The same wiring that keeps us safe can also keep us small and deplete our confidence. But we can rewire our brain to boost confidence and seize momentum in our success.
We are programmed to look for what’s wrong
There’s something that I see showing up often in the people around me, and within myself: the way in which we tend to cling to the negative feedback and experiences over the positive.
This is our evolutionary wiring. It’s how we survived — and continue to survive — in the physical world. If you ran into a bear in the woods, you want the automatic reflex that tells you “this is a bear” to kick in, so you get to a place of safety.
Even if you don’t come into contact with a bear, you still need this natural response. If you touch a pan after you pull it from the oven, you will burn yourself. You don’t want to repeat that mistake. The biological response to remember the negative keeps you safe by forcing you to remember getting burned the first time.
How the Protection Mechanism Fails Us
Where this evolutionary wiring fails us is when it keeps us small. This happens often when it comes to emotional pain. If we open to love and get hurt, we create a wall to prevent ourselves from opening again, assuming that we will be hurt the same way. If we take a risk and it doesn’t pay off, we become wary of taking the same or a similar risk again.
Preventing the Crash and Burn
We need to train our brains to learn where danger is, and isn’t, present.
At flying trapeze practice, this is a constant lesson. At one practice, a friend was caught up in her past failures in her turnaround — a skill where you take off from the board and turn around to swing over the board. In the past, she had crashed into the board on the way back. This is common when first learning this skill, and we’ve all been there. (Long ago I learned the truth: circus hurts.)
Each time my friend attempted the skill, she looked at the board and kicked into it. Although she had previously done the skill successfully, without crashing into the board, her body remembered all the times that she slammed into the board.
The Tapes We Play
My friend’s mind was playing the wrong tapes.
(If you were born after the 1980s, “tapes” = audio files).
Have you ever momentarily lost your confidence in something you knew how to do because you heard the voices in your head telling you how you failed previously or how you came up short or how you disappointed others?
When this happens, we are caught in listening to “old tapes.”
The old tapes often remind us of our failures.
The Curse of Great Expectations
One commonality I’ve discovered among my clients, myself, and my high-achiever friends is that we rarely received acknowledgment for what we did well, but when we disappointed people we definitely heard about it.
I once asked my parents why they made a big deal about something one of my siblings did, but when I did that thing, they didn’t comment on it.
The response: we expected it of you. It wasn’t a big deal for you to do that.
This sums up what many of my clients have experienced.
The result is that we don’t have many positive tapes. Evolutionary wiring ensures we remember the failures. But we have no system to reinforce the successes. At the pivotal moments, we remember the crash and we crash again.
Time to Change the Soundtrack
We need to create new tapes that remind us who we are and what we are capable of doing. We must create tapes that champion our successes so that we remember those moments more than the failures.
Those tapes take more than a day or a weekend or even the span of a multi-week course to take hold.
They need intensity and repetition to counter the effects of the old negative tapes. This requires not a daily practice, and also a daily reinforcement of that practice.
How can we do this?
I’d like to suggest three ways that have worked for me.
(1) Personal Reflection
My Daily Recap™️ is a structured journaling exercise that I created for myself to create new tapes. It has 5 components to it, each of which is specifically designed to retrain my brain to look for the positive aspects of my day. One of those components is my daily wins, in which I acknowledge and celebrate my wins from the day.
Acknowledging and celebrating these moments helps me lock them in. (Also, it really helps in my weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews).
As much as journaling helps, it isn’t enough to erase years of negative tapes. I found that I needed to intensify the message. This is where the power of witnessing comes in.
Sharing our wins with others by speaking them aloud makes them feel real to us. And when others witness and reflect back to us what they heard, it reinforces it on a new level.
Spoken words have greater power than written words. Speaking it reinforces it for ourselves. And hearing it back allows us to bask in it for a moment and say “yes, I did that.”
I learned the art of “championing” from my mentors in the Tony Robbins community. This is one of the values we promote among the crew. The concept is based on the fact that we often don’t see our own greatness.
The process is simple: when you see someone doing something great, tell them what you witnessed.
When others champion our wins — no matter how small — we feel seen. This unsolicited acknowledgment helps us create new tapes.
Of course, we don’t always have people around us to see what we are doing. Sometimes we need to be our own champions.
This doesn’t require a big ego. Simply speaking aloud what you’re proud of yourself for doing has a tremendous impact on confidence, even if nobody is there to hear it.
Try it for yourself
The best way to increase your confidence and build momentum in the right direction is to build on your existing success.
I’ve found that any one of these three techniques can help. And a layered approach — doing all three of these things — intensifies the effect.
Try it out for yourself and see what happens.