By Tara Swart
Make the leap
I often cite the Henry Ford quote: “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” Self-belief, especially the type that is deeply entrenched, can radically impact on your chances of success. Neuroscience is giving new substance and insight to thinking on leadership, and on self-belief in particular. The exciting thing about this is that neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change itself and form new connections), proves it’s perfectly possible to make the leap from self-criticism to self-belief. It’s simply a question of determination and practicing positive thinking in a focused and consistent way.
An internal battle
In most people’s brains, there is a battle going on between two different mindsets: lack and abundance. When we think from a perspective of lack, we are governed by fear. We think in negatives, are highly attuned to what we don’t have, what won’t work, and everything that is wrong about ourselves. As a leader, this is likely to make you overly risk-averse, and glass-half-empty in your approach. It may cause you to zone out exciting opportunities and ideas that represent a risk, or shy away from any venture into the unfamiliar. When lack rules your thinking, you are also more likely to micromanage and want to cling to the status quo.
From a neuroendocrine point of view, lack thinking activates the amygdala, which triggers the release of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands above our kidneys, a cocktail that prime you to prioritize survival above all else. This is dangerous for any leader as these brain chemicals act to shut down the higher functions of the brain that enable you to think in a balanced and integrated way. Visionary thinking and a holistic approach are almost impossible to achieve in this scenario.
In this state, your amygdala and hippocampus combine emotion and memories, calling to mind a catalog of past failures to make their case. You might think of high profile corporate disasters where risky decisions have led to a company’s collapse, or you’ll have a flashback to your most humiliating career flop. The first trick to disrupting this powerful negative thinking is to recognize what’s going on. The second is to focus all your energy into thinking in a different way.
The most powerful alternative is to choose to view life and work from a perspective of abundance, reframing failure as success in progress, and regarding challenge and learning as valuable in and of themselves. This means fostering the thought habit that you have the power to change, improve and grow. This may be easier for people who tend to be natural optimists, but interestingly, research shows that 40% of glass-half-full attitude comes down to the choices we make about how to think and behave.
Acknowledging your successes, by keeping a journal, using positive affirmations and getting into the habit of speaking positively about yourself in conversations with others are all powerful ways to ‘switch on’ the emotional circuitry associated with love/trust and joy/excitement in the brain. This is the perfect antidote to lack thinking’s hormonal cocktail as it will trigger the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin that makes you feel safe and positively disposed to other people. As a result, you’ll be more likely to act on the principle that there is enough for everyone, building your self-belief: faith in your ability to make good decisions.
So to recap, if you want to think like a winner, start doing these three things every day:
- Write down something you’ve done well every day in a journal, and be specific about the intrinsic qualities this demonstrates, whether it’s creative thinking or tenacity.
- Create a personal affirmation you can repeat whenever you get the chance to improve your self-belief: “I make great decisions and can get through anything” for example.
- Catch yourself when you’re about to respond with a negative brush off, whether it’s “That would never work,” or “We don’t have time to think about that now.” Ask yourself whether there’s a more optimistic take on the situation. Are you defaulting to lack?
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This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine