Change is baked into every aspect of our world – social, economic, environmental, economic, political and technological – and the rate of change is increasing, likely exponentially.
The human brain works as a prediction machine and not being able to predict the future tends to cause anxiety and mistrust. Anxiety and mistrust are corrosives of both individual and corporate performance.
Individuals and organizations must learn to become change-resilient – better still, change-embracing. Confidence is the crucial capacity to embrace change with courage and positivity.
Here are three key mindset skills for building confidence:
- Navigating threat versus challenge mindsets
- Managing the balance between deliberation and implementation mindsets
- Pricing in change in your brain’s software
Navigating threat versus challenge mindsets
Stress is a perception. It is the belief that the demands made upon you exceed your ability to cope with them. The emotional response to this belief is anxiety. Because change involves unpredictability, it is very easy to feel stressed by the prospect of change.
When you feel under threat, your brain’s attention system tends to pay much more attention to evidence that supports this feeling of threat. For example, if you’re worried about a change coming in your organisation, you will tend to pay particular attention to casual comments by your boss or gossip among colleagues that reinforce the sense of threat. Similarly, your memory system becomes biased so that it is more likely to retrieve memories of previous bad things than of good ones. This combined distortion of our attention and memory systems conspires to make our stress worse and hence, increase our anxiety.
If you anticipate change, however, with a challenge mindset, then your attention and memory systems tend to become positively biased and support a positive feedback loop in your emotional system. One way of doing this this is to set personal goals for yourself that are internal, for example “I’m going to conduct myself calmly in this meeting and not lose my temper or become upset – even though inside I might be anxious or angry”.
You’re not going to become a zen master overnight, but treating emotional performance a bit like physical performance lets you get the satisfaction of small improvements. Doing stuff in spite of anxiety is one of the biggest sources of confidence. By adopting a performance or challenge mindset, you gain the advantage of positively biasing your attention and memory systems which makes it more likely you will succeed and get that mood-lifting, anxiety-reducing sense of “I did it”.
Confidence is the greatest antidote to anxiety and anxiety is the greatest corrosive of confidence. It is a self-fulfilling belief linked specifically to action that makes, via its activity in the brain, the action a) more likely to occur and b) more likely to be successful. Confidence is not optimism, nor is it self-esteem. The secret to confidence is its link to action.
Managing the balance between deliberation and implementation mindset
Think about a should-I-shouldn’t-I problem you are currently grappling with. This could be Should I change my job? Should I move to a new house? Take a few minutes to think through the pros and cons of each avenue. Doing this exercise puts you into a deliberative mindset, one in which you are weighing up options and are not yet fixed on a clear course of action.
Now bring to mind the most important personal goal you intend to achieve in the next few months, for example, I plan to find a new flat. Thinking about this for a few minutes will put you in what is known as an implemental mindset. In this frame of mind, you made a decision, you know what you are doing, and you are moving forward towards a clear goal.
These two mindsets make you feel, think and behave quite differently. Deliberating makes you consider both upsides and downsides, and your mood and confidence fluctuate as you do so. On the other hand, thinking about how to implement a specific goal lifts your mood, and your mind closes in on that goal, ignoring irrelevant information. This focus of attention on reaching your goal makes you feel more confident in achieving it. In turn, this makes you feel even more positive.
The second mindset skill for navigating change, therefore, is to learn to control the balance between deliberation (which we have to do from time to time, but in moderation) and implementation which, because of its forward focus on a specific goal, shields us from confidence-sapping anxiety.
Pricing in change in your brain
The third mindset skill is a little abstract, but powerful if you can master it. Financial markets anticipate events such as changes in government policy or changes in regulations so that when the actual events happen, the market price doesn’t change because it has been anticipated or ‘priced in’.
We can learn to price in change in our lives by adopting the mindset of ‘the only thing I can predict with confidence is change!’ This may seem paradoxical, but actually if you do have this (the jargon for it is ‘metacognitive’) mindset then you will feel more in control of your world because you successfully predicted the change. Feeling in at least some control is a very powerful source of confidence in the face of change.
If you can employ these key mindset skills for building confidence – navigating threat vs challenge, managing the balance between deliberation and implementation and pricing in change in your brain’s software – you will be able to embrace change with confidence and courage.
Copyright Professor Ian Robertson