The Importance of Presence: 4 Benefits of Self-Assurance

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Presence" by Amy Cuddy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the importance of presence? How does presence strengthen your creative and communication skills?

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy asserts that presence has numerous benefits. These include proactivity and taking on challenges, improving your ability to build trust, enabling you to think creatively, and increasing your resilience even when things don’t go your way.

Continue reading for in-depth reasons why you’ll benefit from having presence.

How Will Presence Benefit You?

Each time you experience one of these benefits of presence, the behavior is self-reinforcing. With each small win, you’ll feel less anxious the next time you’re in a similar situation. Eventually, you’ll find that being fully present and putting your best self forward comes effortlessly, and will finally understand the importance of presence.

(Shortform note: Some experts suggest that you might become the confident, present person you’re emulating because practicing a behavior repeatedly makes the behavior more natural over time, even if it’s effortful at first or if you don’t get the “small win.” In Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explain that this is partly because you’ll start to attach your identity to that behavior and will be motivated to act in alignment with who you believe you are. For example, if you do a public speaking event regularly, you’ll start to think of “public speaker” as a part of who you are, which will naturally make you more confident.) 

1. Presence Makes You More Proactive and Optimistic

One major benefit of presence is that it makes you more proactive and excited to take on challenges. This opens up new opportunities that you might have otherwise avoided due to a fear of failure. (Shortform note: Some experts suggest that the willingness to take action and take on challenges might also be more conducive to innovation. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says that the fear of failure tends to make you disengage and avoid risk, yet creativity and learning require vulnerability. She adds that disengagement as a result of fear will ultimately damage how you feel about yourself and demotivate you—much like Cuddy describes the self-reinforcing nature of presence.) 

When you have this enthusiastic mindset, you’re also able to reframe your nervousness as excitement, which improves your performance. For example, say you’re about to begin a competition, and you notice your heart rate increases and you have butterflies in your stomach. Presence—reinforced by your body language—allows you to acknowledge the feeling and frame it in a positive way (“I can’t wait to put my hard work to the test!”), rather than feeling like you might choke under pressure. 

(Shortform note: One way to reframe anxiety and manage your nerves is to think about the situation in terms of what you can influence versus control. For example, you can influence how you interpret the embodied experience of nervousness either by shifting your body language as Cuddy suggests, or by writing down your negative thoughts and then rewriting them with a positive spin. Psychologist Andrea Marsden also recommends asking yourself if your fear is productive and if there’s anything you can do about it. For example, you won’t be able to control weather conditions or attendance at an event. She says to acknowledge and accept what’s out of your control and focus on the positive thinking that can influence your experience.) 

2. Presence Builds Trust

In addition to making you proactive and optimistic, having presence and being able to show people the truest, most confident version of yourself enables you to gain the trust of others quickly. This ability to connect with people is beneficial in countless scenarios including professional settings (such as business pitches, interviews, and speeches) or simply meeting new friends. As a bonus to feeling less self-conscious and stressed, having presence increases your chances of being successful in situations where you want to build trust. By demonstrating that you’re open, friendly, and sincere through your body language, you tend to make people mirror that behavior, encouraging them to exhibit those traits toward you in return.

(Shortform note: While presence is a good way to increase your chances of building trust and connecting with others at the onset of a relationship, it may not be sufficient—particularly in the long term. In Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano lists several actionables that will help you build trust over time in a professional context. For example, he says to always follow through on your commitments and take responsibility for your mistakes. In interpersonal relationships, building trust requires many behaviors such as honesty, open conversation, and consistency.)

3. Presence Enhances Thinking and Creativity

The next benefit of presence is that feeling at ease in a difficult situation enhances your cognitive functions. This means that you’re better able to think clearly, easily access all of the knowledge and skills you already have, and come up with creative solutions and ideas on the fly. On the other hand, when you’re worried about how you’re perceived or how well you’re doing at a given task, your anxiety hinders your performance in these areas and makes you more susceptible to external pressures. 

For example, if you’re in a work meeting and you’re feeling like you don’t really deserve to be there, you’re more likely to agree with whatever other people are saying rather than processing information and expressing your sincere and original thoughts. 

What’s the Best State of Mind for Optimal Performance?

Some experts disagree on whether a state of ease is ideal for optimal performance. In Relentless, for example, Tim Grover says that you perform better under intense pressure because it forces you to rise to the challenge. In contrast to Cuddy’s assertion that you should avoid feelings of self-doubt in these scenarios by fostering presence, Grover writes that you can manage the stress and fear by exposing yourself to those scenarios constantly, giving you plenty of practice at it. 

On the other hand, psychologists assert that people respond differently to pressure, so everyone will have their own optimal level of pressure beyond which it will start to have a negative effect on their performance. One distinction between good and bad pressure may be that it’s helpful to acknowledge that you’re in a difficult, high-stakes situation as long as you don’t become distracted by what other people think of you. In other words, it’s good to feel at ease about your abilities and not necessarily the overall task. 

4. Presence Increases Resilience

Lastly, presence fosters inner resilience so that even if you fail to dazzle everyone at a cocktail party or don’t get the job you interviewed for, you’ll still feel content knowing that you did your best. And when you experience setbacks, presence makes you more likely to maintain the risk-taking, proactive attitude we described earlier. In other words, even when you don’t get the outcome you hoped for, presence protects you from letting your fear and self-doubt control and define you. Instead, you’ll feel ready to try again with the knowledge that you’re capable and worthy of success. 

(Shortform note: Another way to boost the inner resilience that presence provides is by practicing what some experts call “failing fast.” According to Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s The Confidence Code, this means trying out lots of ideas knowing that most of them will likely fail, which may be most applicable in professional endeavors. Fast failing helps you overcome fear and self-doubt because trying new ideas in quick succession combats perfectionism and indecision, helps you avoid ruminating on things that didn’t go well, and provides opportunities to practice self-compassion if you don’t succeed.)

The Importance of Presence: 4 Benefits of Self-Assurance

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  • How to navigate social situations, interviews, performances, and more
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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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