Summary of The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane

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  • Post last modified:May 2, 2024

Summary: 9 min

Book reading time: 5h16

Score: 3/10

Book published in: 2012

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  • Charisma comes from power, warmth, and presence.

Table of Contents

What The Charisma Myth Talks About

The Charisma Myth is a book written by Olivia Fox Cabane. It’s designed to help non-charismatic people develop charisma through exercises, mindsets, and visualizations.

It’s also a very bad book. I read it after wanting to test my charisma theory, expressed as follows:

Charisma is downstream of the enjoyment you feel being yourself.

Not to brag, but this sentence teaches you more about charisma than this book does.

The author mostly speaks about herself, assumes her readers are religious, gives random examples to support her claims rather than data, fails to identify the cause for lack of charisma, provides pre-made dialogues rather than solving the roots of awkwardness, and hopes to transform shyness and lack of charisma with “visualization” exercises.

The book began well but got worse and worse as I progressed.

The only valuable information I got away was that charisma comes from power, warmth, and presence. Hard to argue against that.

But the author’s method to develop power, warmth, and presence is more charlatanesque than scientific as her work is based on individual cases rather than large groups of people.

“When he came to see me, Larry was a shy, balding 45-year-old executive at a Fortune 500 company. After three weeks, he had completely transformed as a person”.


If you want some actual charisma literature, read this.

To rate this book, I’ll give each power, warmth, and presence a point.

So, 3/10.

Get the book here and I’ll earn 2-3 dollars.

Summary of The Charisma Myth Written by Olivia Fox Cabane


Charismatic people seem to lead charmed lives: they have more romantic options, they make more money, and they experience less stress.

Most people think charisma is a talent people are born with, but it’s not. Charisma is a skill that can be learned.

So, what is charisma made of?

When we meet someone for the first time, we try to assess how much power they have; and how much they like us.

Charisma is, hence, made of power, warmth, and presence. Presence is the most important component.

1. Charisma Demystified

You don’t have to be outgoing, extroverted, or attractive to become charismatic. You don’t have to change your personality (introverts can also become charismatic).

Rather, you’re going to learn a new skill.

Here are three tips already:

  • Lower your intonation at the end of your sentences.
  • Don’t nod too quickly or too often.
  • Pause for two full seconds before speaking.

2. The Charismatic Behaviors

In order to be charismatic, we need to choose mental states that make our body language, words, and behaviors flow together and express the three core elements of charisma.

Let’s begin with presence.

When we’re not fully present in an interaction, people see it.

There are exercises you can do to become more present.

  • Set a timer for one minute and close your eyes.
  • Focus on the sounds around you, your breathing, or your toes.

As you’ve noticed, it’s not easy to do so, for two reasons. First, the brain is wired to pay attention to novel stimuli. Second, society encourages us to too.

In your next conversation with someone, bring yourself back to the present moment and empty your mind.

Now let’s look at power and warmth.

Being seen as powerful means being perceived as able to affect the world around us, whether through influence on or authority over others, large amounts of money, expertise, intelligence, sheer physical strength, or high social status.

Warmth, simply put, is goodwill toward others. (…) Warmth is assessed almost entirely through body language and behavior; it’s evaluated more directly than power.

Just by increasing your projection of warmth and power, you increase your charisma.

And the best way to do so is through body language.

The problem is that we can’t constantly control our body language consciously; it’s mostly controlled subconsciously. Therefore, the search for charisma begins in the mind, with our mental state.

Sooner or later, some of your underlying thoughts and feelings will show through. On the other hand, if your internal state is charismatic, then the right body language will flow forth effortlessly.

If your internal state is in turmoil, it’s hard to remember, let alone use, the new skills you’ve just learned.

The good thing is that your mind does not make the difference between what’s real (life) and what’s not (a movie).

Whatever your mind believes, your body will manifest.

3. The Obstacles to Presence, Power, and Warmth

The first obstacle is physical discomfort. It prevents you from being present. Make sure that the situation you’re in is comfortable, and remain aware of any feeling of discomfort.

The second obstacle is mental discomfort. Things like anxiety, dissatisfaction, self-criticism, or self-doubt, all of which are forms of internal negativity, impact charisma. Let’s see how to fix all of them.

A. Anxiety

Anxiety is caused by uncertainty. We’d rather be told bad news than be left not knowing.

Anxiety is a serious drawback to charisma (…) it’s hard to be fully present while you’re feeling anxious.

The best way to handle uncertainty is to use the responsibility transfer. It helps acquire the confidence that in the end, everything will turn out fine.

  1. Sit comfortably or lie down, relax, and close your eyes.
  2. Take two or three deep breaths. As you inhale, imagine drawing clean air toward the top of your head. As you exhale, let that air whoosh through you, washing away all worries and concerns.
  3. Pick an entity—God, Fate, the Universe, whatever may best suit your beliefs—that you could imagine as benevolent.
  4. Imagine lifting the weight of everything you’re concerned about—this meeting, this interaction, this day—off your shoulders and placing it on the shoulders of whichever entity you’ve chosen. They’re in charge now.
  5. Visually lift everything off your shoulders and feel the difference as you are now no longer responsible for the outcome of any of these things. Everything is taken care of. You can sit back, relax, and enjoy whatever good you can find along the way.

B. Dissatisfaction due to Comparison

It’s impossible to fight the urge to compare. When you’re feeling dissatisfied due to comparison, use the responsibility transfer technique.

C. Self-Criticism

Few things impact people’s performance more than how they feel about themselves.

When the body feels attacked, it shuts down several functions like muscle repairs, digestion, the immune system, and intelligent thinking as it enters survival mode.

This type of behavior affects both how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us.

D. Self-Doubt

The negativity associated with self-doubt is a survival mechanism compelling you to do something; to move; to take action.

Problems arise when the inner negativity impacts your performance more than it helps.

Let’s take a look at a technique to deal with this.

4. Overcoming the Obstacles

Step One: Destigmatize Discomfort

Whatever it is, discomfort is a normal part of life. Everyone experiences it at some point; in fact, it’d be weird not to.

Among distressing emotions, shame is the worst.

Here’s an exercise to help out.

  1. Remember that uncomfortable emotions are normal, natural, and simply a
  2. legacy of our survival instincts. We all experience them from time to time.
  3. Dedramatize: this is a common part of human experience that happens every day.
  4. Think of others who’ve gone through this before, especially people you admire.
  5. See it as one burden shared by many. You are part of a community of human beings experiencing this one feeling at this very moment.

Step Two: Neutralize Negativity

  • Don’t assume your thoughts are accurate. Just because your mind comes up with something doesn’t necessarily mean it has any validity.
  • See your thoughts as graffiti on a wall or as little electrical impulses flickering around your brain.
  • Assign a label to your negative experience: self-criticism, anger, anxiety, etc. Just naming what you are thinking and feeling can help you neutralize it.
  • Depersonalize the experience. Rather than saying “I’m feeling ashamed”, try “There is shame being felt.” Imagine that you’re a scientist observing a phenomenon: “How interesting, there are self-critical thoughts arising.”
  • Imagine seeing yourself from afar. Zoom out so far, you can see planet Earth hanging in space. Then zoom in to see your continent, then your country, your city, and finally the room you’re in. See your little self, electrical impulses whizzing across your brain. One little being having a particular experience at this particular moment.
  • Imagine your mental chatter as coming from a radio; see if you can turn down the volume, or even just put the radio to the side and let it chatter away.
  • Consider the worst-case outcome for your situation. Realize that whatever it is, you’ll survive.
  • Think of all the previous times when you felt just like this—that you wouldn’t make it through—and yet clearly you did.

Trying to suppress thoughts just makes them more resistant. It’s better to neutralize them instead.

Step Three: Rewrite Reality

Anger is hard to get rid of. And pushing it down ourselves is not a good solution either.

The best way is to change the angle through which you perceive what makes you angry.

Eg: if someone cuts the road ahead of you, you can get angry. But what if these people are rushing to the hospital?

When a tough situation like this arises, consider it a challenge that toughens you up.

Alternatively, you can do the following exercise.

  • Think of one person in your life who has aggrieved you.
  • Take a blank page and write that person a letter saying anything and everything you wish you had ever told them. Really get into this—you have nothing to lose. Make sure you write it out by hand.
  • When you’ve gotten absolutely everything off your mind and onto paper, put the letter aside.
  • Take a fresh sheet and write their response just the way you wish they would respond. You might have them taking responsibility for their actions, acknowledging and apologizing for everything they’ve ever done that hurt you. You don’t need to find any justification for their actions, just an acknowledgment and an apology. It’s your imagination, so you get to decide exactly what you’d like to hear.

Finally, there’s one more trick: find comfort in the uncomfortable.

Dive into the feeling.

Here’s how.

  • Set a timer for thirty seconds and then look into your partner’s eyes. Keep your gazes locked from now on.
  • As soon as you become aware of any discomfort, pay very close attention to it. Notice where the feelings are located in your body. Mentally name the sensations—constriction, pressure, tingling?
  • Delve into each sensation as much as you can; aim to feel its texture. Describe each one as if you were a chef describing a specialty dish.
  • Let the awkwardness build. How does it manifest itself physically? Do you feel tightness in your jaw? Is it tension in your stomach?
  • Imagine yourself as a scientist investigating this experience. Name the sensations you feel. Observe them as objectively as you can. See them purely as physical sensations, like hot and cold.
  • When you feel the urge to laugh, talk, or relieve the discomfort in any way, resist it. This is your chance to practice delving into the sensations, not avoiding them.
  • If you and your partner last all thirty seconds, pat yourselves on the back. It takes a strong will to fight your instincts in this way. Now try the same exercise again and see if you can increase your effectiveness by using two additions:
  • Give yourself continuous encouragement. Throughout the exercise, remind yourself that you’re doing courageous, advanced work and that your efforts will yield rewards.
  • Remind yourself that this discomfort will pass, as did all other emotions you’ve ever had before it. Though it may feel unbearable at this moment, it will subside.
  • An hour or two after doing this exercise, check your level of discomfort. You might be astonished at how far away it seems, even though while you were in the middle of the experience it felt as if it would never end. If indeed your discomfort seems distant, make a strong mental note to remember this the next time your mind insists that an experience is endless and unbearable.

Here are more techniques to help you be comfortable with the uncomfortable:

  • Hold eye contact longer than is comfortable. One of my students started practicing this on passengers in passing cars while waiting at a bus stop. He said the reactions he’d get were amazing, from smiles and waves to honks and shouts.
  • Experiment with personal space. Move closer to people than you usually would in an elevator, for instance. Notice how strong the urge is to revert to your standard behavior. Try not to give in.
  • Hold the elevator door open for everyone entering, and then get in last. Stand with your back to the elevator door, facing everyone else.
  • Strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. For instance, as you wait in line at a coffee shop, comment on the pastries and then ask your neighbor an open-ended question, such as: “I’m trying to decide which is the most sinful: the muffin, the brownie, or the cake. How would you rank them?”

5. Creating Charismatic Mental States

The best way to do this is with visualization.

  • Close your eyes and relax.
  • Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant—for example, the day you won a contest or an award.
  • Hear the sounds in the room: the murmurs of approval, the swell of applause.
  • See people’s smiles and expressions of warmth and admiration.
  • Feel your feet on the ground and the congratulatory handshakes.
  • Above all, experience your feelings, the warm glow of confidence rising within you.

When you are in a stressful situation, you can also ask yourself:

  • A week from now, or a year from now, will any of this matter?
  • This, too, shall pass. Yes, it will.
  • Look for little miracles unfolding right now.
  • Love the confusion.
  • What if you could trust the Universe, even with this?

You can also listen to music that makes you feel confident.

To become warm, you should

  1. Have gratitude and appreciation for your life.
    • Focus on the little things that make life worth living.
    • Write about your life from a third-person point of view.
    • Imagine your own funeral.
  2. Goodwill and compassion.
    • Goodwill is the act of wishing others well.
    • You can find goodwill by thinking about three things you like about one person in particular.
    • Goodwill takes the pressure off as it frees the conversation from a purpose.
  3. Self-compassion.
    • People can’t be warm when they don’t have compassion for themselves.
    • Self-compassion is feeling that what happened to you is unfortunate.

Finally, assume a strong physical position. It will make you more confident.

6. Different Charisma Styles

Focus Charisma: Presence and Confidence

Focus charisma requires the ability to focus and be truly present. Good listening skills are nonnegotiable, as is a certain degree of patience.

Visionary Charisma: Belief and Confidence

Craft a bold vision and get yourself into a state of complete conviction.

Kindness Charisma: Warmth and Confidence

Heavily dependent on warmth, avoid any body language of tension, criticism, or coldness.

Authority Charisma: Status and Confidence

Dress well, be likable, have high status, and be confident.

7. Charismatic First Impressions

People can accurately judge your personality based on a photograph of you. It’s therefore important to make good first impressions.

Dress well, assemble with people who are like you, shake energetically the hand of your interlocutor, and be warm from the beginning.

8. Speaking—and Listening— With Charisma

Charismatic Listening

Listening comes first and foremost, because listening lays the groundwork for the presence that is fundamental to charisma.

Attentive listening

Listening begins with the willingness to listen and the ability to be present, pay attention, and focus.

Most people think it means “waiting for people to stop talking” but this isn’t enough.

Refraining from interrupting

If there’s one thing you should avoid doing, it’s interrupting.

Deliberate pausing

Pause for two seconds before answering.

Charismatic Speaking

People associate you with your message. Don’t be the bearer of bad news.

Learn to take and accept compliments, don’t deny it as it is unpleasant to the giver.

Use rich, visual expressions. Don’t talk about bad stuff that could happen as people directly experience it in their heads.

Don’t speak too much.

To emanate vocal warmth, smile.

9. Charismatic Body Language

If your body language is anti-charismatic, it doesn’t matter how great your message is.

Body language is very important because the emotions it conveys are mimicked by other people. It’s important that your body language is open, confident, and assertive.

Look into your interlocutor’s eyes. Most people don’t due to shyness or due to distractions.

Don’t nod too much, replace it with being silent and stilt.

10. Difficult Situations

Some people are just difficult. Some have egos that need to be stroked, some are always critical, others are deliberately confrontational. In many cases, these people make a point of being resistant to being won over.

  • Don’t try to convince a group of people. Instead, convince each individual separately.
  • One of the ways to get people to like you is to ask them for a favor.
  • Show genuine appreciation
  • Don’t get angry
  • Don’t tell people when they’re wrong
  • Apologize when you have to

11. Presenting with Charisma

Select the single most important idea you want to convey and make it as crystal clear and easy to understand as you possibly can. Ideally, you should be able to articulate your message in one sentence.

  • Use stories, metaphors, and analogies.
  • End on a high note, so avoid ending with Q&A.
  • Dress accordingly.
  • Practice. The best practice and practice and practice over again to become good.
  • Don’t speak too fast. Pause.
  • Breathe. You can get out of breath fast.

If you feel it’s going badly, do the following:

  • Check your body. Make sure that no tense posture is worsening your internal state.
  • Take a deep breath and relax your body.
  • Destigmatize and dedramatize. Remember that this happens to everyone, and it will pass.
  • If any negative thoughts are present, remember that they’re just thoughts, and not necessarily valid.
  • Find little things to be grateful for: your ability to breathe, the fact that you will still be alive by the end of this.
  • Imagine getting a great hug from someone you trust for twenty seconds (of course, you may not have twenty seconds, but if you do, this is remarkably effective).

Make sure that your speech is about the audience, not about you.

12. Charisma in a Crisis

Charismatic people are sought after in time of crisis.

13. The Charismatic Life

To avoid having people resent you, ask for their contribution and highlight their work.

You can also show vulnerability.

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