How Presence Can Change Your Life

How often are you stressed about something at work or in your personal life? Would you like to be able to handle stressful situations better, to be able to get through them without having your body flooded with cortisol (the stress hormone)? What you need is presence. Being ‘present’, as in having all of your concentration in the moment, lowers your cortisol levels and helps you perform better in stressful situations. I’m listening to Presence, by Amy Cuddy on Audible. Her book explains how to be present, how to lower your stress and be your authentic self. And by being true to yourself, you enhance your performance and live a significantly better life.

In case you don’t know who Amy Cuddy is, you need to watch her TED talk. This TED talk changed my life. But I’ll write more about that at the bottom of this post.

The book focuses on looking within and being your ideal self – not the self that people want you to be. Not the self that you think you should be. Instead to focus on what really motivates you. If you’ve read (or listened to) Start With Why by Simon Sinek, Presence actually explains how to get to your personal why. While I think Simon is a wonderful genius, I found his book missed the mark on actually giving actionable advice. Amy, a professor, gives directions. The difference is monumental.

According to Cuddy, by understanding your motivation and thinking about your motivators, you can cut off the cortisol that enters your body in stressful situations.

For example, say you’re going to give a talk in front of a lot of people and you’re very very stressed out about it. That stress brings cortisol, a stress hormone, into your body. Having cortisol in your system changes how you think, how you react, and your decisions. It means you don’t think as well, and that keeps you from performing your best. People who have presence – who are fully present when they are doing something – are more likely to perform at their peak. People flooded with cortisol literally cannot do that. According to Cuddy, writing about your motivations focuses you and calms you down.

Why is Presence So Important To Me

Which has me thinking – what are my motivators? Why do I do all that I do? And work as hard as I work? I have a few things that motivate me – the first being my sons. My oldest son (let’s call him B1 since I stopped making his real name public years ago) has a cognitive neurological language disorder, his IQ is normal, but his processing speed for cognitive tasks is slower. When he was tested for learning disorders in 1st grade we were told he would never read and would be in special classes by 3rd grade. We could forget about college for him. That his learning disorder has a high suicide rate because imagine having a normal to high IQ and no ability to express what you want to say, this makes people with this disorder more prone to depression. I knew then that I had to succeed, I needed to do whatever I could to make the money to get him all of the help he needed so that that horrible diagnosis did not become his reality. It’s been a haul, but we got him tutoring and extra help all through elementary school. He enjoys reading and was in normal classes until 6th grade.

I wasn’t motivated to make money or push myself professionally until B1 was diagnosed with issues. To be clear, I did good work, I just didn’t ask to be paid well or recognized for that good work. I loved my free time to do things that I enjoyed. I wasn’t professionally or financially ambitious until I caught something was wrong with B1 and we would need to get him extra help to fix it. He was 1.5 and not feeding himself. I took him to the doctor to get tested, and he was diagnosed with mind-body crossover. This isn’t such a big deal, and just needs occupational therapy, which we got him. His occupational therapist, however, told me something else was wrong – and he needed to get tested for a language disorder. I remember arguing with her, “I didn’t talk until I was 3, I have an uncle who didn’t talk until he was 5. [B1] is fine, it just runs in the family” but she insisted something else was wrong and that he had to be tested, so we did. They couldn’t verify his learning disorder until he was older, but it was suspected since he was 2. That’s when I started my first company, Abel Communications, and after that I got my MBA from Kellogg, then I founded Hunter & Bard. When I first married my husband I intended on being a stay-at-home-mom. If we were going to be able to afford the help B1 needed, we were going to need more than one income would allow. Even now money isn’t my primary motivator – taking care of my family is. Money helps me do that.

Why is this book so important to me now? I wish I had this book a decade ago, but I didn’t. Better late than never. Presence has helped me deal with the stress I have in my daily life between running my agency and helping build our clients. We moved to California three years ago and I’ve been working to build my name and business since. It’s not simple to do, and like so many others mentioned in Cuddy’s book, I have my fair share of Imposter Syndrome – even with my 20 years of experience and my top-tier MBA. In fact, Cuddy mentions that Imposter Syndrome can get worse the higher up you go, because you have that much more to lose. I can definitely relate to that statement. Reminding myself of my reasons for everything – my family – keeps me calm and focused on what needs to be done and how things need to be done for everyone to succeed.

Why share this information? I’ve watched Robert Scoble talk about his son with Autism over the years and he’s helped so many other parents by being open about his son. I’ve talked about my son in my corporate talks and participants had come to thank me afterwards. I’m talking about it because I know that doing so helps others.

Why You Need To Read Presence

If you have ever felt like you don’t deserve what you have earned (imposter syndrome), or if you have ever had stress where you feel it might have affected your judgement, or you just want to improve your personal performance at work, this book is for you. If only just to remind yourself about what your personal motivators are. Presence will help you bring focus to your life.

How did Amy Cuddy’s TED talk change my life?

When B1 was in 3rd grade we got a phone call from his teacher, “Even when [B1] knows the answer he won’t talk in class. I can’t get him to participate.” I had just seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, above, and as I’m obsessed with behavior and how we do things – I changed our morning routine. I drove The Boys to school every morning, so I had them raise their arms up and wide, like they just won a race, for 2 minutes on the way to school. We did this every morning. One month later we got another call from B1’s teacher, “I don’t know what’s happened to [B1]. He’s participating in class. He’s asking questions. He’s doing his homework in class. He’s stopped singing to himself. He’s behaving like a normal kid.” The only thing we changed was raising our hands in the car on the way to school in the morning. It cut off the cortisol that flooded his body and he was able to be present. Himself. His grades improved significantly, and he was a considerably happier kid.

Why did it work? I know that Amy Cuddy’s work regarding power poses has been proven false. However, raising your arms up is different than arms on your hips. Having your arms in the air for 2 minutes brings in a burn and induces endorphins which cuts off cortisol (like all exercise).

I do marketing for a living. My focus, my obsession, is behavior and motivation. This is one of the many reasons why I care so much about it.