Inspired by last week’s digital critique, this week I began listening to Amy Cuddy’s audio book, which she released in 2015 following her Ted Talk. Her Ted Talk on How Our Body Language Shapes Who We Are became one of the most watched Ted Talk’s so far, at nearly 35 million views and counting.
She begins her book with a personal narrative about her experience since giving the Ted Talk. It was an unexpected and strange experience that people began recognizing her many times in public. She was very surprised and touched by the impact that her talk made on many peoples’ lives. She tells how she went back and forth with herself and nearly did not share her personal story in that Ted Talk, that it seemed like it might be too big of a risk to her personally and professionally, yet that story, I believe is what really makes her presentation powerful.
In her book she talks about self-affirmation, although is quick to point out that this is not what we might initially think of when we hear the term. She refers to the character Stuart Smalley from SNL in the 90s played by Al Franken. She talks about why this type of self affirmation doesn’t really work, as it can be hollow and rather than allowing someone to get to know themselves better, it can result in simply wishful thinking or worse, a lie to oneself, which can reduce your personal power rather than enriching it.
Thinking about this made me want to go back and review Stuart Smalley. I had remembered some of those sketches as one of those kind of dumb but popular characters on SNL. It was fascinating to go back and look at Stuart through the lens of critiquing digital stories and what I found was that these sketches were really a pretty powerful narrative on the popular culture of the 1990s.
Through humor, Al Franken depicts a poignant look at a man desperately trying to cope with the trials of his life and to heal and increase his personal power. He is ridiculous in many ways, but also a sincerely kind person who really believes he is helping others through sharing his stories. Stuart is, at least in part, a very accurate depiction of a person you have probably met who is struggling to recover from their past wounds but who finds himself in a therapy loop. He can’t seem to move out of his pain and go forward. The truth and sadness in this character is what makes him both funny and relate-able as he exposes the dark side of a kind of addiction to self-indulgence in group and talk therapy.
Use of Media
It was interesting to analyze how this skit is “broadcast” like a network type of talk show of the time. This is one thing that added to the ridiculousness of it in context of the early 90’s. It seems that this show could hardly have much of an audience.
Today we live in a world with so many cheap, free and easy media DIY tools and access that this kind of personally raw and self-indulgent media is actually very prevalent through reality TV and Vlogs.
So, Self-Affirmations – Do They Work?
Amy Cuddy’s definition of self-affirmation is quite different from Stuart Smalley’s. She encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to do work to get to know ourselves, and to accept our imperfections. Her research has shown that the act of writing to understand what we truly care about can actually reduce stress, anxiety, and assist us in accessing our personal power (defined as the power over our own emotions and reactions) to perform better in all areas of our lives.
Amy’s call to action is to encourage everyone to increase their own personal power rather than to focus on “social power” or the power to influence other people. Personal power, she says, is infinite, doesn’t require power over another person, and will allow us to become more authentic, unique, and interest human beings.
Famous Stuart Smalley quotes:
- “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
- “That’s just stinkin’ thinkin!”
- “You’re should-ing all over yourself.”
- “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!”
- “I am a worthy human being.”
- “…and that’s…okay.”
- “Trace it, face it, and erase it.”
- “I don’t know what I’m doing. They’re gonna cancel the show. I’m gonna die homeless and penniless and twenty pounds overweight and no one will ever love me.”
- “I’m in a shame spiral.”
- “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
- “Compare and despair.”
- “You need a checkup from the neckup.”
- “I am a human being, not a human doing.”
- “Pee-wee Herman: There but for the grace of God go I.”
- “It’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world
Al Franken on Stuart Smalley: