Currently playing: Building your confidence
Building your confidence
In this playlist:
Hello, I’m Dr Andrew Holmes, one of the research staff developers on Prosper, based at the University of Liverpool. I’d like to welcome you to this workshop on self-confidence and reaching your full potential. This session will explore the different elements of self-confidence and their relation to thoughts, behaviours, and emotions, and identify ways of boosting confidence to achieve your goals and reach your potential. Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives, from the decisions that we make on a daily basis, to the careers we pursue, and the relationships that we establish. Even more so, self-confidence is a key component to preserving and reaching your potential as a researcher and employee. The outcomes for today’s sessions are understand self-confidence and the elements that underpin it, identify techniques for boosting your confidence and reaching your potential. Before we get started, I’d like you to take a moment to think about how you would describe self-confident people. Have a think about any self-confident people that you know and what traits stand out for you about them. What do they do? How do they behave? How do they think or feel? Pause the video now and take a minute or two to consider these questions. Self-confidence is defined as an individual’s trust in his or her own abilities, capacities, and judgements, that he or she can successfully face the demands of a task. Others have described it as simply believing in oneself and having a positive view about our skills, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. This influences how we set goals, communicate, feel, and think about ourselves. There are quite a few related terms in this area, so let’s quickly define them. Self-efficacy is an individual’s beliefs about their capacity to influence the events in their own lives and handle future situations. It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behaviour, and social environment, and is seen as more of a forward-looking belief. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. The way we look, the way we think. This can be a favourable or unfavourable attitude towards oneself. It’s associated with an individual’s worth and worthiness as a present-focused belief. Self-esteem is one of the basic human motivations in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, strongly related to self-confidence, where individuals need esteem both from others and from themselves in order to achieve their own potential or self-actualisation. Self-confidence encapsulates both of the above terms. It refers to an individual self-evaluation of abilities and prior experience and their expectations of future performance. It reflects one’s beliefs on both past and the future. Please note, as self-confidence and self-esteem are two closely-related psychological phenomena, we will refer to them here as similar concepts. One model of thinking about self-confidence is to consider our motivations via Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In his 1943 paper, Abraham Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. The most basic needs are physiological the biological requirements for air, food, drink, shelter, etc., and safety. The need for security, order, and control in our lives. At the top of the hierarchy is self-fulfilment. The realisation of a person’s full potential. The desire to accomplish everything that one can. To become the most that one can be. In the middle of the hierarchy are psychological needs. The need for being social and feeling like you belong, through friendships, intimacy, and trust. Most relevant for this session, psychological needs also include esteem needs. Both the desire for reputation or respect from others, to have some form of prestige or status, and to have esteem for oneself. When people’s esteem needs are met, they feel confident and see their contributions and achievements as valuable and important. However, when their esteem needs are not met, they may experience what psychologist Alfred Adler called feelings of inferiority. These days, Maslow’s hierarchy is viewed as more of a rough guide than a fixed route. You don’t need to fully satisfy the needs of one level before moving on to the next. There are other needs that don’t fit within these defined areas on the pyramid. Maslow himself later suggested seven, and then eight total needs, and stated that the order of needs is not rigid, but instead may be flexible, based on external circumstances or individual differences. He also thought that many behaviours fulfilled multiple needs. It’s not a perfect model, but the hierarchy still shows the importance of self-confidence for happiness and self-fulfilment. What’s the consequence of having low confidence? I’d like you to answer this one. Pause the video and take a couple of minutes to write down some possible consequences of having low confidence. Feelings of isolation, self-doubt, and fear of failure can darken the door of even the most confident researchers working towards careers and goals. Low confidence may result in many factors, including a fear of the unknown, unrealistic expectations, criticism, being unhappy with personal appearance, feeling unprepared, poor time management, and a lack of knowledge. A broad review of the correlates of self-esteem found that high self-esteem is associated with better health, better social lives, protection against mental disorders and social problems, successful coping and mental well-being. Children with high self-confidence perform better at school, and later in life have higher job satisfaction in middle age. Self-esteem is also strongly linked to happiness, with higher levels of self-esteem predicting higher levels of happiness. High self-confidence has even been found to increase chances of survival after a serious surgical procedure. Authentic self-esteem promotes not co-dependency and fragility, but independence, enterprise, resilience, adaptability, and a growth mindset. We’re now going to explore nine top tips for boosting self-confidence. These were compiled for Prosper by Daniela Baltic, who is a higher education consultant and one of Vitae’s senior fellow research developers. The first tip is around clarifying your goal. You might be confident in some areas of your professional career, but may be less so on others. Self-awareness of strengths and areas for development is the first step in ensuring that you can be specific about what you want to achieve and ensure measurable outcomes. Take a minute to reflect on the following questions and write down your answers using positive language. What is your goal? What specific area of your life do you want to become more confident about? Why is this important to you now? How will you know when you have achieved your goal? Pause the video now for a couple of minutes to reflect on these questions, and then resume when you’re ready to continue. Research suggests that visualisation can activate the same neural circuitry in the brain as doing something in reality. Utilising the power of future mental imagery, imagine that your desired outcome has already happened, referencing that future date as having already occurred. Again, pause the video and take a minute or two to reflect on this. Think of something you are worried about in the future. Fully immerse yourself in visualising confidence in the future event. What does your body feel? What do you do? What are your thoughts? What behaviours do others see? What do they hear? Pause the video now and resume when you are ready to continue. We all have recurring thoughts and narratives or mental scripts that can be disempowering, can interfere with our ability to take action and impact on our self-confidence. It’s important to become aware of the thoughts and beliefs that might be limiting and sabotaging you. Again, take a couple of minutes to reflect on this. Write down some answers to the following questions. What recurring thoughts do you have that you feel are holding you back from achieving your goals? How have your limiting beliefs held you back from achieving what is important to you? Pause the video now and resume when you’re ready to continue. Affirmations are positive statements that can help overcome self-sabotaging and self-limiting beliefs. Studies show that using affirmations can remind you of your values and strengths, and raise confidence and improve self-esteem. For example, before a high-pressure event such as going into an interview, take a moment to think and note your strengths and best qualities. A good way to do this is to modify negative statements about yourself by thinking about what you want to achieve instead and writing them in the present tense. For example, if you habitually think that you are too nervous to deliver presentations, you can rewrite it in a positive affirmation. I am well prepared and confident that I can give a great presentation. Another example would be changing I am so disorganised, to become I have been disorganised, I am much more on top of things now. Professor Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED Talk is one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time. You may have seen this before and may be aware of Amy Cuddy’s research already. If not though, you can find it on YouTube. It’s called ‘Your body language may shape who you are’. Professor Cuddy’s research suggests that body posture sends messages to the brain that informs exactly how you feel. If you need to feel confident, you want your posture to send your brain that message. Professor Cuddy’s research suggests that our body language governs how we think and feel about ourselves. Thus, how we hold our bodies can have an impact on our minds, i.e. by commanding a powerful stance, we can make ourselves actually feel more powerful and confident. If you’ve heard about this research before, then you might be aware of the controversy around it. Replicating the findings of the original paper has proved very difficult. Numerous experimental and statistical flaws have been identified with the original study. In 2016, the lead author of the original 2010 paper, Dana Carney, published a statement saying, ‘I do not believe that power pose effects are real.’ The evidence against the existence of power poses is undeniable. Professor Cuddy herself acknowledges that not all findings of the original study have proved repeatable. Particularly the hormonal changes that were supposed to occur as a result of adopting a more confident posture. She maintains that the evidence still suggests that power poses can make people feel more powerful. Something that many other studies also support. Current thinking is that it’s more of a placebo effect, but that doesn’t mean that a temporary boost in how confident you feel isn’t still useful on occasion. To build confidence, you need to practise confidence. Learning to ride a bike requires repetition, deliberate practise, and persistence, to become more and more confident in riding the bike. What is the deliberate practise needed for you to undertake, on a regular basis, in order to become more confident in the area of your life where you would like to increase your confidence or reach your potential in? If you’re nervous about presentations, you could practise presentations by yourself, with support of colleagues, or you could find relative training at your institution. I’m going to give you a couple of moments to reflect on the following question. Take something you’ve already thought about during this session, an area of your life that you don’t feel confident about. What things can you practise to boost your confidence in this area? Pause the video for a couple of minutes to think about this, and resume the video when you’re ready to continue. Become a learner by reflecting on both what works currently and what doesn’t work. Especially what might be perceived as a failure. Learning from failures builds resilience and pushes one to persevere and to try to do things differently. Most successful people learn how to fail well. Thomas Edison famously said, ‘I’ve not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ If something goes wrong, then take a moment to reflect on it. What could you have done differently in that particular situation? What assumptions did you make? What new skills and knowledge have you developed through this process? A core feature of self-confidence also lies in being valued by others. When we play a positive role in our relationships in communities, this makes us feel good about ourselves and our contributions. A sense of belonging within our social system is fundamental to personal well-being. A study by Professor Frank Flynn, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Stanford, revealed that people tend to underestimate, by as much as 50 per cent, the willingness of others to help. Professor Flynn says our research should encourage people to ask for help and not to assume that others are disinclined to comply. If you need help, just ask. When we reach out to others, we can see our own efforts, and collaboration among people creates powerful results. Asking for help doesn’t undermine our own confidence. It lets us view our achievements from a different perspective, and can actually boost our enthusiasm for what we’re doing and increase what we can achieve. The final tip for boosting self-confidence is something that’s touched upon in some of the other tips. That is having an awareness of who you are at your best, and the various factors that influence when you’re at your best, and when you aren’t. Pause the video and spend a couple of minutes writing down the answers to the following questions. Who are you at your best? What helps you to be at your best? What gets in the way? Pause the video now, and resume when you’re ready to continue. Those are Daniela Bultoc’s nine tips for boosting self-confidence. In summary, they are clarify your goals, visualise confidence, identify self-limiting beliefs, practise positive affirmations, adopt a confident body posture, practise and prepare, learn from failures, ask for help and offer your help, and self-awareness. I’d like to finish with a few additional thoughts about self-confidence and self-doubt. These aren’t static things that you’re stuck with your whole life. How confident or doubting you feel changes depending on your experiences and achievements. They also change over time. In a study of over 700 health sciences librarians, Barr-Walker et al. found that one out of seven experienced imposter syndrome. This is actually similar to other studies of academic librarians. They also found that imposter syndrome decreases with age and experience. Whilst this may mean that you particularly feel imposter syndrome when starting a new job or even a new career, it also highlights something that is worth remembering – these feelings will decrease over time as you gain experience. Similarly, a study of over 11,000 business leaders by Zenger Folkman found that self-confidence increases with age. They also found that the self-confidence gap between male and female leaders closes with age, with confidence equality reached in middle age, around the late forties and fifties. A study published in early 2022 suggests that not everything about self-doubt and imposter syndrome is a bad thing. In a series of experiments, Assistant Professor Basima Tewfik studied over 3600 employees from a broad range of sectors, including from an investment advisory firm and a physician training programme. She found that people with workplace imposter thoughts became more other-oriented and evaluated as being higher in interpersonal effectiveness. For instance, trainee doctors with more imposter thoughts were rated by their patients as being more interpersonally effective, more empathetic, as better listeners, and better able to draw out information during doctor-patient interactions. Importantly, Tewfik found that workplace imposter thoughts didn’t significantly affect objective performance. You might feel like a fraud, but your colleagues wouldn’t guess from the quality of your work. Doctor Tristan Clemons is a materials chemist and former Australian Kookaburra’s field hockey goalkeeper. His article in the publication ‘Matter’, documents his struggles with crippling self-doubt, both in the laboratory and on the hockey pitch. He calls self-doubt a double-edged sword, in that it pushes him to work harder and to aim to achieve more, whist also on occasion paralysing him with doubt and fear. Clemons talks about the importance of having good mentors and how much of a difference hearing a respected, positive voice can make. Which ties back to one of Daniela Bultoc’s top tips, being able to ask for help. For your next steps, why not try out some of the techniques and approaches for increasing self-confidence discussed in this session. You could also try writing a list of five or more positive things about yourself, and keeping that list somewhere that’s easy to access and to add to, and where you might see it regularly. Another variant on this is to keep a folder on your computer for positive things. Complimentary emails, achievements, praise, etc. The idea with both of these approaches being that if you feel any self-doubt, you can quickly revisit how positively other people view you and your work, and also how positively you view yourself. The Squiggly Careers podcast also has lots of episodes about self-confidence and conquering self-doubt. In one episode they also provide their three top tips for boosting confidence. Their first top tip is around language, both considering your body language and the words you use. For instance, rather than saying things like ‘just’ or phrases such as ‘I’m probably wrong but’, use more confident and direct language. Their second top tip is knowing who you can talk with to get a confidence boost. Their third top tip is around planning your opening line. By preparing for and focusing on the first thing you want to say, you can use that first line as a confidence crutch to get your conversation or presentation off to a good start. Thank you so much for your time and participation in today’s session.[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
Lack of belief in ourselves. The fear that we are going to fail often goes hand in hand with self-sabotaging behaviours, and this link can be really hard to break. Self-doubt in itself is not bad. It’s completely normal to have self-doubting thoughts sometimes. Self-doubt is only an issue when it becomes destructive. Behaviour is said to be self-sabotaging when it interferes with daily life and long-standing goals. The most common kinds of self-sabotaging behaviours include procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, and comfort eating. It can be difficult to become aware that you are employing self-sabotaging behaviours, and even if you are aware, connecting a behaviour to self-sabotaging consequences isn’t a guarantee that you will stop doing that behaviour. Even if you are aware, you may not find it easy to consciously choose to stop that behaviour. It is possible to overcome most forms of self-sabotage. Imposter syndrome is a particular form of self-doubt. Doctors Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes introduced the term in the 1970s. They wanted to be clear that this is not a psychological illness, but that this is a recurring emotional experience, so a sense of dread that is felt over and over again. In subsequent research, Clance and colleagues tried to find out how many people experience impostor syndrome. They found out that 70 per cent of professional people experience feelings of fraudulence or imposter syndrome. The definition of imposter syndrome is that you feel like a fraud, so as though people see a version of you that isn’t the real you. You devalue your worth. Perhaps you talk yourself out of taking the credit for some work that you’ve contributed or something that you’ve done. You undermine your experience or expertise. In practice this might mean that you don’t claim certain experiences, or you avoid stating that you have certain professional statuses, because you worry that that means that you can’t make mistakes, that you have to be perfect in claiming that status or that role. Imposter syndrome happens at all levels, and it’s frequent feelings of inadequacy despite evidence to the contrary. Research shows that imposter syndrome is more persistent than other types of stress. There are many different dimensions of self-doubt. Here is a clip of Michelle Obama talking about a question that goes through her mind all the time.
Am I good enough? That’s a question that has dogged me for a good part of my life. Am I good enough to have all of this? Am I good enough to be the first lady of the United States? I think that many women, and definitely many young girls of all backgrounds, walk around with that question. I still feel that at some level I have something to prove because of the colour of my skin, because of the shape of my body, because of who knows how people are judging me.
Michelle isn’t talking about imposter syndrome, because it’s not in this situation that people think too highly of you. In this case, she’s talking about self-doubt that’s rooted in society’s view of people who look like her, or people whom she would represent. Self-doubt can exist because of structural inequality and lack of representation, or lack of support for particular identities. Why do we experience self-doubt? Some self-doubt is normal, and sometimes we have a motivating relationship with self-doubt. For example, if we feel concerned about our performance ability in an important presentation, the self-doubt may actually motivate us to prepare more thoroughly and to practise our speech. However, self-doubt can also be debilitating. It can stop us from taking constructive action. When this occurs, it’s really important to dig into the why of the self-doubt to analyse what’s happening to us. Let’s have a look at some of the whys, the reasons why we do have self-doubt. The first reason is about fears that we might have about ourselves, so things that we think are true. We might have core fears or negative beliefs about ourselves like we’re not good enough, or about our ability to cope, or our ability to achieve a task. Negative fears about ourselves can also come in through messages from other people. Finally, messages that society gives us. This tends to be particularly around relationships that we have with other people. Voices of authority can also create beliefs that stick. A coaching question that I find is a powerful, reflective prompt is to ask someone when they’re identifying a belief, ‘When did you learn that lesson? When did you learn that you can’t trust yourself? When did you learn that you’re not creative? When did you learn that you can’t cope? When did you learn that you’re not good enough?’ It can be helpful to ask this question because sometimes there is an actual identifiable source of the belief. A parent, a sibling, a teacher, a boss, a supervisor, a mentor, somebody who said something or behaved in a way that was negative that spawned this kind of belief. Being able to identify sometimes if there is a source of an unhelpful belief can be a really, really helpful step in objectifying that, and realising that the belief has come from somewhere else and therefore can be something that you can make a choice about, whether you want to engage with that belief or whether you want to make a different choice and replace it with a new belief or a new behaviour that’s more constructive and more consistent with your values now as a person, as opposed to how you saw yourself in the past. Observing, documenting, and analysing our own behaviour is a key component of stopping self-sabotage. Use your Prosper journal to notice and record the situations when you are prone to self-defeating behaviours. Write down the trigger or the source of the stress and how you responded, so how you felt and any thoughts that you had at that time. This can help you to explore whether that situation encompasses any mistaken or harmful belief, and then you can train yourself to respond in a new, healthy way. You can see that there are other perspectives and broader choices about how you choose to respond to that situation. In the moment you might need to plan to deal with those feelings, perhaps by sharing that with somebody else and talking it through. Or, you might need to distract yourself by doing exercise or something like that. Then, in terms of practical problem solving, perhaps you might realise that you need to learn a new skill, or work on a particular skill. Use this as an exercise to bring your self-sabotaging behaviours into your awareness. Now I want us to think about the effects of negative self-talk. Each time we say something negative to ourselves, we are reinforcing that belief or that statement in our brain. Our unconscious mind makes no credibility judgement about what we tell it. Essentially, the information that we feed it and the way that we talk to ourselves defines our beliefs about our self. If you think about the language that you use when you speak to yourself, the tone and the actual words that you use, we are strengthening that neural pathway every time we have that thought. A suggestion here is to really start to try and tune in and pay attention to your self-talk, and notice whenever you say something that’s overly pessimistic, overly personal as in, ‘It’s my fault because I’m bad,’ and or overly catastrophic to yourself. Think about reframing that in a more constructive way. For example, ‘I didn’t get the job because I’m not good enough.’ ‘That job wasn’t the right fit for me. I’m going to keep looking until I find a job that is the right fit.’ ‘I’m a terrible networker.’ ‘I am going to learn networking skills so that I can improve my skills in this area.’ It’s not about being blindly optimistic, or necessarily the positive thinking movement. It’s simply about thinking, what’s the most constructive interpretation I can come up with? What’s going to help me to keep going and feel motivated towards my goal? A really common self-sabotage that I see often in academia, I think, is overcommitment and over-responsibility. Overpromising, overestimating and overdoing generally doesn’t help us to lead a balanced life, or take care of ourselves, or develop a positive and professional identity. Yet we all do this on occasion, and we often regret it afterwards. It can always seem like there’s too little time and too much to do, but selecting your activities carefully and prioritising is one of the most important skills that you can master. Getting comfortable with saying no, and respectfully declining ad hoc situations and requests, will serve you better than saying yes to everything and taking on board too much work, and risking your health and your well-being, as well as compromising your ability to be productive. Here is a method for decision making when there are many different alternatives about what you should and should not commit your time to. First of all, get comfortable with not saying yes immediately. Think about a stock phrase that you can use to buy yourself time such as, ‘I’m going to need some time to think about that, and then I’ll get back to you.’ Secondly, examine your schedule and available time. Sit down with your calendar. List all your responsibilities as well as routine and mandatory activities. Include lab work, include research time, Prosper time, family activities, social events, keeping in mind that it’s often easy to underestimate your time. Next step; survey and prioritise. Analyse your schedule and see if you can fit this activity in. After looking at your schedule, determine if you’ve already taken on too much. If you’re going to add this new activity, is there any of the other activities you can scale back to make space for this activity in your schedule? Decide what is most important and realistic in light of your current obligations and your long-term goals. Avoid ad hoc commitments. Whilst the calendar is a useful visual reminder, too many blank pages can tempt you to say yes to ad hoc opportunities. Before taking on an ad hoc opportunity, ask for a detailed description of the activity or opportunity, and think about the time commitment and what will be required of you or asked of you. Consider how the activity will contribute to your development and if it’s in line with your goals. Set aside time in your calendar for rest and relaxation. Days that are just for you or days spent just with family are just as important as everything else. Something to bear in mind when you’re trying to get comfortable with the idea of turning things down is that other people don’t probably understand the full extent of your obligations and responsibilities. They probably can’t see all of the things that you’re already doing. When your schedule is pushing to maximum capacity, it’s not only allowable, but it’s important that you say no, and you actually set limits. Increase your comfort with this. It might be sensible to talk to the other person a little bit about your workload, and to help them to see why you can’t take on that opportunity. To summarise about over commitment and over-responsibility, before you take on anything new, think about the implications so that if you do agree to take it on, then you can perform to the best of your abilities and know that it’s aligned to your goals. The first time you say no to a request or opportunity it might feel awkward or uncomfortable, but it’s much better for your reputation to do a few things exceedingly well than to do lots of things in a mediocre way. It’s also better for your personal sense of mastery and fulfilment and engagement in your work. What is mindset? Psychologist Carol Dweck has led the research on mindsets. She describes this as beliefs about our abilities and qualities that affect the way that we learn, grow, and achieve our goals. Dweck’s work on mindsets is derived from observation of the differences between people, so how people respond to failure and success in different ways, and how people approach learning challenging skills. Dweck describes two different views. She describes two views or interpretations of ability, so a fixed ability, which is a belief that your qualities are carved in stone, so they cannot be changed, and a contrasting belief in the changeable-ness of ability. This means that abilities can be cultivated and developed through learning. Dweck named these mindsets fixed mindset and growth mindset. Where do our mindsets come from? As with many of our beliefs, they are shaped and influenced by our experiences and our environment, including those around us. This is not about assigning blame, but in trying to get an awareness of how our beliefs may have evolved and therefore understanding that we can continue to change and influence our beliefs and the way that we see things. It can be helpful to consider mindsets in relation to your own life, and think about what aspects of life, and to think about which mindsets are operating in my life. Where is growth mindset in my life and where do I have a more fixed approach, and how is that helping me or not? What mindset do you have towards career transition? Changing your mindset doesn’t mean that the old beliefs aren’t still there, but that the new ones can exist alongside them and maybe even be louder sometimes, giving you choices about how to think, feel, and act. Brain plasticity refers to a certain process where the more we think certain things, the more we use certain pathways, the stronger they get. Also, the pathways that we don’t use, the redundant pathways, get weaker over time. This supports the idea that practising is a good way to strengthen neural pathways, to repeat a task over and over. Dweck’s research has shown that teaching people the science underlying the growth mindset and its relationship to learning can be helpful in helping people to move towards a growth mindset. Here’s an activity you can do to help you practise developing a growth mindset. You could journal about this exercise. What I want you to do is to imagine that you’re making a career transition growth mindset cake. What I need you to do is to make a list of the ingredients in this cake, and the percentage of those ingredients. Studies show that self-compassion is associated with resilience, less narcissism, and less angry outbursts. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development at the University of Texas, recommends trying to treat yourself like you would a close best friend when you are suffering from anxiety, or self-doubt, or critical thinking. What would you say to your best friend? What would you say to your best friend if they screwed up when they were trying to achieve their goal? Odds are it would be very different for many of us from the kind of language and the kind of talk that we use when we talk to ourselves when we feel like we’ve screwed up. Self-compassion involves being caring and kind towards yourself in the face of hardship or suffering, or perceived inadequacy or self-doubt. Neff defines self-compassion in the following way. Self-kindness versus self-judgement, so offering yourself warmth and kindness instead of berating yourself with judgement. Recognising the commonness of humanity versus isolation, so understanding that going through pain or suffering, making mistakes, feeling self-doubt, feeling difficult emotions, are all part of the human experience. Not just me alone, but actually an experience common to all humans at one time or another. Mindfulness versus overidentification, so a balanced approach to difficult feelings, neither pushing them away and trying to deny that they’re there or exaggerating and amplifying them. Not getting swept away by them. A position of mindful objectivity on yourself and your feelings. An interesting journaling prompt at this point might be to ask yourself, what gets in the way of me being compassionate towards myself? Why self-compassion? A range of recent research highlights the benefit of being compassionate towards yourself. Self-compassion helps us to feel less anxiety when we are thinking about weakness. If we’re trying to protect ourselves from uncomfortableness or anxiety, when we think about personal weakness, we’re less likely to do something constructive or set ourselves a positive action about improving that skill, or improving that weakness. Self-compassion has been shown to be related to positive psychological health, and may be protective against depression. High levels of self-compassion are associated with greater life satisfaction and greater achievement of goals. Self-compassion can counteract self-sabotage. It can allow us to move to a place that’s more open when considering the ways that we may need to grow. By reducing fear and self-doubt, it can help to add fuel to motivate us to achieve our goals. To summarise everything that I’ve said, the way to stop self-sabotage is to try to get used to noticing when you’re experiencing self-sabotaging behaviour, to use your journaling to do a kind of emotional post-mortem on those situations, and then to think about what was happening. What was I experiencing? What were the feelings? What were the thoughts? What was I saying to myself? How was I saying that? What kind of language was I using? Then, when you’ve identified and analysed what’s been happening, you can use one of the tools or techniques that I’ve talked about, such as thinking about the growth mindset and how you would approach this situation in a growth-minded way, or perhaps thinking from a self-compassionate perspective, how could I think about this situation in a kind or compassionate way? How would I speak to a friend about this? This kind of processing can reduce your self-doubt or your anxiety enough, and increase your motivation and confidence enough, that you can make alternative choices. You can pick a constructive action which will move you towards your goal. If we stop for a moment and think about what would be happening emotionally if you did a cycle like that, where you noticed a moment of self-doubt or self-sabotage and you journaled it out, and then you managed to work your way through it, you reduced anxiety and chose something constructive to do, if we imagine how we might feel, I imagine that I would feel empowered and would have started to develop a new belief about my ability to use tools and techniques to work through difficult moments in a constructive way.[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
Hello, welcome to this session on knowing when to cut your losses. P.S. it’s not a waste. In this session we’ll be covering: what sunk cost fallacy is; the thinking that stops you cutting your losses; how to recognise you’re getting into this type of thinking and some practical approaches to counter it; how to set your own trigger point; and some next steps. When considering doing something different career-wise the kind of questions on screen might come up for us. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to keep fighting to stay on the set path after we invested all that time, money and energy, after others invested in us? If we don’t stay will all those years be wasted? Does any of this sound familiar to you? You might not have said or thought this yourself but someone you know might’ve said something along these lines when considering if they continue their career in academia or not. You may even hear this externally from friends or family who say, ‘But I thought you were happy working at the university. It seemed like a good job.’ This feeling that if we move career path all we’ve done previously will be a waste, or wasted, is common. We’ve heard this from some postdocs we’ve worked with; that even though they’re considering a career somewhere other than in academia they feel that as they’ve already spent ten plus years getting to this point, leaving now seems like a bit of a waste. So, they might as well carry on. This type of thinking is called the sunk cost fallacy. A sunk cost is an irrecoverable investment. It could be money, time or effort. The result can be that you continue with an activity that no longer benefits you because you fear having wasted time or effort. However despite rationally knowing you can’t get that cost back, because you’ve expended it you now feel emotionally attached. It’s this emotional attachment which makes it hard to change your strategy or career. A quick thought experiment: imagine you’ve headed out to the shops to pick up a loaf of bread. You’ve got over halfway to the shops when you realise that you’ve forgotten your wallet and phone. Do you carry on to the shops because you’re already most of the way there? Hopefully you’d all answer no to this example. However if you’ve fallen into the sunk cost fallacy thinking you would continue on to the shops because of the time and effort you’ve already expended getting ready, leaving the house, walking to the shops – despite not being able to buy the loaf. This irrational decision-making based on past investment rather than future outcome is a well-studied psychological phenomenon. It’s not unique to academia. In fact it’s not even unique to humans; rats and mice have been observed to do it, too. Individuals and groups can both be prone to it. A commonly-cited example of this is Concorde; a joint project between the governments of France and Britain to create a commercial supersonic passenger jet. The project ultimately ended up with wildly-escalating costs, but instead of rationally deciding to stop the project, investment and effort continued to the end. Granted, in this example there was a political rather than emotional attachment to the project which prevented it from being canned. The problem with this type of thinking when making career decisions is that if you’re making choices based on time and effort you’ve already spent, you’re not thinking about what you want in the future or what you hope to gain. It means if you’re in a career you’ve outgrown or is no longer aligned to your values, you’ll carry on accumulating costs and not giving yourself a chance to thrive in another pursuit or area. As the quote says, you could end up making your future self suffer to please your past self. This type of feeling – that changing career can be a loss – can be exaggerated if you hold the belief that careers are linear, that you steadily progress logically from A to B to C, advancing towards the apex of that particular area or sector. I’ve used a phrase career path in this session as it’s in common usage. I’ve had a range of metaphors, often journey based, used to describe careers such as a jungle gym, a squiggly career, a ladder, a trajectory, a pipeline, a network of pipes, a lattice, branching, haphazard, a book of many chapters, a well-beaten or well-trodden pathway, a road – bumpy or otherwise – a track, a roller-coaster, a zigzag, jazz. The list goes on. These metaphors can be useful but sometimes they can unhelpfully limit or shape our thinking. We can end up trying to fit ourselves to a career model rather than the other way around. The quote from Cadbury is perhaps more useful, emphasising that a career is something we, as individuals, construct and create ourselves through proactive action rather than being pre-planned, allowing us to make adjustments as we go. This also fits with the increasingly common career metaphor of a narrative career; that our career is a story we are creating and retelling as we go. Another unhelpful aspect of considering career paths to be linear is that they have one correct career outcome or destination. However as Emily Wapnick summarises in her TEDxBend talk, ‘Why some of us don’t have one true calling’, it is rarely a waste of time to pursue something we’re drawn to. Even if you end up quitting, you might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely in a way that you couldn’t have anticipated. Her quote flips the sunk cost fallacy thinking around. Instead of mourning the time and effort we’ve already expended as lost, we can think of it as building a useful resource we can tap into in the future in ways we can’t even imagine yet. This brings us nicely on to our activity. We suggest that you pause the recording here and spend about ten minutes considering the outputs you’ve generated so far in your career. By outputs what we mean are things that you’ve produced and the impact you’ve had. These could be really discreet things like papers, monographs, book chapters or slightly more nebulous things like moving knowledge forward in your discipline. People you’ve made a difference to, building your research community to things like public outreach and communication. If you find thinking of your outputs or the impact you’ve had tough, it may help you to view yourself from an external perspective. Perhaps think of what a very good friend who knows the details of what you do in your research work would say are your main outputs, or the view of PhD or master’s student you’ve supervised would have of you. Now you’ve listed these outputs we really do want to emphasise that whatever you do in the future, these won’t be lost or erased. They’re outputs you’ve created and experience you’ve gained. The impact you’ve had on your research, on the people you’ve worked with isn’t lost regardless of whatever you choose to do in the future as you move forward. As we’ve discussed, getting hung up on costs you’ve already expended can stop you from moving on and exploring new possibilities or careers. You may want to address this by setting yourself a trigger point. A trigger point is analogous with a gambler setting themselves a limit or folding, or a mountaineer setting themselves a point at which they know they need to turn back. Setting these points or changing direction isn’t a waste of effort or a failure. In these analogous examples, the consequences of not setting or ignoring their trigger points can be catastrophic. To set your own career trigger point you need to set a clear measurable threshold that once – or if – it’s met you change your career direction. If we stick with the analogy of gambling: a trigger point may be once I’ve lost £50 at roulette, I’ll leave the casino and go and do something else. The something else isn’t the important part of the statement. What is crucial is setting and sticking to the threshold point that you’ve set. If we consider a hypothetical postdoc now setting themselves a career trigger point of when they will stop pursing a career in academia, the trigger point statements could look something like: I’ll submit a particular number of fellowship applications. If I’m not successful I’ll start to look for career opportunities beyond academia. I’ll try to get a tenure-tracked role for a particular number of years. If I’ve not achieved this by a year, I’ll do something else. Or if I haven’t got a permanent academic role by a particular month or year, I’ll look elsewhere for a job. Again the important part is committing to change career trajectory if the conditions of the trigger point is met. If you find yourself making decisions based on sunk cost fallacy-type thinking, there are a few things that you can do to counter this. Firstly, by realising that in this context the sunk nature of the cost is itself a fallacy, you’ve not lost anything. You won’t lose anything by moving on or changing your career direction. You take all of your experience, knowledge and outputs with you. Instead of focussing on the time and effort that you’ve already expended, focus on what you want for yourself right now and in the future. When making a decision about whether to persist with your current course of action or not, you could ask yourself: firstly what would I gain if I stuck with this option and what would I lose if I switched? Then the reverse; what would I lose if I stuck with this option and what would I gain if I switched? If you’re still unsure if you’re deciding base d on facts or not, think back through the whole chain of decisions that have led you to this point. When reviewing each decision in the chain, ask yourself: if you are presented with the same choice again would you make the same decision? If not, why not? Another approach you might wish to take is to try… Another approach you might wish to take is to get you to think… Another approach you might wish to try out gets you to think through several steps. Here it’s worth starting by viewing yourself as a being that has just magically popped into existence, with all of your skills, experience and knowledge – but no history. You go through your present considering all of your skills, to considering the options that are ahead of you, and finally discussing your decisions and reasoning with an impartial third party to essentially double-check that your decisions aren’t rooted in sunk cost fallacy-type thinking. As we draw to the end of this session what are your next steps? As you build on your career development going forward, remember to check your thinking – or that of your peers – for sunk cost fallacy reasoning. Check you’re making decisions for future you and not being beholden to past you. Have a go at one of the approaches we’ve presented to help make a decision in the future. You may wish to reflect on decisions you’ve previously made to see if you’ve learned… To see if, now that you’ve learned about the sunk cost fallacy, you’re faced with the same decision now you’d make a different choice. Lastly, you can think about setting your own trigger point. Thank you for your time.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]