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9 Minutes of Neuroscience: Confidence

alexandre-chambon-140031

9 Minutes of Neuroscience: Confidence

The following is an excerpt from Episode 1 of the “Raising Girl Shaped Flames” podcast. If you’d like to hear the full episode, you can catch it here and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasting goodness!

9 Minutes of Neuroscience with Dr Diane Harner
"Confidence"

The difference between self-esteem and confidence:

Let’s start with defining the difference between self-esteem and confidence. Self-esteem is the subjective sense of your own self-worth or personal value. In simple terms, it’s how much you like and appreciate who you are.  When we talk about confidence it’s a bit different. Confidence is about the trust that you have in your own skills and abilities that support your success in the world.

 

Is confidence something that can be developed or learnt, or are you just saddled with whatever you got at birth?

Yes, we can all develop confidence. Some people are very lucky in that they are born with a good base level of confidence which is determined by their genetics. But for most of us – and even for those people who are born with a good base level, we all have the potential to develop more confidence. An important thing to understand about confidence is that it is learned and earned. This means we learn how to be confident through experience, but we also earn confidence because developing confidence is not always easy and is often hard work. To develop confidence we often have to go through times that are scary and times when we feel a lot of resistance. It’s the courage that we muster in those moments to push through the fear and resistance that gets us to confidence on the other side.

 

What are the kinds of ways people could be training or developing these abilities? Through trial and error? Through risk taking and getting out of your comfort zone?

Yes, exactly those things that you said – it’s those times when we rise to the challenge, take risks, seize opportunities, when we’re put into difficult situations and we problem solve our way out. These are all very scary and uncertain situations to put ourselves in, but in order to develop the trust in your skills and abilities that underpin confidence we must put ourselves into situations that call upon us to stretch ourselves and test out those skills and abilities. The bottom line is that we will not be able to develop an innate confidence in our skills and abilities if we don’t test them in different and challenging scenarios.

When it comes to what is going on in our brain when we are working on our confidence, we know that in order to develop our skills and capabilities we need to build and embed  new connections and pathways in our brain. The good news is that our brain is plastic, meaning it is constantly changing in response to our environment and the stimulus it receives.  The thing about these new connections that we make is that in the beginning they’re quite weak. So, if we try something once and it makes that connection, but we don’t do it again, that connection is not reinforced and does not become a strong robust connection. What we need to do, to be confident and learn to be confident, is to continuously strengthen those connections, which means we need to practice being confident. We need to practice putting ourselves into difficult situations. We need to practice testing the abilities that we have so we can improve and develop the all-important trust that we need to be more confident. This is why if we do something over and over again it becomes less scary as we have been able to repeatedly test our skills and develop trust in them.

 

Are there different perceptions of success which could impact what level of confidence we have going into a situation?

Yes, absolutely! Everybody’s perception of what success looks like is different. It’s a very personal thing. Success to me might be coming fifth in a race because that is what I’ve been striving for, but success to you might be coming first. Confidence often comes from setting goals and then achieving them. In order to give ourselves the opportunity to build confidence we need to have a very clear and realistic picture of what successful use of our skills and abilities looks like for us. This becomes particularly important within the context of discussions around perfectionism. 

Success and perfection are very closely related concepts for many of us. We feel we are successful if we do something perfectly. However perfection is completely subjective, my level of perfect is different to yours, which is different to all of the listeners who are listening now. The other thing about perfection is that it is often unattainable, and therefore an unfair measure of success and an unhelpful goal to have when we are trying to build confidence.

When we’re building confidence, the first thing we need to do is to visualise what success looks like, keeping in mind that perfection is an unrealistic measure of success. Secondly we need to lean into the discomfort that comes with pushing our skills beyond what we know we can do if we want to build on our skills and abilities and enhance the trust in ourselves that underpin confidence.

 

Is there anything you’d like to leave us with on that big picture definition of confidence? Maybe a tactic parents could use to help support their daughter tomorrow when they wake up?

Yes, there’s two different types of confidence. There’s intrinsic confidence that we get from inside ourselves, and there’s extrinsic confidence that comes from the people around us when they believe in us. As parents, it is the extrinsic confidence that we can offer through encouragement and offering the support that our daughters need when they are facing those challenging situations that allow them to build their confidence, that will help the most.

Are there different levels of perception of success that we should be taking into consideration here, as that would affect what level of confidence you have going into a situation?

Yes, absolutely! Everybody’s perception of what success looks like is different. It’s a very personal thing. Success to me might be coming fifth in a race because that is what I’ve been striving for, but success to you might be coming first. Confidence often comes from setting goals and then achieving them. In order to give ourselves the opportunity to build confidence we need to have a very clear and realistic picture of what successful use of our skills and abilities looks like for us. This becomes particularly important within the context of discussions around perfectionism.  

Success and perfection are very closely related concepts for many of us. We feel we are successful if we do something perfectly. However perfection is completely subjective, my level of perfect is different to yours, which is different to all of the listeners who are listening now. The other thing about perfection is that it is often unattainable, and therefore an unfair measure of success and an unhelpful goal to have when we are trying to build confidence. 

When we’re building confidence, the first thing we need to do is to visualise what success looks like, keeping in mind that perfection is an unrealistic measure of success. Secondly we need to lean into the discomfort that comes with pushing our skills beyond what we know we can do if we want to build on our skills and abilities and enhance the trust in ourselves that underpin confidence. 

Is there anything you’d like to leave us with on that big picture definition of confidence that parents are listening? Maybe a tactic they could use to help support their daughter tomorrow when they wake up?

Yes, there’s two different types of confidence. There’s intrinsic confidence that we get from inside ourselves, and there’s extrinsic confidence that comes from the people around us when they believe in us. As parents, it is the extrinsic confidence that we can offer through encouragement and offering the support that our daughters need when they are facing those challenging situations that allow them to build their confidence, that will help the most.

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