You are about to go into a challenging meeting or give a public talk and you can feel the butterflies in your stomach. The saboteur voices are loud in your head telling you that you are not good enough, who are you to be doing this, what if they don’t like me….. and you are listening!!! What confidence you had is draining away, your throat gets tight, your tummy tense, your breathing is quick and shallow, and you are finding it hard to make eye contact with people in the room. You are about to race into whatever prepared speech you have with nerves, anxiety and fear. And then you remember that you have a choice about how you show up in this moment…… and you choose to show up with confidence, power and presence. You take deep, calming belly breaths, centre yourself, take in the room, make eye contact, pause……….. and then begin.
Confidence, presence and power
Perhaps this scenario is familiar to you? The details may look a little different- it may be a challenging conversation with your partner or children or a potentially unpleasant conversation with a work colleague; perhaps it is an e-mail that has you reacting from fear and frustration and you want to snap back a rapid reply; or maybe it’s an unkind comment that has your saboteur giving you a hard time. Whatever the scenario and whatever the reason, you can choose to react from fear and anxiety, or you can choose to respond with confidence, presence and power.
In my experience, confidence and power come with presence. Presence is the foundation or corner stone of your confidence and power. This is the place where everything works really well, and you do your best work and show up with the best version of yourself without effort and with an easy grace. But what is presence? Do you have it? How do you lose it? And what can you do to get it back?
The Power of Presence
If you want to know about presence, there are two easily accessible places you are guaranteed to see presence- animals and young children. They are always present and shining their presence. There is an aliveness, curiosity, spontaneity and playfulness to them. They are alert to what is here and now, be that around them or within them. Awareness with an ability to dance with whatever comes up in this moment. The aliveness of seeing animals and children playing in the park. The curiosity they had as they discover, explore and experiment. The alertness and spontaneity as they switch in a moment from tears to joy, or from sleepiness to wakefulness.
It is a beautiful place to be. There is a keen connection with your experience and the world around you. So that rather than shrinking away and disengaging from the event, you are actively engaging and co-creating with the event itself. Steering it, guiding it and creating it with everyone else involved. As adults, we may know this experience when we are in flow. Common examples of flow might be performance related like in sport or public speaking, intimate moments with loved ones, an awareness and connection with the vastness of nature as well as your insignificance, or when you are at your edge (at the limit of your ability) and all your senses are tuned in.
So, how can you access your presence in everyday situations. How can you avoid falling into the fear and anxiety of your saboteur and instead find your presence and the confidence and power that brings? As with so many things, it is down to practice. Yet, you do not need to practice presence- it is a natural state that comes intuitively. You are born with presence and born to presence. What we all need to practice is getting there and staying there. We spend so much time in the past and the future, being present almost totally eludes us.
Past and future are not the present
You know the experience- you’re daydreaming about some past event or thinking about the future. Or you’re worrying about something you said to someone and the impact that might have on your relationship or career. Or you’ve done something you regret and think about how you might put things right. These are not bad things in and of themselves. But we tend to make a habit and a lifestyle about thinking of the past and the future. And not being alive to what is present with us here and now. We miss special moments with loved ones, magic events that may enrich our lives. And theirs. We lose connection with the present and so lose our presence, power and confidence.
All you need do is get that connection back. Fortunately, there are thousand of ways to reconnect to the present and therefore feel your presence. Here are 7 simple exercises to practice that I use regularly:
Breathe to the wall. Before a presentation or meeting or when you are about to speak, practice breathing out to the far wall. Feel that connection between you and the wall and notice how your awareness expands to fill the space between you and the wall. You can also do this with a person- you will become more present to them when you do this, enabling you to listen and engage better in the conversation.
Broaden your awareness to the sounds around you. First, the sounds in the room (the voices, the clock ticking, the air conditioning unit). Then reach out to the noises in the room next door or the corridor (muffled voices, footsteps, the humming and whirring of machines). Lastly, listen to the sounds of the world outside (traffic, bird song, dogs barking, construction work). How does it change your presence to be more alert to the broader sounds around you?
Expanding your visual focus
Rather than laser focused vision which our lifestyles encourage, soften and expand your focus instead. Focus on a point on the wall in front of you. Now expand that focus to the right and left of that point as far as you can go. Can you get to the corner on both ends? How about even further round for full 180o vision? What impact does this have on your presence? How are you more present to the room after practising this?
Raising your heart rate and breathing, releasing those feel-good endorphins and focusing on an intention to run a certain distance, lift a certain weight, perfect a specific move or improve on your time all bring you to greater presence. How much more productive, creative and present are you after a workout of some kind?
Something as adults we tend to do very little of except with our children. Yet, play is an excellent access point for presence. Try an improv class or have some spontaneous fun with the kids. You will be more present with the people you share the experience with. What does it feel like to play? Frivolous? A waste of time? Enjoyable? Alive? Foolish? Fun? In a way, all these strong reactions are a sign of presence. The more you practice play, the more you will notice the positive impact it has on you and the people around you.
Spend a minute focusing on your breathing. If you are anxious and overwhelmed, and you want to calm down, focus and lengthen the OUT breath. Conversely, if you are withdrawn and disconnected, and you want to engage more, focus and lengthen your IN breath. Try it now and see how it brings you to a more centred and present place.
Walk in Nature or around the streets of your neighbourhood or work environment
This one includes a version of all the others if you allow it. Don’t just walk from A to B, head down, getting it done as fast as possible. Allow yourself to connect to the experience. Feel your feet on the floor, the wind on your face. Look around and take in the sights, sounds and sensations. Feel your attention expand and welcome the input. Notice what impact this input has on your presence. How much more present do you feel to yourself and the world around you during and after your walk?
What is alive within you?
Then once you are present and feel your presence and power return, you are in a stronger position to take action. Rather than act from your worried place of the past or from fear of the future, act from the power and presence of the present. Connect to what is already alive within you- your authenticity, uniqueness, talents, qualities, skills, values, heart, soul, spirit. Bring all of that present to this moment. You will create and give great presentations and performances from this place. Conversations will be so much more powerful, alive, authentic and productive. And your relationships will take on a flavour of honesty and openness that will of great benefit both personally and professionally.
Over to You
What impact is presence having on you? How do you get into presence? How do you stay present? When you are present, what difference does it make to the quality of your work and relationships? What brings you out of presence? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below or interact on social media (Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn) or by e-mail.
And if you’d like more support in achieving presence for personal and professional growth, I will be running an event in Cambridge around the topic of presence in business (for both people in employment and self-employed). You can find out further details and book tickets here. If you’d like to know more you can e-mail me at email@example.com.
Pass it on
Found this blog useful? Why not send the link to friends, family and work colleagues? Most of us would benefit from stepping into our presence more often and more deeply. It could make a huge difference to someone you care about.