Presence

This was a book I had been meaning to read for a while. I had seen the author’s TED talk video in passing some time back and so when I got a chance to read it, I was excited. This books is all about the amorphous concept of Presence. It talks about what presence means, why you want to me more present (I guess everybody wants that), how people evaluate presence, how to fake presence in short term to be more present in the long term etc. Following are the things I liked about this book:

 

 

  • I liked the description of impostor phenomenon. This is apparently a widespread feeling where accomplished people feel like imposters – about to be found out for the fraud they consider themselves to be. A lot of us have experienced this feeling and it was eye opening to see that this is an almost universal thing. Of course there are also a lot of frauds who believe that they are god’s gift to human kind (I am talking about Trump here :-)). Imposter phenomenon is the other side of the confidence game – Check out the review of Maria Konnikova’s interesting book on the subject.
  • I like the concept that to get more presence, we need to give more presence. This means to have more presence, listen and connect and get out of your head and that will make you feel more present. Its a simple idea but just saying hi to everybody you see will make you more present. Amy (the author) does a great job of illustrating this with a story from Boston.
  • I loved the section about body language and power posing. This section talks about the mind/body connection and how striking a powerful posture make us feel more powerful (and when we are more powerful, we are more present). This was the key portion of the book and really explains a lot about the popularity of Yoga etc. these days. The recipe that Amy suggests is that we should strike a power pose before critical meetings or events or performances to be more present. Since reading this section I have been noticing that directors know this and ensure that their actors are power posing in a scene where they are being powerful etc. Below are some of the sample poses: body-language-power-poses
  • I loved the section about the effect of power on human Physiology. It talks about how power posing can increase testosterone levels in human beings. The interesting bit was role of the stress hormone – cortisol – in being present. Low stress level, it turns out, is a fundamental aspect of feeling and being powerful. In organizations the best leaders are not just the ones with high testosterone but also with low cortisol. The research justified the old adage that you want your leader to be the calmest in the room when crap hits the fan. An interesting prediction from the model was that people with high testosterone and high cortisol are going to be ones that cheat in test, organizations and relationships – pretty insightful stuff.

One of the ideas in the book I was not sure about was the idea behind self-affirmation. The books talks about the benefits of self-affirming – which I agree with but proposes self-affirmation by remembering your unique strengths. In my experience the best self-affirmation is done by recalling the humanity and commonality shared with the other people that are making you nervous. Listing your unique strengths sounds a lot like the Saturday night sketch by Stuart Smalley (Al Franken) from a long while back – a sketch Amy mentions  in the book.

Overall this is a 300 page book that has some great ideas. This is also a great read. I recommend buying this book for a flight or a quick once over.

 

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