidence is a tool that invites people and it's appealing. People find it attractive.
Arrogance is exactly the opposite. It's a weapon. At the very least, it's a wall that you build to prevent people from challenging you, to intimidate them. No one likes arrogance. No one likes arrogance. They may not challenge you, but that's not because they believe you. It's because they want to get rid of you, right? Confidence is what you're going for, not arrogance. When you're present, you're able to be confident and really fully grounded in who you are. For that reason, you don't feel defensive when people challenge you, or push back. You feel like, “Huh, that's an interesting question and I want my idea to be as good as it can be, so let me try to engage with that.”
When you're arrogant, you're not going to be able to receive that pushback in a constructive way. Those three things together are great predictors of outcomes in things like hiring decisions and investments. They're not false signals. If you look down the road six months later after those people are hired, or after someone invests in them, these are the people who actually are doing better. They work harder, they are more creative, they're more likely to inspire people around them, they stay at the job longer.
[0:14:47.3] MB: I love this idea that we might get the words right when we're maybe being not as genuine as possible, or not as authentic as possible and we're not being our best selves, but it's often the nonverbals that creep in and communicate a different story. That's why people may feel something is off about a speech, or presentation, or a performance in a high-stakes moment when on the surface level, things seem fine. Tell me a little bit more about the science behind that and behind all these phenomenons.
[0:15:16.2] AC: Well, let me say a little bit about what's happening. First of all, the studies that I was talking about what's happening, I mean, the way that they're figuring out what is mediating the relationship between the person and the outcome is by having experts code the videos of these interactions on these variables that I listed; the confidence and authenticity and synchronous body language.
It's not that the people who are making the investment decisions know that's why they're doing it. They're not quite aware of why they like this person better. It's not something that they can quite articulate, which I think is really very interesting. What it comes down to is that people who feel powerful and by powerful, I'm not talking about power over other people, but power to do, power to bring that best self forth, belief in yourself, self-efficacy, agency. That's what I'm talking about; nonzero-sum power, which I call personal power.
People who feel personally powerful are able to be present and people who feel powerless are just not able to be to be present. When you look at the research on power, which is – and I'm not just talking about power posing. I'm talking about a much, much bigger, much broader area of research that it includes literally thousands of psychological experiments from the last couple of decades.
What you see is this really fascinating pattern. The pattern is this; when people feel powerful, it affects their feelings, their thoughts, their behaviors and even their physiology. When they feel powerless, it also affects those things, but in the opposite way. Let me describe it this way, when you feel powerful, it activates what we call the behavioral approach system. You feel more optimistic and more happy and more confident. You think more openly, more creatively. You do better on cognitive tasks. You generally see the world as a place that's filled with opportunities, not threats.
You see new people not as potential predators, or competitors. You see them as potential allies and friends. You are much more likely just to take action. When you feel powerless, you don't act. You freeze, or you flee, right? You don't take action when you feel powerless. When you feel powerful, you do. Including power on behalf of others. Think about all of the research on bystander non-intervention. Why do bystanders not intervene when they see a clear emergency?
When you look at some of this research on adults, you find that one of the strongest predictors is that people don't intervene, they don't act because they feel powerless. People who feel powerful are much more likely to step in and help a victim. This is not just a selfish, or a self-serving outcome. The last is that it affects your physiology in exactly the same way. People feel stronger, they feel less stressed, but you also see that their cortisol levels are lower, so that's one of your stress hormones. Their cortisol reactivity is less strong. In other words, when something stressful happens, their cortisol doesn't spike as high as it does for somebody who feels powerless. They live longer. They have a lower rate of stress-related illness.
All of that together, again think of as power allows you to expand and approach the world, right? The world becomes bigger and friendlier to you. Powerlessness does the opposite. When you feel powerful, you can be present. When you feel powerless, it absolutely blocks you from being present.
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[0:21:16.8] MB: Before we get too much deeper, I think it's worthwhile to dig into the difference between what you call personal power or power and what many people might have as a traditional understanding, or colloquial definition of power.
[0:21:32.1] AC: Yeah. It's funny, when I ask people if we’re doing a free association and I say the word ‘power’, what's the next word you think of? The word that comes up most often is corruption.
[0:21:45.3] MB: That's what I thought of.
[0:21:47.0] AC: Yeah. Did you? Right. That's fascinating, right? Because what that says to me is wow, the people have one definition of power. They think of power as political power. They think of it as hierarchical power. Then the cases that are most salient to them are those where you see a powerful person behaving in a way that involves corruption. The truth is that power does not corrupt. Power reveals. Power reveals who you are. Power only corrupts when it's interacting with other forces like certain personalities and all kinds of societal and economic pressures and structures that facilitate corruption.
The first thing is to make peace with the idea of power. It's okay to feel powerful. The second is to realize that power is not just power over others. It's not just controlling others, or controlling resources. It is again, it's about you feeling that you control your own resources, right, your own inner resources. The feeling that you have some control in your life, that you're not being controlled by other forces, that you're making those decisions and that you have this intrinsic feeling of motivation and control. Yeah, that's the power that I'm talking about. That power certainly doesn't corrupt.
Generally, I think it's good for all of us to feel that way and for you to want the people in your organization to feel that way. This is again, not zero-sum, it's not hierarchical. Everyone in your organization, people who work for you can feel powerful and it's taking nothing away from anyone else. It's only contributing to their ability to be present, to be passionate to show up to do their best.
[0:23:29.6] MB: Tell me more about the approach system and this idea that we expand into the world when we feel powerful.
[0:23:36.8] AC: I really think of it in this – I imagine this person stepping forward and opening their arms. Well, this sounds totally corny and I never thought of it this way, but the scene from Titanic where Leonardo DiCaprio and they were there standing at the front with their arms open. I mean, that's a moment of feeling really powerful, like very confident and connected and having a sense of agency and freedom, right?
Think of it as a power liberates you to be who you are. It frees you. That's really what the approach system is about. It’s about not going into you're terrified, fight, flee, or faint mode. It's the opposite of that. What happens in these stressful situations, say let's just use job interview, which is a stressful situation that almost everyone will encounter at some time in their lives.
Job interviews feel – they basically activate that fight, flee or faint system. The thing is that's adaptive. If you are actually being chased by a tiger, right? That's what you should do. You should run. When you're in an interaction like a job interview, that system doesn't help you at all, right? It's a flaw in the way that we're wired. What you got to figure out is how do you get in there and turn off that response? Instead, respond as someone who is – has composure, has confidence, has this feeling of power, knows that no matter what happens in this situation, they're not going to die, right? They're not going to die if they don't get the job.
[0:25:11.6] MB: I want to look at the flip side of this and start to understand why don’t people have power, why do people lose power, why do people feel powerless?
[0:25:22.0] AC: One thing is that when we begin to feel powerless, we consent to that feeling. We don't notice it as something that we should resist. We do just allow ourselves to fall into it. One of the things that I would love to do in the world is to get people to understand that people's psychological well-being, their subjective well-being is not just about happiness and lack of stress, because that's how people generally think of it.
When they think about like how well do you feel, they think well, “I'm happy and I'm not very stressed.” Those two things are important. I think there's now quite a bit of research on the importance of feeling a sense of purpose, so there's discussion about that. What I don't often hear people talk about and what ends up being a really important predictor of thriving is that people also feel that sense of agency. They feel they can get things done.
Think about if you were trying to improve, increase the well-being of a struggling society and you wanted to measure the long-term outcomes of that. You wouldn't just want to make them feel happy and less stressed, you'd also want to make them feel powerful, right? You want them to feel that they can change their situation, they can get things done. Not just continue to live as they are, right?
Power is such an important piece of your general well-being. As you start to feel less powerful and again, personally powerful, note that. Start to pay attention to the moments when you collapse. When do you start to slouch? When do you start to lower your eyes and maybe wrap yourself with your torso with your arms? Think about what people do when their team is losing, or when they are on the losing team in sports.
Sports has so much to teach us about these things. I'm a huge baseball fan, so I just finished watching the World Series and my team won. Go Red Sox, but it was very fun to watch what was happening in the stands, because you see as your team is struggling, everyone all of a sudden they have their hands on their faces. They're covering their eyes. They're touching their necks. They're doing all kinds of contractive body language. That's a sign of feeling powerless.
It's what animals do when they don't have power. They're hiding themselves. They're making themselves invisible. They're making themselves small. That's a sign of feeling powerless, so when you notice that you're starting to do that, two things; try to figure out what was the stimulus that led you to react that way. What caused you to react that way? Because that gets you to know yourself and what are the cues that you should you get in touch with to understand when you're losing that sense of power, but also don't allow yourself to collapse. That's exactly when you actually need to physically expand.
Say you're giving a talk and you start to realize that you're doing nervous things like touching your arm with your opposite hand, or touching your face, or maybe you're speaking very quickly, which is another way of contracting. Instead of doing those things, slow down, open up your shoulders, take some deep expansive breaths and all of that will reset you. It triggers a relaxation response. It allows you to collect yourself, collect your thoughts. It certainly does not signal powerlessness to an audience, because pausing and slowing down does exactly the opposite. It signals power. All of those things are ways in which you can resist collapsing into that feeling of powerlessness.
[0:29:04.3] MB: From a larger perspective outside of just moments of powerlessness, what causes people to be or feel powerless in their lives?
[0:29:14.2] AC: Well, lots of things. I don't want to dismiss all of the structural and institutional and real things that make us feel powerless, like systemic prejudices and for all kinds of unfair inequalities. Illness, right? Losing a job. In fact, chronic unemployment is the strongest predictor of unhappiness and powerlessness, especially for men. That's a very strong predictor of long-term power, feelings of powerlessness and depression.
There are a lot of things that can do it, and I'm not saying that it's easy to make yourself feel powerful, but you have to try. You have to at least resist that urge to contract and hide and go into the fetal position.
[0:30:00.8] MB: I think my perspective on it at least and I'm curious what your perspective is, the most effective strategy if you're in a tough situation like that is to try and create agency for yourself, try and create action, try and create results and having the mindset of or being in a place of powerlessness is often the most counterproductive thing you can do in those types of scenarios.
[0:30:20.6] AC: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's because you're also ceding control of your own outcome and your own thoughts. You end up leaving those situations with a sense of regret, as opposed to a sense of satisfaction. One of the interesting things about these stressful situations where people feel present or not present, or powerful or not powerful is that when people feel powerless, they don't feel they've been seen. They leave something like a job interview feeling like, “Ah, I wish I had shown them who I am.”
They leave with a sense of regret and they can't get themselves out of the cycle of wanting to do over, but you don't get a do-over. You just have to move on and not pick up another piece of baggage that you carry in with you to the next situation that looks the same way. People often, that sense of regret is all about what happened in that moment. It's not actually about the outcome. When people feel present and powerful in something like a job interview, when they leave they feel satisfied and they feel much more accepting of the outcome, even if it's not the one they desired. They feel that what happened was fair, that they were seen, they were heard and if they weren't chosen, that's okay. Maybe there was somebody who is a better fit. It doesn't reflect so strongly on them in a negative way.
I think that for me, I very much do focus on these feelings of expansiveness versus contractiveness and what you can do to prepare yourself before you go in, because one thing that people are not great at doing when they feel bad about themselves is telling themselves that they're powerful. When you feel anxious and powerless and then you tell yourself, “Oh, no. I'm actually powerful,” now you just feel you're lying to yourself. It can make it even more salient, so you can get a rebound effect, a heightened sense of powerlessness.
We're not very good at talking ourselves down off the ledge, but we are good at walking ourselves down off the ledge at changing the way we carry ourselves, the way we breathe, the way we move, our speech, our posture, all of those things. Again, not just about standing like a superhero. There's so much more research out there from many different fields that show the same pattern. When we expand, we feel powerful and we can control our expansiveness.
If you start from the head down to the feet, it's a ways to expand. I've already mentioned this, but speak more slowly. Studies done at Stanford GSB, researchers like Deb Grunfeld have found that when you get people to slow down their speech, they feel more powerful and others perceive them as more powerful. Slow your speech. Breathing, right? Do you breathe shallowly, or do you breathe deeply? When you breathe deeply and expansively and really fill your lungs, you are triggering what's called the relaxation response. That is a complex circuitry in your mind that's telling your body that you are not in a threatening situation. You are in a safe situation. You don't go into fight, flee or faint mode. You feel comfortable.
There you've got just two things that you can do starting at the head. Certainly, even simple posture like sitting up straight is a way of expanding. Your shoulders should be back and down and your chest should be open. You should basically do what you would do when your grandmother might have told you to sit up straight. Studies show that people who are clinically depressed, if you get them to sit up straight for just two to three minutes which goes against the typical posture of someone who's depressed, they feel significantly happier. The same then applies to people who are not depressed as social psychologists have shown.
Then you have complex posture, which is what I've been studying is the various ways in which we expand in more complex ways, not just sitting up straight, so having your limbs away from your torso, having your feet apart. When you do that before you go into a stressful situation, you feel more powerful. You don't do it while you're in the stressful situation, because it comes across as really rude, right? You're not going to man spread when you're sitting in a job interview, you're not going to stand like a superhero or in the victory pose when you're in a job interview, but you can do it in advance.
Even movement. Studies by a guy named Nico Troya whose Queens University outside of Toronto, shows that even walking changes the way we feel. When we feel happy for example, we walk in a more expansive bouncy way. When we feel sad, we get really contractive. When he has people walk in this way that mirrors happiness and they don't know that that's what they're doing. They just know they're walking in a way that matches what they're looking at on a screen, they end up feeling happier and more powerful than people who walked in this contractive way.
All of those things override the doubts that happen when you're trying to change your mind with your mind. Instead, use your body to change your mind. Carry yourself in an expansive way with a sense of pride, with a sense of purpose, right? When you carry yourself that way, that's the world that manifests in front of you.
[0:35:33.7] MB: That's exactly what I wanted to get into next. Tell me more about the notion of the mind; mind connection versus the mind body connection.
[0:35:42.4] AC: The body and mind connection encompasses so much different work. So much of that is important, right? Cognitive behavioral therapy for, example. I mean, certainly in many cases for many people, that's a hugely important part of reducing stress, or improving your mental health. I don't mean to be dismissive of it. Again, if we're talking about performance in stressful situations, we're just not very good at talking ourselves out of feeling bad, especially when we're anxious.
The body overrides that. The body skips that step. If the body is acting as if it's not threatened, the mind begins to fall in line what the body is doing. We're animals. This is a very basic primitive reaction. I mean, the same is true – there's a woman who is a horse trainer who I talk to quite often, who's developed this technique, she works with very submissive shy horses. Her job is to bring them out of their shells. What she finds is that firstly, horses can't talk themselves out of it, right? They're just not able to. The horse trainer can't talk them out of it.
She changes their body language through these different kinds of games and interactions, so that eventually she gets them to behave in a way that emulates the airs and graces of powerful horses. When they do that for a period of time, it’s like it snaps them out of it and they come out of their shell and they become much more willing to interact with other horses. Their health improves, they're more likely to be able to go to competition and do well in competition. It just goes on and on. The same is true for humans. I think in these moments of anxiety, remember that you're an animal. Use some of these very primitive approaches to snap yourself out of it.
[0:37:32.9] MB: What a great example. It crystallizes things, because as you said, you can't convince a horse to come out of that behavior pattern. Yet, just with an intervention at the mind/body level, you can create behavior change.
[0:37:46.8] AC: Right. When you think about – Just another example, because people often ask me this when it comes to – athletes often ask me this. Well, what about visualization? Think about an alpine skier visualizing the course before the gates open. Does that mean that that doesn't work? I would say no, it doesn't mean that. An alpine skiers, let's talk about Lindsey Vonn and you often do you see her before – I do. I love watching ski racing. You see her before she races with her eyes closed and she's – you see her gently going through the motions of going down that course.
There is a physical piece. She's also visualizing the course and she's visualizing how she wants to do as she skis down through that course. Does that work for her? Hell yeah. It's definitely working for her. Lindsey Vonn is not necessarily feeling incredibly stressed and self-doubting before every race. The point is that we're really not good at that when we are feeling self-doubting and anxious already off of that.
[0:38:50.8] MB: Another piece of this that I want to dig into is imposter syndrome. How does that play into all of us?
[0:38:56.5] AC: Imposter syndrome is not just about feeling powerless. It's about feeling powerless, it's about feeling that you somehow accidentally got the job, or the award, or whatever it is and that you're going to be found out at any moment. It also involves what we call pluralistic ignorance, which is we think that everyone else who has that job or goes to that fancy school is feeling great and confident and deserving. They're not. Impostor syndrome is so pervasive when you take places, like at Harvard Business School for example, 75% to 85% of students report feeling imposter syndrome, right?
Other people are not walking around feeling like, “Oh, I totally deserve to be here.” They're feeling the same kinds of doubt. I think the first thing is to realize that you're not alone. Everyone is feeling imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. If you are in a situation with people who've really excelled and in a competitive situation, chances are a lot of people are feeling that way. They're feeling that if they really put themselves out there, someone's going to realize that they were an admissions mistake and come and tap them on the shoulder and say, “Sorry, but we made a mistake and you have to leave,” right?
Impostor syndrome definitely is coming from a seer, a feeling of powerlessness, but it becomes even more complex in how we think about it. Now when – and it's very context specific. People could feel like an impostor say at Harvard Business School when they're being a student and go home and feel totally fine and not feel like an impostor with their spouse, right? It's not that you're walking around feeling powerless all the time. You're feeling powerless and as if you're an impostor in this one particular context.
When impostor syndrome was first studied in this 1970s by a woman named Pauline Clance, she originally thought that it was much, much more common among women than men. Then she learned pretty quickly that it wasn't. It was just that women were more comfortable telling her that they were feeling that way. Women are more comfortable talking about it. This is one of the ways in which gender stereotypes I think really hurts men. Men feel that they're not allowed to talk about those things, to share those kinds of fears and weaknesses and vulnerabilities. As a result, the research and the therapy around impostor syndrome was first focused just on women.
She realized that as soon as she was doing rather than interviews anonymous surveys, men were reporting impostor syndrome at exactly the same level as women. Men are feeling like impostors. I think the burden on men – so this whole idea that it's a woman's problem is not only bad for women. I think it's bad for women, because it's like another thing to heap on top of the pile of all of these things that women are afraid of. It's also a burden on men, because men believe that men generally don't feel like impostors and you do feel like an impostor, that's really going to make it even harder on you. Let me just rest assured to all the men in the audience, most of the men that you know, 85% of them probably have felt like imposters.
[0:42:05.0] MB: It's funny, I out of college for number years I worked at Goldman Sachs and in my analyst training for the first six weeks on the job is crushing impostor syndrome the entire time. I know exactly what it feels like.
[0:42:17.3] AC: Yeah, yeah. Probably almost everyone in your group felt the same way.
[0:42:21.5] MB: What can we do to overcome, or deal with impostor syndrome, other than the awareness that it's so prevalent?
[0:42:28.8] AC: Well again, notice when you feel it. What are the things that make you feel it often? It's funny and counterintuitive, but things that make people feel like imposters are the things that make you look the exact opposite of an impostor to outsiders. Winning an award for example, being recognized publicly for something that you did well, that makes impostor syndrome momentarily or for a brief period of time worse for a lot of people.
Realize that the reason you're feeling that way when those things happen is just because you're feeling very – because it's public, you feel exposed and you feel more afraid that you're going to be found out. Knowing what are the things that stoke that feeling for you is important and knowing that as you learn the ropes, you're going to get over that. One of the people that I talk to in the book is the wildly successful sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman, who's written two dozen international bestselling books. I'm sure, many people in the audience will know who he is. He's also just a delightful genuine, open person who admits to feeling an imposter syndrome.
He was talking to me about a time when he was writing this book called American Gods, which was going to be his big, big novel and he was talking to a friend of his, a writer, mentor of his. He said something like, “I think I've gotten over the imposter syndrome. I think I finally figured out how to write a novel.” His friend says, “You never figure out how to write a novel. You just figure out how to write the novel that you're on, right? The one that you're doing now.”
The idea is that it's this game of whack-a-mole. It's going to keep on popping up again, but don't panic about it. Go, “Okay, I noticed that feeling. I'm going to let go of it now and not perseverate or ruminate about it.” Eventually it just goes away. You might feel it again when you go into a new context. Maybe that's a good thing. It means you're challenging yourself or you're doing things that they're making you push yourself.
[0:44:34.8] MB: For listeners who want to concretely implement some of the tactics, themes, ideas that we've talked about today, what would be one piece of homework that you would give them to really concretely use these ideas in their lives?
[0:44:49.5] AC: Let's just talk about the expansive – the body-mind piece. I would say first of all, before you go into a stressful situation, prepare by using expansive postures; the warrior pose in yoga, stretch out, make yourself as big as you feel comfortable doing, but in private, right? Not in front of other people. You want to do it in private, because you don't want to feel – you don't offend people, but you also don't want to feel that you’re being judged. Do that before you walk in.
When you walk in, use posture that have a good posture. Carry yourself with a sense of pride, but not in a way that's domineering. You're not challenging somebody to a duel, you're trying to have an interaction where you connect with them, where they see you as confident, but they also see you as likable and trustworthy and engaged and as somebody who wants to be there, who doesn't feel that he or she is the most important person in the room, but is someone who's there to connect.
Huge, big poses before, reasonable good posture during and use also open gestures. Gestures, palms up for example, that show that you are comfortable being there. Mind your posture throughout the day. If you're sitting over your computer a lot, or over your phone which we find is hugely problematic and causes what we call text neck, or eye posture, people really begin to hunch and that does affect the way they behave and it activates the inhibition system.
If you're staying a lot of time on your phone, try to change how you're holding your phone. I'm not going to tell you to put your phone down, because I know how hard that is to do. What we see is that people who sit back and have their – hold their phones up over them as opposed to hunching over them, they don't seem to activate the inhibition system in the way that the people who are slouching do.
Mind your posture. Realize what your – notice the times when you start to slouch and make yourself small and see what you can do to correct that. The other is pay attention to other people's posture, right? When you're in an interaction, remember that presence begets presence. When you're present, you are inviting others to be present. When you're present, you're saying I am authentic. I am here. You can trust me. They respond in kind.
What you want to do is pay attention to times when they're using body language that looks powerless. If their body language changes and suddenly they close off, try to figure out what happened. How can you get things on track again?
[0:47:23.0] MB: For listeners who want to find you, the book, all of your work online, what is the best place for them to do that?
[0:47:29.4] AC: I would say I'm very active on Twitter and I'm AmyJCCuddy, so two Cs, because I have two middle initials. Do you look for me there. You can look for me at amycuddy.com, or amycuddyblog.com, but I think the book is really a useful and practical and very strongly evidence-based guide to understanding what's happening to your body and mind in these stressful situations, how you can overcome it. Please do look for the book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.
Obviously, you can buy it online. I always encourage people to buy from their local, their indie bookstore, because I certainly love those places and would like to see them succeed, but it's widely available and it's now in 34 different languages. It's available all over the world. For many of you, even if you're not native English speakers, I hope that it will be available in your native language.
[0:48:21.1] MB: Well Amy, thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing all this wisdom, all these practical strategies. It was a great conversation.
[0:48:28.2] AC: Thanks so much.
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