To BE … or not to be.

Not “Fake it till you make it” but “Fake till you BECOME it!” And that is what Amy Cuddy did. At age 19 she suffered a catastrophic brain injury in a car crash. She was told her IQ had dropped two standard deviations (30 points) and she would never make it through college. She did graduate, though it took her much longer, and she is now an associate professor and social psychologist at Harvard Business School.

In her TED talk she tells how she felt after the accident: powerless and, when she went to graduate school, as if she “shouldn’t be there.” An imposter. Something I recognize from climbing out of my kitchen into the classroom – as the teacher, to my incredulous surprise. Her TED talk has become the most watched ever with over a million viewings.

It works and I can vouch for it. NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) backs it up: they teach that just as your mood affects your posture, so you can change how you feel by changing your body. Walk with confidence and it feeds back in: you feel upbeat. Sit curled up like a wood louse and you feel like a failure.

By the time our youngest went to school, I felt as if my brain were fried. I wondered if I would ever be able to concentrate long enough to read a heavy book – every 30 seconds I would look up, expecting to be interrupted. Add to that, the fact that although I wrote and published, I had not been in the workforce since age 22. My workplace was my basement office, so when, out of the blue I was asked to teach community college English, I really felt a huge fraud. No degree, no teaching experience, and not even Canadian.

Then a few years later, I hit the speaker’s circuit. Straight from my basement to the podium; from jeans in the burbs to heels at the head table. It was terrifying. So I did the same as Amy – I faked it. But I had done the NLP course and it stood me in good stead, because it had taught me not just to pretend I was confident, but HOW.

You use your own resources. There has to be once in your life when you shone, one area where you are sure. The trick is to remember that occasion as vividly as you can: how you stood, breathed, moved. Then when that feeling is strong, make an anchor. That is, use a movement or a word to remind you of your best self.

The problem with public speaking is that sometimes you are in the flow – and sometimes you stammer and drop your notes. And you don’t know each time which it will be. It may be the same speech: one time fluent and funny, the next not quite catching the audience. Why? Who knows.

So one day I deliberately remembered three times a speech had worked, one after another. When each memory was really strong, I built my anchor: I stepped forward and said “thank you.” Because each time I would thank the person who introduced me and step forward to speak. Soon it became powerful enough that if I felt down, the quickest way to cheer up was to rehearse a speech.

Building a confidence anchor works in so many situations. When my mother was dying, it took every ounce of my endurance and courage to support my father throughout. So each morning, before I even got out of bed, I made an anchor. Three times when I had felt grounded and capable, remembered in great detail. At each peak, I made a fist and said, “Strong!” Then when a new challenge came, as they did head over heels, I repeated “Strong” and gestured firmly with my fist. It worked: back came confidence that I could do whatever it took. And the one day I forgot to make my anchor, a relative exploded over me, reducing me to ashes.

It’s the same with pain: walk as if I am whole, smile larger than my throbbing back – and the times I can do it, the pain retreats, still there but a distant drumbeat.

The world tells us we can do anything we wish, but doesn’t tell us to BE the person we want.





More info:

Amy Cuddy: “Your Body Shapes Who You Are.” – link


About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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