You Can Train Your Brain to Become More Confident

By consciously taking specific actions — from seeking out role models to reevaluating how we think about failure — we can train our mind to behave more confidently.


Big Think has partnered with PwC to bring you big ideas on the future of women in leadership. Click here to watch a webcast presented by PwC with Claire Shipman and "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay.

By consciously taking specific actions — from seeking out role models to reevaluating how we think about failure — we can train our mind to behave more confidently.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest our brains have the quality of "neuroplasticity," meaning the networks it uses to communicate information are malleable much later into life than previously thought.

In other words, not only does playing the scales help us learn the piano, but also by learning new activities into the later stages of life, we can change the synaptic connections in our brain. (In fact, taking up an artistic project is a way in itself to build confidence).

In the book The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, co-authors Claire Shipman and Katty Kay explain that confidence is the very stuff of life:

"We spent a long time trying to define confidence because we felt that it would be easier to grow it if we really knew what it was. In the end, we came to this conclusion: Confidence is life's enabler — it is the quality that turns thoughts into action."

So to be confident is to take action, but how does one begin acting confidently? Practice playing the confidence scales, i.e., take small steps in your daily life that accumulate into confidence. 

1. View failure as new information to be incorporated into your outlook rather than the end of your efforts. For confident people, "[Failure] is a notch in their belt and proof that they’ve started moving in the direction they want to go," says Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. "Confident people thank the experience for the lesson, and then they course-correct."

2. Remind yourself of good actions you take and monitor your language for negative words because they perpetuate what Kay and Shipman call NATS (negative automatic thoughts): "Women are particularly prone to NATS. We think we make one tiny mistake and we dwell on it for hours and hours ... and it kills our confidence."

3. Develop power positions by having good posture; keeping your chin up and abs in is "astonishingly simple yet woefully infrequent," they write. And nod your head because "you feel more confident as you talk when you do it — and you’re sending a subconscious signal that makes others agree with you." (Big Think's Simon Oxenham recently called this into question)

Your brain will respond positively to adjustments you make in your daily life, says Dennis S. Charney, MD, dean of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

This article is part of a series on developing women leaders presented in partnership with PwC. Watch Claire Shipman and "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay in a webcast presented by PwC here and follow the conversation on Twitter:#PwCAspire

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