How To Bring Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges

Michelle Bakjac & Amy Cuddy

Michelle Bakjac & Amy Cuddy

Ok, so I am happy to admit that I am a little bit star struck and yes I do feel a lot like a groupie right now. But hey, I feel justified in getting a bit worked up, especially when you listen to someone speak who is obviously passionate about what they do and whose message resonates so much with you.

If you haven’t guessed already from the photo, today I met Amy Cuddy. For those of you who don’t know who she is (shame on you), Amy is a Social Psychologist at Harvard Business School who has coined the phrase “power posing”. Business Chicks bought Amy to Adelaide to speak and I was privileged to hear her pass on many thought provoking ideas and messages this morning.

On many occasions in the past 18 months, I have passed on Amy Cuddy’s wisdom to teams I have trained in Mental Toughness. When we access our personal power, we achieve ‘presence’, the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we have on others and adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves. When we do this, we actively build our self-confidence (the Confidence C within the Mental Toughness framework).

So here goes. I wanted to share with you some of the top highlights/messages I took away from Amy Cuddy’s wonderful session today.

1)   Do you understand and recognise what your biggest challenges are?

Too often we approach our biggest challenges with dread, have anxiety and often leave the situation with a feeling of regret lamenting on all the things we could have said or done better. “Why did I say that, I must have sounded like an idiot”, “Why didn’t I remember my speech”. “I don’t think they liked me”……………………. Can’t you just hear the internal chatter?

The problem is that when we are so busy worrying about the moment, we are not actually present in the moment. But when we access our personal power, we can achieve “presence”.

Presence is being attuned to and able to access and express your authentic best self. When presence reveals itself we convey confidence (without arrogance) and we “believe our own story”.

2)   Confidence is not arrogance

Amy made a very clear distinction between confidence and arrogance, explaining that confidence does not require arrogance and that often arrogance is just a wall put up in front of other insecurities. Confidence is sturdy in its own right and allows you to be open even to criticism.

3)   “We convince by our presence” Walt Whitman

Presence begets presence. When you are present with the people who you are with, you invite them to be present as well. When someone you are with is not present or is distracted, you are unlikely to be your most authentic self. So invite them to be present with you. Be there, in the moment with them.

4)   Action

What often prevents us from being present is our own sense of powerlessness. We need to be able to make peace with our own sense of power. Power is one of the biggest forces in driving forward our confidence and achieving the outcomes and goals we want to achieve. When we feel powerlessness, we feel ineffective and are much less likely to strive toward our goal, already believing we are incapable of achieving it. Power drives us toward ACTION. We can start seeing situations as opportunities rather than threats.

5)   The influence of Power.

When we have a sense of power, the impact is significant on our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviour and our physiology.

When people have a sense of power, their ability to engage in abstract thinking actually increases. They are literally freeing up cognitive band width and freeing up resources. When you feel powerless, you eat up band width cognitively speaking due to all the worry and anxiety you have.

6)   Power cultivates presence

Check your posture right now. Is your back straight, shoulders back. Is your head up and are you open to new possibilities.

Powerlessness blocks Presence

Power cultivates Presence.

We are communicating to others and to ourselves so much even in our own body posture. Your body and mind are constantly communicating. We often feel it’s just our mind telling our body what to do, but our body also communicates to the mind. What is your body posture telling you right now?

7)   Postures might be hardwired.

We have some universal expressions. When we are happy we smile. And when we experience a winning moment, we thrust our hands up in the air and throw our heads back.

Our desire to expand ourselves in victory is overwhelming. When we have power, we show we have power, we can’t help it. This is not a learned behaviour. Even blind athletes engage in this same behaviour.

So if we take this stance/pose in victory, how could we use this same opportunity in preparation to visualise being victorious in an upcoming situation we are dreading.

8)   Act the way you’d like to be.

When we feel powerful we expand. When we feel powerless, we shrink.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act” Leonard Cohen.

Think of the All Blacks doing their Haka.

When you engage in a more expansive posture, we rate pain lower, we feel stronger and we perform better.

9)   Relationship between posture and depression

Many people with depression tend to slouch and have poor posture, often making themselves as small as possible, communicating in some ways how they feel. There is evidence that “talk therapy” can be supplemented with changes in body posture to assist manage symptoms and recovery. Basically, everyone feels better when they are sitting up straight.

10)      Boy or girl?

Research has identified that when girls and boys aged 6 are shown a unisex doll posed in a powerful position they will identify this as a male doll. And boys and girls shown a unisex doll in a submissive pose will identify it as a girl. Wow, this was pretty shocking to me.

We need to teach our girls to stand strong and tall. We need to teach them that you don’t have to be small and submissive to fit in. We need to teach our girls to stand more like superheros. We need to teach them that when you stand tall and with confidence, you actually draw people toward you naturally.

11)      Become it.

Amy said, don’t just “fake it till you make it”, “fake it till you become it”.

“Stand up straight and realise who you are, that you tower over your circumstances. Stand up straight”    Maya Angelou.

12)      YOU

And finally, the biggest words of wisdom Amy gave to me today.

“Stop focusing on the impression you are having on others.

Start focusing on the impression you are having on yourself”

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or