Snap Out of the Trance of Unworthiness

The 13-year old boys walked off the field kicking dirt and shaking their heads. Aiden anguished, “If Ben’s shot had gone in, it would have been a totally different game.”

In the first few seconds of the game, immediately after kick-off, the boys had a fast break down the right side, and suddenly Ben was in control of the ball sprinting alone at the goalie. His shot missed, barely, and there was a collective “Oooooh” from the stands as the ball went wide.

After that, the game slowed down, and eventually they lost 0-2.

According to Dr. Daniel Amen, we have thousands of little negative thoughts each day. Thousands. It’s because in any given situation, negative events and emotions have a greater impact on us than positive ones. It’s unfortunate, but true. It’s why negative political campaigns have a greater influence on the emotions and decisions of voters than positive campaigns.

This negativity bias can be triggered by small interactions and sometimes hold fast in our minds for a long time. A colleague recently mentioned to me that she can’t stand someone else we both know. I was surprised, and asked why, since he seemed like such a nice person. She explained that once, years ago, he ignored her ideas at an important meeting.

According to Jonathan Haidt, psychologist at NYU, “Over and over the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.”

When we are in a negative mental state we also close down intellectually and creatively. We lose our attention span, and our ability to think holistically and systemically.

According to positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions have the inverse effect. Positive emotions deepen our attention, and widen our intellectual and social connections. In other words, choosing positive emotions in the face of distressing events will lead us to becoming more generous, thoughtful, and intellectually curious.

“Positivity transforms us for the better. This is the second core truth about positive emotions. By opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.”
– Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.

Here’s an idea from Dr. Daniel Amen, on how to switch your thinking. When an automatic negative thought pops into your head (I suck, my work sucks, he never listens to my ideas, etc..) do this: Write it down, ask yourself if it’s true, then challenge and discard that idea. It’s an effective tool used in counseling and can help shift your thinking.


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
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A Mental Trick to Achieving Your Big Goals


O, the places you will go! In this season of graduation and change, anything is possible.

We’re told from a very young age we can do anything we set our mind to. Olympic gold medal winner Seth Wescott once signed a poster for our son, and wrote on it, “Go big! Live your dreams.”

Sometimes our dreams are accomplished, and sometimes they go unfulfilled, for years and even decades. Remember the movie, Up, in which it took a lifetime to get to Angel Falls?

angelfallsWe have dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be. And that’s good. But the strange thing is, the more idealized our dreams are, the more unlikely and demotivating they become.

For example, those enrolled in a weight reduction class, who most earnestly envisioned fantastic weight loss, and a brand new body, had the least amount of weight loss six months, and one year later. And later regained most of what they lost.

In the study, researchers Gabriele Oettingen and Thomas Wadden asked the participants at the beginning of the study to finish hypothetical scenarios. For example,

You have just completed a year long weight loss program. Tonight you have made plans to go out with an old friend whom you haven’t seen in about a year. As you wait for your friend to arrive, you imagine ….

Those who fantasized about a transformed body, and significant weight loss, turned out to be the least likely to be successful after 17 weeks and 52 weeks. Oettingen found other examples of how grand fantasies sabotaged goals: College graduates who dreamed of excellent future jobs, had fewer offers, and submitted fewer applications, than those who had lesser aspirations.

Aspiration is good. Dreaming and fantasizing about future success gives direction to our energy, but not momentum. We need to add some intelligence to our motivational strategies. Here is a simple strategy Oettingen has found to work in many different goal settings.

How Does It Work?
First, identify a wish that is dear to you. Hold that in your mind. It should be a goal that is both challenging, yet possible to be self-fulfilled. In other words, it’s a dream that doesn’t require you to control external forces like the stock market or the weather. The goal here is to identify what is both challenging in your life, yet feasible.

Next, identify in your mind what is the best possible outcome of that specific goal. And here’s the reframing part: Instead of focusing on the end result, ask “What is it within me that stands in the way?” To put it another way, think of the obstacles that will occur along the path to accomplishing your goal, and what you can do specifically to counteract each obstacle.

The key here is to be specific about planning on doing specific actions when anticipated obstacles arrive. So tell yourself, “When obstacle X presents itself, I will do Y instead of what I usually do.”

What we are doing in this exercise is starting with the idealized future and then contrasting that with current reality. This is what Gabriele Oettingen calls Mental Contrasting. It’s the contrast between an envisioned goal, and the reality of how we currently confront obstacles that stand in our path to achieving these goals.

Why Does It Work?
The reason this technique of mental contrasting works is that our subconscious mind is lazy and prefers routine and habit. Left alone, we will likely fall into our familiar routines and ruts. By forcing ourselves to acknowledge realities and obstacles, and then visualize how we will deal with each roadblock, we create a mental plan of action for taking small, incremental steps toward our goals.

Another useful aspect of mental contrasting is that it helps us understand what to let go of. For example, our friend dreamed of owning a 42-foot school bus and completely renovating the interior to be a beautiful custom mobile home, complete with a kitchen, bedroom, storage, and more. He even purchased a bus, which then sat in his driveway for a few years tormenting him as a reminder of unfulfilled dreams.

But instead of languishing over an unfulfilled dream, he redefined the goal, and changed the path to achieve it. He sold the bus and bought a cool Mercedes utility van which he refurbished to travel in, and is now out smiling on the open road.

Dream big, and then hold that dream against the reality of how you deal with each obstacle along the way.


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Being Available Is Not the Same as Being Engaged

Many things we chase after in our lives are elastic. The amount of twitter followers we chase, the number of likes on an instagram post, the amount of money we make, and the number of fitbit steps we take each day. We think these numbers can just keep going up and up if we work hard enough, chase it hard enough.

But our time is finite. By age 50 we have had just over 18,000 days to share. That may sound like a lot or it may sound like a little depending on your point of view, but one thing is true: that’s all the days there are. No more. Which is why, in a very real sense, our time is the most precious gift in the world. And time spent focused and engaged pays dividends. It’s true in almost all aspects of life.

Make no mistake. Time measured merely in quantity, not quality, can be ineffectual, and sometimes detrimental. Offering lots of your time to your colleagues, your friends, your partner, or your kids, when you are distracted, nervous or stressed-out, has a negative effect.

According to a 2015 study on parental involvement, over the past forty years, the time invested in our kids has been going up. In general that’s a good thing. And for it to be a great thing, the time spent needs to have quality and meaning. It turns out that when the researchers measure impact based on the sheer volume of time spent with kids, there is almost no relationship to how our kids turn out – not in reading and math scores, not in emotional well-being, and not in behavior.

“I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes. . . . Nada. Zippo,” – Melissa Milkie, Sociologist, University of Toronto

That comprehensive report got a lot of parents upset and angry at Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte because they had quit their jobs, compromised their own sleep, and distanced themselves from their own well-being to spend time with their kids. But time spent with others when we are exhausted, stressed and feeling alienated from our professional lives isn’t time well-spent.

The key variable in the study when making a difference in the lives of our kids is the amount of time spent being simply “available” versus being “engaged”. Being available isn’t the same as being engaged. In the study there was, however, one exception to the “time spent” finding. Researchers did find that time spent being simply accessible and available did have a positive impact on the behavioral outcomes during the teenage years.

Being present with others is an act of compassion. And compassion and kindness is the most sought-after trait in the human experience. Researcher David Buss studied 10,000 people in 37 countries to figure out the most powerful attractor in a lifelong mate. It wasn’t money, and it wasn’t beauty, and it wasn’t even intelligence.

The #1 characteristic desired around the world when looking for a long-term relationship is kindness and compassion to others. Give your time, your focus and your energy to those around you. It’s a small act of leadership we can all do.


    Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

    Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Resiliency: How to Rise to Your Potential

“Some of my greatest pleasures have come from finding ways to overcome obstacles.”
– John Wooden

Considered one of the greatest speed skaters of all time, Dan Jansen was favored to win the gold medal in both the 500M and 1000M races at the 1988 Olympics. Just a week before the Olympics, Dan was on top of the skating world when he won the World Sprint Championships. He was fit and prepared.

As the Olympic race day grew closer, Dan’s sister Jane was getting sicker and sicker battling leukemia. In the early morning hours, the same day of the 500M race, Dan’s sister died in a hospital surrounded by loved ones. Dan was shocked and stunned as he deliberated whether to race. Believing his sister would want him to compete, he went to the track to warm up.

He later said in those moments while warming up he didn’t even feel like it was himself inside his skin. He felt he had forgotten how to skate. In the 500M race, Dan lost an edge and went down just after the first turn. A couple of days later in the 1000M, he again lost his feel for the ice, slipped and went down.

Four years later, in 1992 in Albertville, France, Dan was again on the ice ready to compete in the 500M and 1000M races. Just two weeks before the Olympics he had set a world record. He said he was super confident he would win, and at the starting line he felt completely calm, without anxiety or nerves. Of his Olympic opportunities up until then, this was Dan’s time to shine. He knew there was no other competitor who could beat him that day. In the 500M race, Dan took 4th place. In the 1000M race, Dan came in 26th.

Later, he couldn’t explain it. He didn’t fall. It was as if he was skating as someone else. He wasn’t nearly as fast as his recent times would predict him to be.

In 1994, the winter Olympics were held in Lillehammer, Norway. At his physical and training peak, this would likely be Dan’s last shot at an Olympic medal. Over the two years since the last Olympics, Dan had posted the five fastest times in history, and was the only speed skater ever to break 36 seconds in the 500M race.

In the 500M race Dan lost an edge on the final turn and slipped badly – not falling outright, but effectively losing the race. Now in his fourth Olympics without a medal, he was stunned and baffled, but not despondent. He later said he was confused, but he didn’t despair. In his failure, he was disappointed, but motivated. Instead of resignation, he felt inspired to succeed.

Dan said when the gun went off for the final race of his Olympic career, he felt “incredible.” He said that time slowed down, his efforts felt easy and instinctive. He felt as if he was in slow motion, with plenty of time to be hyper-aware of his surroundings. Glancing up at the split times on the clock during the race, he saw that he was skating faster than he had ever before, in fact faster than anyone had ever skated. And he still had more in the tank. He won that race, and set a world record doing it.

He said the first thought that went through his mind at that moment was, “I finally skated to my potential at the Olympics.” He had no idea yet if it was worth a medal or not. And he didn’t care. On his victory lap, he carried his daughter Jane, named after his sister.

That final race was the culmination of years of preparation, resolve and resiliency. Remember never to be defined by a moment. Each event, and each day, is but another opportunity to fall forward.

“Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time”
– John Wooden


Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Your Sleep is Your Secret Weapon. All-Nighters Don’t Scale.

Captain Joseph Hazelwood was the centerpiece of the Exxon Valdez spill. He was allegedly drunk and incapable of operating the oil tanker competently. But evidence later revealed Hazelwood wasn’t even at the helm at the time the ship struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. In fact, he was asleep in his bunk and had left third mate Gregory Cousins at the helm. Cousins, along with most of the crew, was deeply sleep deprived. Recent layoffs and overtime scheduling had left the crew exhausted.

Testimony before the National Transportation Safety Board revealed First Mate Cousins had been awake for “at least 18 hours” prior to the impact on Bligh Reef.

chernobyl-nuclear-radiation-110420-02Many experts believe Chernobyl to be the worst nuclear accident in history. 81 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine, Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986 after workers spent the day attempting routine maintenance procedures to adhere to safety guidelines. Two explosions in quick succession blew the nuclear plant apart killing two workers instantly. Over the following hours more died due to acute radiation sickness. While the official count is 28 deaths due to the incident, experts believe thousands were impacted. The site and surrounding area will uninhabitable by humans for 20,000 years. Reports show workers had been at their stations for 13 hours or more prior to the explosion.

Forty-six year old William Rockefeller says he “nodded off” as the train he was piloting entered a 30mph turn at over 80mph, promptly derailed and nearly shot into the Hudson River.

The latest sought-after company perk turns out to be the forty-hour work week.

Having been lost for the last few years in the always-on digital leash economy, many companies are bringing back the old-fashioned forty-hour work week. The latest of company culture changes is a focus on limiting the amount of hours people are expected to work. The Center for Creative Leadership recently did a study recently showing that professionals with Smartphones (like, everyone) are connected to their work up to 18 hours a day, often checking their email during the night.

Ryan Sanders co-founded a staffing company called BambooHR about five years ago. Tired (literally) of the go-go workaholic mentality he saw in the 1990s, his company now enforces a 40-hour work week. That’s right, they have specific policies to enforce 40-hour weeks. If you are still at your desk at 5:30pm Ryan will probably visit you and ask what’s up. But if your work problem persists, you could be fired. One of his software developers nearly lost her job after putting in a few 60 to 70 hour weeks.

And it’s not just small start-ups. Big organizations are following suit, recognizing that sleep and health precedes quality work. Volkswagen has turned off employee email when their work hours end. The gesture was blunt and direct. To avoid employees constantly checking their smartphones, Volkswagen simply turned them off. Goldman Sachs has turned to hiring junior analysts not as temporary contractors any longer, but as full time employees to indicate their faith in a long-term relationship.

The reason is clear: when you are exhausted your work quality detoriorates and your decision-making ability falls off a cliff. There’s a reason why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture. Psychological effects include hallucination, disorientation, recklessness, over-optimism, apathy, lethargy, and even social withdrawal. There is clear empirical data showing that health-care professionals make a higher number of errors when sleep-deprived.

NTSA estimates up to 100,000 traffic accidents occur annually due to fatigue. Turn it off. Shut it down. It’s not as urgent as you might think. And your sleep will be a better performance-booster than poring through spreadsheets until 11pm again. Or as Russ Cohn, CEO and serial entrepreneur likes to say, “All-nighters don’t scale. Just because you’ve done two or ten all-nighters, it doesn’t make it a sustainable strategy for growth.”


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Three Simple Secrets of High-Performing Pro Teams


Next time you’re standing at the gate waiting to get on a flight, watch when the crew shows up. Watch how they interact with each other. Do they laugh? Do they ask questions they don’t know the answer to? Does it sound like they are listening well to one another? Or do they ask questions out loud – to no one in particular – and answer themselves?

They are all pros, and they work at the same airline, but there’s a very good chance they have never met each other. Yet, it turns out that how these professionals interact in the first few minutes will tell you a lot about how effective as a team they are going to be up in the sky shortly.

Mary Waller, a researcher at York University in Toronto, has been studying something she and her colleagues call “swift-starting expert teams.” Swift-starting teams of experts are everywhere – TV news crews, Emergency response teams, event organizers.

These are teams comprised of highly-specialized professionals who assemble for a specific job or task, and often have little or no prior interaction with each other.

Specifically members of swift-forming experts teams:

  • Are competent and familiar with complex work environments
  • Work quickly under situations of time pressure
  • Have a stable role on the team but ad hoc team membership
  • Have complex, interdependent tasks that rely on interactions with teammates

“The first 15 minutes of interaction predicted the entire flight performance.”
– Mary Waller

It turns out that how they interact with one another during just the first 15-20 minutes is highly predictive of how they will perform as a team for the entire duration of the job. The reason is that interaction patterns established early in these relationships usually persist throughout the operation.

Waller and her colleagues tracked each piece of dialogue uttered and identified the patterns in which they develop. For example, “Input the coordinates” is a command. “We have good weather today” is an observation. “Maybe we should ask tower control” is a suggestion and “What should our heading be?” is an inquiry. They categorized communication to include disagreement, humor, anger, small-talk, etc.

Secret #1: Simple and Consistent

What they discovered is that patterns of interaction often emerge quickly and persist throughout the relationship. And the highest-performing teams established patterns that were simple, consistent, reciprocal and balanced with one another. The lowest-performing teams had greater variety of conversational patterns, more unique communication patterns, and members who showed a lack of reliance on other team members.

Secret #2: Short and Targeted

While big locker room pep-talks or command-center speeches look good on television, they aren’t terribly effective in driving team excellence. The most effective teams kept their communication short, precise and targeted to a specific task or job sequence.

Secret #3: Balanced

In the study, the researchers measured what they called “reciprocity.” That is, to what extent the team members relied on each other and balanced the participation of communication. For example, if a team member showed “mono-actor” behavior of asking and answering their own questions, it demonstrated they showed less reliance, and less reciprocity on other team members.

Here’s an interesting twist in the study. The researchers hypothesized that any “mono-acting” behavior (when someone asks and answers their own questions) would be on that part of the pilot currently in control. They thought that the person with command of the airplane would be the one offering the least reciprocity.

Nope, it was the PNF (pilot not flying), who lacked control of the plane who exhibited the greatest amount of mono-acting behavior – in other words, was the least team player.

The truth is we are all pros. Our jobs are likely specialized and specific to our own unique talents. And that trend is continuing. Increasingly, organizations are hiring specialists, and job tenure is shortening – meaning we are all working more and more in swift-starting expert teams.

Keep it simple, targeted, and balanced, and your team will soar.


outthink_book_coverShawn Hunter is the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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The False Promise of Multitasking

Young businesswoman sitting at a meeting, using mobilephone.


Leadership presence requires being present.
– Scott Eblin

Pressure to be more productive in today’s workplace was been escalating for years. And many of us have a false impression that by attempting to do many things at once, by multitasking, we are being more productive.

Car and Driver magazine wanted to figure out just how dangerous texting and driving can be, compared to drunk driving. So they rented an 11,800 foot airport runway in the middle of Michigan and put Jordan (22 years old) and Eddie (37) behind the wheel.

They rigged up a red light in the middle of the windshield to represent brake lights in front of the driver. A passenger had a little remote control to activate the light randomly and measure their response times. They tested the drivers at both 35mph and 70mph. The average reaction time while sober and paying attention was .54 seconds to start braking. Now they had a sober baseline.

Then they asked the drivers to pick up their smartphone and A) read funny quotes from Caddyshack and then B) text funny quotes from Caddyshack while driving. Reaction times varied of course, but all were worse than the undistracted versions of themselves. Some were considerably worse. Reaction times shown below in distance traveled:

  • Reading Caddyshack quotes: up to 188 feet before reacting
  • Texting Caddyshack quotes: up to 319 feet before reacting

Then they took a break and chilled out on the tarmac to get a good buzz on. They mixed up some vodka and OJ and goofed away an hour or so until the drivers blew a .08 on the breathalyzer. Then they repeated the test. Reaction travel distances shown below:

  • Driving with BAC of .08: add up to 7 feet (at 35 mph)
  • Driving with BAC of .08: add up to 17 feet (at 70 mph)

That’s right. It’s not even close. Reading or texting on your smartphone is way more impairing than driving drunk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration puts the official estimate at 6x more dangerous than driving drunk. The Car and Driver experiment puts it at more like 16x.

Driving is second nature to most of us. It just requires paying attention and following the traffic rules. Obviously texting impairs that. But what about our work? Active listening, mental processing, creative engagement, and problem-solving all require much higher cognitive and collaborative participation. So, when we are texting and emailing while in meetings, or on conference calls, what’s our impairment level? 20x? 30x?

Or a better question might be “What’s the business opportunity loss when the people in my company are constantly distracted?”

It’s not news to anyone that multitasking is debilitating in many ways. The simple action of switching from one task to another is in itself, a cognitive drain. Not only that, simply attempting to multitask lowers your IQ performance to that of nearly an 8-year old.

And while 8-year olds are definitely creative, they are only creative when they’re paying attention.

Put the phone down and no one gets hurt.

2 Small Things that Make the Biggest Difference


Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul. – Douglas MacArthur

Imagine a race in which you don’t know where the course is, what you might be asked to do along the way, or even how long the race will last. Imagine that when you sign up for this race, you are told, immediately and repeatedly, to quit before you even start.

You are warned you might die. And even if you don’t die, you don’t have what it takes to finish anyway, so you shouldn’t bother showing up. The emails from the race director say “Stay home. You don’t have what it takes.”

The brochure reads:

A positive outlook on life is mandatory. Whiners and complainers need not to apply. This is not the race for you. Awards will be presented to those that finish. We don’t plan on handing out too much. No refunds.

During the course of this “race” which has no finish line, you may be asked to dig up a tree stump with your bare hands and then drag it ten miles to the top of a mountain, where you will be greeted by someone who asks you to memorize poetry. You then drag the tree stump down the mountain six miles to somewhere and recite the lines. You get it wrong. You hike six miles back to memorize it until you get it right.

The 2013 version lasted three days. Less than 15% finished. Genius, talent and education are the least of the discerning factors.

Why do some people accomplish more than others of equal intelligence? This was the question Angela Duckworth and her colleagues posed when embarking on a study in 2004 to measure people’s level of “grit.” Surveying the available research regarding traits beyond intelligence that contribute to success, Duckworth and her colleagues found it lacking in the specific area regarding the influence of possessing this quality, which they defined as follows:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.

Grit is the combination of two characteristics:

  1. consistency of task
  2. perseverance through adversity

The researchers initiated their own study to develop something they call the “Grit Scale.” After generating a series of questions intended to measure “grittiness,” (for example, “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge,” “I finish whatever I begin”), the researchers set up a questionnaire on their website, Their results reveal higher levels of grit correlate with higher levels of education. The results also showed that grit tends to increase with age. Those individuals with high levels of grit also tend to have fewer career changes. Yet more surprisingly, those identified as possessing high levels of grit often had high grades in school yet scored more poorly on Standard Achievement Tests, suggesting that, despite lower scholastic aptitude, their perseverance and tenacity yielded stronger overall academic results.

The study gets even more interesting when the researchers decided to apply their Grit Scale to the 2004 incoming class of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Just getting into West Point is famously difficult. Entrance requires a nomination from a member of Congress or from the Department of Army. Once accepted, each entering cadet is evaluated on the Whole Candidate Score, which takes into consideration school grade-point average, Scholastic Aptitude Test results, physical fitness, class rank, and evidence of demonstrated leadership ability.

This comprehensive evaluation process for those applying to the academy is necessary to help the academy predict not only the graduation rate, but also the likelihood that entering freshman will finish an arduous summer entrance session known as “Beast Barracks,” or more simply “Beast.” Nearly 100 percent of the freshman cadets also took the Grit Scale test in 2004, and its results proved to be a better predictor of whether or not a cadet would survive Beast Barracks than the military’s own sophisticated and complexly designed evaluation tests.

It is these two small simple things: perseverance and passion for long-term goals, plus a willingness to remain tenacious in the face of adversity that can make all the difference.

[photo: Bethany Hamilton photographed by Noah Hamilton]

The 8 Sources of True Confidence

Whether you think you can, or you can’t — you’re right.
– Henry Ford

Confidence. That elusive je ne sais quoi quality. It’s like art, you know it when you see it. You know it when you feel it. The thing is, confidence isn’t summoned on demand from the heavens. Confidence isn’t brought on by clenching your fists. Although you can strike a power pose and allow a burst of dopamine to create a burst of confidence, true and profound confidence comes from …

One way you can step up on the field, on the stage, or at the meeting with strong confidence, is if you have done the work that will set you apart. Being prepared ranks as one of the highest confidence measures among professional athletes. Competence is almost always a strong predictor of confidence.

Visualizing Past (and Future) Performance
Recollecting past positive performances can give you a confidence advantage. When you take a moment to recollect a time in which you were previously successful, you’ll fuel a sense of confidence that you can repeat that success. Just as powerful is visualizing future success. Common among high performing professionals and athletes is visualizing the events unfolding in the most positive light. Wayne Rooney does this before every soccer match:

“Part of my preparation is I go and ask the kit man what color we’re wearing — if it’s red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You’re trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a ‘memory’ before the game. I don’t know if you’d call it visualizing or dreaming, but I’ve always done it, my whole life… you need to visualize realistic things that are going to happen in a game.” (David Winner interview)

Great Coaching
There are many aspects to great coaches that can instill confidence, but the greatest coaches have the ability to be honest, specific and positive all at the same time. Honest, in that they don’t ignore the behavioral or performance weaknesses of the people they coach, but instead address weaknesses head on. Great coaches provide correctional advice that is both specific and positive.

For example, if you are practicing a presentation and constantly turn your back to the audience and read bullet points, your coach might say, “You know your content. Turn and face your audience and smile. They can read your bullet points on their own. Or even better, tell your audience a story that illustrates the bullet points on the slide.”

Innate Advantages
If your team is simply bigger, faster, and stronger, you will likely show up with more confidence. Just don’t let confidence become arrogance. If your firm simply has more capacity and resources than the competition, your team will likely enter the proposal negotiations with more confidence.

Social Support
First-time parents, exercise clubs, cooking classes, and OCD groups all get together for one purpose: to support each other through a specific change, or toward a specific goal. When you feel a little lost or unsupported, that’s a good time to reach out to those in your work or community who are experiencing the same pain point. You aren’t as unique as you think, and you can bet someone else is going through the same issue. Asking for help is the first sign of strength.

Competitive Advantage
The sun is in their eyes, the field is tilted, their lane is full of gravel, or the competition simply has a crappy internet connection. Recognizing a competitive advantage is a valuable source of confidence. The key is you have to do the diligence to recognize the advantages you might have. This is when competitive sleuthing can be valuable to help you both recognize, and articulate clearly to the customer what your advantages are.

Contrary to the old wisdom of positive self-talk such as “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” using positive questions is much more powerful as a confidence booster. If instead you say to yourself, “Can I do this?” you will have to answer the question in your mind and be specific about how you will overcome the obstacle, win the debate, or conquer the challenge. Be both positive and explicit in your self-talk is much stronger than simply repeating “I think I can.”

Could be the biggest factor here in team settings. I once watched a dynamic, high trust youth soccer team crush a team of hand-picked all-stars. The all-stars been told that each of them was amazing, so they played like that. The kids passed the ball as little as possible and selfishly worked for their own glory. The other team was a team – a team that had built the strength, experience, and trust of each other over years of working together. They were never told that individually they were great. They had built their wins by always relying on each other.

Have a goal? You can double your odds of success.

Make_a_PromiseA colleague called me yesterday and said, “I want to talk about commitment.” We had just finished brainstorming an idea over a few days and we both agreed we had something good, quite good, excellent actually. She wanted to have that conversation about accountability, about follow through. Which got me thinking about how to improve the odds of completing anything we set our minds to.

A group of researchers in California did an interesting study in which they randomly assigned people to five different groups. All five groups had to think about and prioritize goals they wanted to accomplish over the next four weeks.

  • All Groups had to think about their goals
  • Group 2 through 5 had to write them down
  • Group 3 had to also write specific action items
  • Group 4 had to also share those action items with someone
  • Group 5 had to also share those action items and progress regularly

Group 1 had a 43% completion rate on the goals they thought about, which is a little better than the 29% who actually complete marathon training schedules and show up at the starting line. But those in Group 5 who had to not only write down their goals, but be specific, and share their progress regularly had a 76% completion rate.

It’s why every support group imaginable exists – from cooking classes to exercise bootcamps to beekeeping clubs. When we build a cohort of supportive peers and hold ourselves accountable to them on a regular basis, success happens.

One of the most simple and effective accountability tools I know goes like:

  1. Write down up to 20 things you want to improve on. It can be anything from making people laugh to doing more pushups to making dinner for your kids. Anything.
  2. Next turn those goals into simple yes/no questions such as, Did you make someone smile today? You can also frame the questions to require a number answer, such as “How many miles did you run today?” No questions requiring elaborate answers. Keep it simple.
  3. Now give those questions to someone who will call you up every day, or twice a week and ask you your own questions.

When you know you have to testify to someone you care about on the goals that you want to accomplish, you will show up, you will do the work, make the difference, and answer that call every day prepared to give answers you believe in.

Specificity + Accountability + Consistency = Results.