back · main · about · writing · notes · reading · d3 · now · contact

The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox Cabane

General notes

Here are some common themes I got throughout the book.

Charisma is hard to fake. All parts of your body are giving off signals depending on where they are positioned. Consciously controlling all these parts to cultivate an impression is not possible – we will look disingenous, or like ‘something isn’t quite right’. Rather, you want to get into the right mental state, and then let the charismatic body language naturally flow.

Getting into the right mental state isn’t easy. Visualisations are one way to do this. Listening to the right music is another way.

Being charismatic in group situations is pretty difficult. If there is a high stakes situation where you want to be charismatic, it is worth the time to prepare thoroughly. The example is given of the important board meeting where the protagonist scheduled different individual meetings with each person.

Internal skills are those skills to monitor your self welfare. Includes both diagnosis, like figuring out when you are depressed or lacking confidence, and treatment, like the ability to shift emotional states quickly and to get back to feeling confident quickly.

Charisma maintenance. Charisma is just like any other skill: it can be learned, and it deteriorates if you don’t practice it. Keep practicing.

Charisma is best if you warm up before an important event. That means getting into a mindset where you feel good and feel confident. This could include: going for a walk beforehand with music, having coffee with someone, or chaining events together. You’ll need to take breaks throughout the event to recharge and to keep your charisma level high: use some of the other techniques below (music, body posturing, visualisation etc).

Charisma components

The three main elements of charisma are presence, power and warmth.

Presence is important. Know when you’re talking to someone who isn’t really listening? It’s pretty clear and it is a charisma killer. A useful exercise for checking presence is to feel the sensations in your toes, or focus on your breathing for a second, and then refocus on what the other person is saying.

Power is important. If you are present and warm, but lack power, you come across as needy or overly interested. Humans are drawn to power. There are strong ancestral reasons why. Some ways to exhibit power are to speak slowly, make your voice go down at the end of each sentence, pause before speaking, avoid laughing after you speak and don’t head nod much when listening to somebody.

Warmth is important. People with power but no warmth feel cold. You might respect their opinion, but you wouldn’t go running to spend time with them. To boost warm ratings, use self-compassion visualisations. It also helps if you genuinely feel good towards the other person.

Charisma Types

The book gives four types of charisma:

Visionary charisma

You have a vision and you’re demonstrating it to others. People like it when someone has a vision and are often drawn to follow it. Useful when times are uncertain or you need to inspire people. This one would be excellent in a managerial role. Steve Jobs is often cited as the key guy for this type. You’re inspired and others can see the inspiration in you, but you’re also powerful enough to be able to pull it off. Mentally, you need to be in a state of 100% certainty, complete conviction.

Focus charisma

Bill Gates style. When someone is 100% focused and interested in what you are saying. Precursor of great intellectual debates. Not a strength of mine but could be. You have to be 100% present. Couple with the Feynman trick of following explanations by imagining an object in your head and then modifying it based on what they say. This type of charisma is the easiest one to access. Careful: if you don’t have enough power or enough warmth, you’ll come across as needy or as interrogative.

Warmth charisma

I think this one is where you feel listened to and respected, where the other person is just radiating out positivity and happiness. It’s the kind of charisma where you can establish really close relationships with people. This is really powerful when you also have power. I think for a leadership role or one where you manage people, this would be an awesome kind of charisma to display. You still have power so you are respected, but you can inspire fanatical devotion in others like this.

Authority charisma

This is the typical ‘powerful guy’ kind of charisma. When things are in a crisis, you look to this person to answer it. They can be pretty scary people sometimes. This kind of charisma is useful to get others to take you seriously. If you want to make a positive difference in this world, this would be a nice one to try and cultivate. This depends a lot on your appearance: think suits, or lab coats, or police getting listened to in uniform. Also depends a lot on body language.

Charisma killers

Here are some ways to torpedo your charisma with others.

What to do when you’re feeling anxious, shame, self-doubt, impatience or other negative feelings

It’s a three step process to making yourself feel good again.

1. Destigmatise the discomfort.

Basically, the emotion you are feeling is normal for humans and at this given moment there are countless other humans feeling this way. Say that you are feeling some social anxiety at a bar. Look around you – odds are that a significant number of other people are also having some kind of social anxiety. Another useful technique is to think of someone who you admire, someone perhaps a step or two ahead of you in their career. Imagine them going through the same struggles that you are. Imagine them telling you about the struggles and how difficult it was for them. See? It’s normal and okay to feel this way.

Another feeling to come up a lot is shame; when you feel that you are flawed and unworthy of belonging or love. Shame has evolutionary roots. If the tribe rejected you that was a likely fatal thing, so we evolved this emotion to avoid getting rejected. Nowadays shame is profoundly unhelpful. It’s also very normal and everyone feels it sometimes.

2.Neutralise negativity

The basis here is that when you have negative thoughts, your brain presumes that the negative thoughts are correct. Actually, we have such a flawed interpretation of reality that it’s extremely likely that our negative thoughts are wrong.

For example there is negativity bias. When you receive feedback and get five positive things and one negative thing, we focus disproportionally on the negative thing. Or in cricket, you could get five wickets but drop a catch, and you would focus on the dropped catch more than the wickets.

Another one is that you can’t attribute the reactions of others to your own actions. If someone gives you a tight-lipped smile or isn’t overly excited by you, they’re probably just having a bad day, or feeling tired, or have a headache or any number of possible other things.

Basically, your thoughts aren’t valid when it comes to anxiety and negativity and self-doubt. The idea now is to see that the thoughts aren’t valid and aren’t important when you’re feeling them. Use the exercise below.

3. Rewrite reality

The trick here is to reinterpret events favourably towards you. Basically, change the way that your brain reinterprets events so that you feel good about it.

For example, you could assume that everyone is too nervous to really engage fully with you because you’re so awesome. Or if you miss a promotion to someone else, you could rewrite reality to assume that they would have committed suicide if they hadn’t got it – and you’ve just saved a life. Or if a speech went badly, you can say that it’s great because now you know how to make your next speech better.

4. Delve into discomfort

The more comfortable you are with feeling uncomfortable, the more you will be able to influence stuff when it matters. Focusing on uncomfortable sensations tends to both reduce them and give you full presence.

Use the exercises listed later on to practice this skill.

How to change your mood

This book talks a lot about different visualisations and actions as a tool to shift your mental state.

One technique: visualising a 20 second hug when you feel anxious. Hugs release oxytocin which counteracts the stress hormone. Hell, I love hugging.

Another technique: imagine that you have a council of people who are there to give you advice any time that you need it. You could have on your council anyone you like. Each one could give you their unique opinion and you can see how they would have handled the situation.

Then there is confidence visualisations: where you visualise yourself at a triumphant moment in your life. This could come from sport, like cricket: taking a wicket, hitting a 6, scoring a 50, hitting the game winning runs. Or it could come from somewhere else; visualising yourself after a great speech, or imagining everyone wanting to shake your hand and know you.

Listening to music is a great way to change mood.

Gestures also can have a big impact. Raise your arms high. Jump around. Do some fist pumps. Imagine taking in the success of the crowd.

Adopt different postures to have an impact on your mood. Remember; your body affects your mind.

For confidence, assertiveness: you want the body language of a military general. Take a wide stance, puff out your chest, make your shoulders wide, stand up straight, and put your hands behind your back.

For energy and warmth: stand up, stretch hands as high as possible up, inhale as much as possible (imagine your ribs and chest expanding), make the biggest smile you can, look upward, hold for a second, then relax everything.

When to use: whenever you are out (excuse yourself to the bathroom), when you are walking somewhere, before a big meeting, before giving a presentation, or anytime you want to be at your most high energy self.


There is a lot of stuff in this book to do with warmth. I didn’t take many notes here though.

Visualisations and exercises

Responsibility transfer

Use this one for when you are feeling uncertain about something. You’ve just done a job inverview. You’re waiting to see the team reaction to Trung being fired. You’re seeing if you will get fired. You’re not sure about an important meeting. You’re nervous about your performance at a networking event.

Basically it’s when your mind is going crazy about something and you want to calm it down.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Lie down, relax, close eyes.
  2. Take two/three deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine drawing air towards the top of your head. As you exhale, let the air whoosh through you.
  3. Pick an entity that you could imagine as benevolent. You could imagine some kind of fate god, like a shard from worm? Something that you trust to take away your problems. Maybe you could even use a tree, or elephant, or couch or something.
  4. Imagine lifting the weight of everything you are concerned about off your shoulders and placing it on the shoulders of whatever entity you chose. It’s their problem now.
  5. Visualise the weight coming off you. Feel the difference. You are now no longer responsible for the outcome of any of those things. Everything is taken care of. The only thing for you to do is to relax.

Destigmatise discomfort

Use when feeling negative emotions, like anxiety or shame or self-doubt.

  1. Remember: these emotions are part of the natural human experience. This is normal, not abnormal.
  2. Dedramatise: people feel these things every day. It’s very natural. You aren’t a special snowflake.
  3. Someone you admire has gone through this. Imagine them telling you about it. They struggled with the same emotions, they had the same struggles that you had.
  4. Think about other people feeling this way. One way is to look around and see thought bubbles coming out of the head of others. You are part of a community of people feeling a particular emotion at once.

Neutralise negativity

Use after destigmatising the discomfort of negative emotions.

  1. Your thoughts aren’t valid. Assume that you are missing a lot of elements of the complete picture.
  2. See your thoughts as just electrical impulses moving around a brain.
  3. Zoom out: see yourself in the room, then your neighbourhood, then your country, then the earth. Are your thoughts really that important?
  4. Depersonalise the experience. Imagine you are a scientist in your own brain. Instead of “I’m feeling anxious” try “there is anxiety being felt, how interesting. I wonder why that is”.
  5. Imagine your mental thoughts as coming from a radio next to you. Imagine yourself turning down the volume on the radio.
  6. Think about the previous times you felt like this. It turned out okay every single time.

Rewriting reality

Use after the above exercise.

  1. How can you change your interpretation of the current events to make them more favourable towards yourself? Figure out a few ways
  2. For a bigger, more serious situation, write it down. Use the present tense or the past tense.

Discomfort training

An eye contact exercise.

  1. Look into a partners eyes for 30 seconds. Don’t break it
  2. Pay very close attention to all your symptoms. You are a scientist investigating them. This might be pretty uncomfortable
  3. Do it again, but during the exercise remind yourself that this too shall pass

Other techniques

  1. Stare at passerbys longer than is comfortable. Stare at drivers going past at a bus stop
  2. Go into a lift and face everybody
  3. Move closer to people in a lift or train than you would otherwise
  4. Talk to complete strangers

back · main · about · writing · notes · reading · d3 · now · contact