how to build your confidence by rewiring your mindset

by | Sep 14, 2018 | Leadership

When we moved house a few months ago, we took the opportunity to declutter. That included the loft. A daunting task not only because of the amount of stuff up there but also the difficulty accessing it – a small hatch above a narrow stairwell.

I’m not exactly sure how we got some of those things up there! They included items that “lived” in the loft that we used regularly like camping gear and skiing kit. There were the “you never know”s, like a food processor or spare toaster that could be useful at some point. There were 3 boxes of CDs unopened since I left Geneva in 2005 which had travelled through 5 house moves.

Then there were the boxes of what I call memorabilia which I have filled up over the years – school reports, letters and birthday cards, diaries, even “pigeon post” notes from university before the days of email. I keep meaning to go through them, but I can’t quite face it. It’s so much more than “sorting out”; I know that once I open them, I’m going to open a pandora’s box (literally) of memories and emotions.

Mindset : the human loft
I think there’s alot of parallels between lofts and our mindset. For a start, they’re both at the top of the house/our body and we’re good at putting alot of stuff in them that we often don’t need. We often let that “stuff” – thoughts, beliefs, assumptions – sit in our minds and take it everywhere we go rather than sifting through it. And what’s in our mind, just like those boxes of memorabilia, impacts how we feel and therefore how we act. It can literally weigh us down.

The meaning of confidence
The word “confidence” comes from the Latin meaning “full trust” and from medieval times, we started to use the word confidence to mean feeling sure of oneself, effectively “self-assured”.

On the other hand, when we lack confidence, we feel uncertain and we worry more about what other people think than what we think ourselves. What is sometimes known as external referencing.

Going back to the title of this blog, confidence is alot more than our mindset. Our body and emotions are integral to confidence, and that’s material for future blogs. However, because we’ve become accustomed to living in our heads more than our bodies, it’s often negative thoughts that we’re most aware of when our confidence deteriorates, thoughts that seem to get louder and more insistent as we shrink into ourselves (notice the body there again!).

Eat lunch, don’t be lunch
There is good reason why we do this. We have evolved to be on the alert for threats, for wild animals and neighbouring tribesmen. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it, “Eat lunch today, don’t be lunch”. He means that we have developed what he calls an in-built negativity bias.

You know when you have a performance review and the feedback is glowing, and then there’s just one thing that someone said about what you could have done differently? And you ruminate for days over that one thing whereas all the glowing feedback and your star rating and the bonus you’ve been awarded based on that rating seems to fade in your memory? That’s negativity bias.

You can rewire your brain
The great news is that we can change this. We can rewire our brains. The concept of neuroplasticity has not only gained alot of attention in recent years, but there is amazing evidence to prove it. For example, watch this video from Norman Doidge, author of “The brain that changes itself”, for stories such as blind people who can “see” when signals are sent through other senses such as touch or taste rather than sight.

Our brain is the most malleable organ in the body. It changes more times in our life than any other organ, and we can make it change. Have you ever heard the phrase from neuroscience “Neurons that wire together fire together”? Basically, the more we use certain neurons or neural pathways, the more they will strengthen and build new connections. The less we use them, the weaker they get. A bit like a motorway ending up grassing over through lack of traffic.

So what are some things you can do to build your confidence through your mindset?

  • Know that you are in control of your mind, not the other way around.
    Quoting Marcus Aurelius : “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”Know that your thoughts are not real; they are an evolutionary legacy designed to keep you safe when your brain perceives a threat. And the brain isn’t very good at distinguishing between threats; it mistakes sharing your opinion in a meeting to throwing yourself at a sabre-toothed tiger.
  • Shift your attention.
    Remember that neurons that fire together wire together? The more attention you give your “inner critic” busy telling you you’ll look stupid or you’re not good enough, the more you will reinforce the neural pathways that create these negative thoughts. Don’t give them the time of day. Sit upright, feel your feet on the ground, distract yourself by turning your attention outwards to the people or objects in the room.
  • Surface and challenge assumptions.
    Assumptions are a bit like the boxes of CDs I have carried through 5 house moves. They are things you hold to be true which stop you saying or doing something which could create positive movement.For example, the assumption that your boss doesn’t rate you. Or the assumption that you will appear weak if you ask for feedback about how you are performing. Or the assumption that the stakeholder sitting opposite you in the exec meeting is bored by what you are saying. What assumptions are you making? How can you challenge these? What conversations could you initiate?
  • Watch your language.
    So often I hear my clients use language like, “I’m rubbish at…” or “I’m struggling with…”. Our language says alot about how we view our experience, but it also creates our experience. For example, how do you feel when you use the phrase, “I’m learning to…” rather than “I’m really bad at…”? This harks back to Carol Dweck‘s brilliant work on fixed vs growth mindsets – notice where you’re making a judgement about what you can or can’t do rather than focussing on how you can learn to do something better.
  • Absorb positive experiences.
    I am cheating a bit here by going into the realm of the body and emotions. Yet, as I said before, it’s impossible to separate our mind from our body – our brain is our body. Anyway, what I want to share here is another gem of neuroplasticity from Rick Hanson. It’s about how you can cultivate confidence (and other feelings) through absorbing positive experiences.So for example, if I take the time to go through the 20 photo albums I found in the loft that I collated on an annual basis pre-digital, I will remember some very happy times. If I stay with that memory, recall the positive feelings that come up and literally allow those feelings to sink into me, that is one step to encoding happiness into my brain. You can do the same when, for example, someone gives you a compliment or with any experience which makes you feel good. Yes, you need to practise, and doing this often for 10 seconds is more important to rewiring your brain then practising occasionally for 5 minutes.

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps new Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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