How Decisions Create Confidence and Behavior Creates Thought

Testosterone Change

“Most powerful is he who who has himself in his own power.”


When we feel powerful we are more likely to act on things. In Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy creates a conversation about the importance of understanding how we can learn to listen better and see the patterns that drag us down.

First off, there is a difference between personal power and social power—because social power is earned and expressed through control over valued resources, she says, it requires some kind of control over others. We should seek to develop personal power instead, which delivers freedom from the dominance of others. As James Carse says in In Finite and Infinite Games, the one is finite, the second is infinite.

Our inner resources are limitless, they include our skills, abilities, our deeply held values, true personalities, and boldest version of our self, says Cuddy, “social power is power over —the capacity to control others' states and behaviors. Personal power is power to —the ability to control our own states and behaviors.”

We pay attention to social power and influence often without considering its source in personal or inner power. New York University professor Joe Magee, an expert on power, says, “Personal power is all about having the confidence to act based on one's own beliefs, attitudes, and values, and having the sense that one's actions will be effective.” 

Because this kind of power is tied to our identity, we want to always come away from situations knowing or at least feeling that we have acted in a manner that is consistent with our personal culture, that we have represented who we are and what we want accurately.

The opposite contributes to making us feel powerless, which creates a paradox —the less powerful we feel the more insecure we become, setting off a downward spiral. From her research, Cuddy found that:

Feeling powerless impairs through

With impaired executive functioning, we become less effective at updating mental information, inhibiting unwanted impulses, and planning future actions. Anxiety also wallops working memory —our ability to recall old information while simultaneously taking in, integrating, and responding to new data —which relies heavily on executive functions.

Powerlessness makes us feel self-absorbed

This is called the spotlight effect, and it's one of the most enduring and widespread egocentric human biases —to feel that people are paying more attention to us than they actually are… and usually in a bad way, not a good way.

It's very difficult to turn that off.

Powerlessness prevents presence

Anxious self-focus makes it nearly impossible for us to be present —before, during, and even after a big challenge.

Many of the benefits of feeling powerful are intuitive, yet we may overlook them. Power can protect us from negative emotions. When we feel powerful, we develop a thicker skin against judgment, rejection, stress, even physical pain. It connects us more easily with others. Because we spend less energy trying to defend ourselves, we are more open to being with other people. In turn, this means our thinking is less burdened and our cognitive function sharper as a result.

The feeling of power helps us synchronize our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, thus making it more likely we take action. In many situations in life, we do not act in a manner that is consistent with who we want to be and our personal culture, and this creates conflict. When the proper focus enhances our ability to meet life's  challenges and make better decisions. As a correspondent in response to Cuddy's studies says, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

Power affects our psychology, it can make our actions more effective, and it also changes our physiology —the levels of testosterone (risk tolerance) and cortisol (fear) in our bodies. Cuddy also found that how we see others drives the value of our self perception.

From learning that we are most effective when we have high testosterone and low cortisol to how decisions create confidence and behavior creates thoughts, Presence is filled with counter intuitive and evidence-based information that our bodies change our mind.