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Life Amy Cuddy shares secrets to her success, including why happy people walk that way

rachel idzerda The Globe and Mail

In 2012, Harvard professor Amy Cuddy gave what is now the second-most-watched TED Talk ever, on mind/body connection. Her topic – non-verbal behaviour, and how adopting "the Superman Pose" (feet flat, shoulders back, chest out) can bring about confidence – is the focus of her new bestselling book Presence. Here Cuddy who is speaking at the Sony Centre in Toronto on the evening of March 3 – shares some of the secrets to her success, including why happy people walk that way.

Happy is as happy walks

Most self-helpy interventions are in the domain of thinking – changing what your mind is doing, and I think that's why a lot of them don't work very well and can be so frustrating. If you think about [Saturday Night Live character] Stuart Smalley – "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me" – the reason it was so funny is because people know that when they feel bad, telling themselves they feel good backfires. Body-based interventions are effective because they skip that step. One of the things I've been doing lately is walking in a way that's associated with happiness – a longer gait, more spring in your step, swinging your arms. When you move that way, it elevates your mood.

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Just chill

My personality type is definitely "there's a problem!" What am I going to do about it? I think one thing that I have learned is that sometimes doing nothing is doing something. When you feel like you're in the middle of a crisis, it's probably more pressing to you than it is to anyone else. There is this instinct to change things, but often the best move is to just not do anything. That takes discipline, but it's so worth it. By waiting, you allow your system to calm down, and you allow yourself to get perspective. People want to think that they can just take action and everything is going to change. That's not generally the way that life works, and it's best not to make decisions from a state of panic and anxiety. I definitely make much better decisions when I decide the next day.

Walk softly and carry a big ear

I'm a really big believer in the idea that you have to build trust before you can reveal your strengths, and the way to do that is to shut up and listen. In leadership, the most important thing is to be present and to see and hear the people around you. It creates so much value. So often, people go into leadership wanting to prove their chops, so they put their strength first. People worry so much about looking decisive and strong. They think that's going to build trust, but it doesn't work that way. People think that they need to take the floor first, that they need to have the most airtime. The truth is that the truly strong leaders are confident enough to say, I don't have all the answers.

It always takes longer

Time management is maybe my biggest shortcoming. I am terrible. In cognitive psychology they call it the planning fallacy – I think that everything is going to take less time than it does, so I overbook and I am always running over. The secret is to figure out your planning fallacy and then adjust for it. I try to do that, but I'm not always successful. What often ends up happening is that I just don't sleep enough.

Make your weakness someone else's strength

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I think that some people are just better at multitasking. My assistant can keep 50 things in her head simultaneously, not break a sweat. My realization was understanding that I need someone else to help me do things like keep my calendar. I understand that most people can't afford to hire somebody like that, but I think in general, it's so important to understand where we need collaborators to balance our own shortcomings. It's the same with research. There are so many parts of research and most people aren't great at all of them. I like writing and coming up with hypotheses, but maybe I'm not the best at other parts, so I am aware of that when I'm putting together my team.

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