Building confidence inside and out

The below blog-post was a speech as part of my Toastmasters Pathway Level 1 – Research and Presenting. The purpose of this project is to learn or review basic research methods and present a well-organized, well-researched 5-7 minutes speech on any topic. My topic is to build confidence.


20 year old Me looking for a job:

Step 1: open 20 tabs of job postings on chrome

Step 2: read qualifications and decide that I am not qualified 

Step 3: close chrome

Result: job applied: none; and confidence: trashed

That’s a demonstration of what NOT to do. If I could go back in time, I would tell my 20-year old self that as much as we think some people are just born with confidence, it is not a fixed attribute. Confidence is the outcome of our beliefs and actions working in our environment. Understanding discoveries from cognitive science, we could hack a smoother sail to self-confidence by holding positive beliefs, taking quick actions, and cultivating a nurturing environment. 

Holding positive beliefs

The first point of intervention is to believe that we can. In her article “How Your Thinking Creates Your Reality,” Dr. Jennice Vilhauer at Emory University School of Medicine explained that our brain operates on a selective filtering system. When the brain is primed by a certain belief, it shuts down competing neural networks, making it difficult for us to see evidence to the contrary of that belief. This is also known as confirmation bias. In the job-searching demonstration above, the belief that I was not enough had me focus on the qualifications I did not meet. If I could change my belief to be “I am smart and capable,” I would be looking through the cognitive lens of confidence for evidence that matches up with being capable, even if I was not yet competent in certain areas. That would have given myself a chance to apply. By believing in myself, I open doors to possible actions. 

Taking quick actions 

The second point of intervention is to take actions. It sounds very simple but it is not easy at all. From an evolutionary standpoint, our brain is designed to protect us from danger and discomfort. And you guessed it, applying for jobs is not comfortable! Even though I knew exactly what I needed to do, I hesitated, and my thoughts just took over before I could apply. The key is to take actions quickly. Mel Robbins introduced in her book The 5 Second Rule, (no, not the one that makes you race to pick up the food you drop on the floor), this 5 Second Rule states that “If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.” I applied this rule in a recent Toastmasters officer meeting. When a volunteer was called to make the April newsletter, I was immediately intrigued. Before any second thoughts, I started my countdown, 5-4-3-2-1, and raised my hand. I was so proud of how this panned out. Not only did I learn a new skill, but with the newsletter doubling the industry average click-through rate, I was able to provide useful insights for the leadership team on what content would better serve our members’ needs. By taking actions, I believe in myself more.

Cultivating a nurturing environment 

It takes a village to build confidence. That’s right! surrounding ourselves with the people who believe in us and the people who we aspire to be, would help build our confidence tremendously. This is the power of context. The mirror neuron system in the human brain allows us to subconsciously imitate emotions and actions we merely observe in others. If I yawn now you would probably yawn, too, if you are looking at me. If we zoom out from the confidence building cycle between our own thoughts and actions, what can enhance that cycle is a nurturing environment. In the split second I volunteered myself to do the newsletter, part of me freaked out because I knew nothing about putting together a newsletter. But Renee, our Club President and my mentor believed I could, so I did, too! And being in Women L.E.A.D. meetings, observing the skills and techniques of the experienced speakers like Shoba, Karen, Abhijeet, I aspire to be like them one day. Learning about their public speaking journeys makes me believe that I can do it, too. And therefore, I take actions by preparing for each speech seriously. 

We are who we are because of our beliefs, our actions and our environment. The good news is that research into neural plasticity reveals that we can rewire our brains at any age. That means we can always start to build our confidence by holding positive beliefs, taking quick actions, and cultivating a nurturing environment for ourselves. Let’s start today! 

I learned a lot during my research about building confidence. We have many more interesting speeches and workshops. Come to our next meeting on April 26th, 6:45-8:15pm PDT. Theme: Fortune 500 Female CEOs. Register here.

Fortune 500 Female CEO

Written by Vicky Pan, Secretary of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters

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