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Confidence Is Freedom: Here’s How To Use The ‘Science Of Agency’ To Build it
Explore these 5 ways today!
Hello friend! 👋
If you attended the 30-day becomeSUPER Challenge in May’23, you’d remember me talking about freedom and how it directly impacts our well-being.
Research shows that autonomy (freedom) is the #1 need we have; once satisfied, we make choices that stem from internal (and abundant) motivation.
In the becomeSUPER challenge, I covered three levels of freedom:
Financial Freedom: the ability to afford what you wish to get
Psychological Freedom: the ability to trust that you’ll figure it out
Physiological Freedom: the ability to physically do the activities you want
(btw reply to this email if you’re curious about joining the next cohort of becomeSUPER Challenge)
This article is about the second freedom, having confidence in your abilities.
Prof. Albert Bandura calls it agency, and there are 5-ways that have been extensively researched and proven as ways to build agency.
Use these ways to build confidence in yourself or in others when coaching and mentoring/managing a team.
Let’s dive straight in!
Before we begin, some etymology to set the stage: confidence comes from Latin confidere, meaning intense trust. Intense trust in your abilities to do what is needed to achieve the outcome desired!
1. Direct Experiences
As per research, this is the most effective way to building agency.
We know that already - nothing teaches you a lesson better than experiencing it personally.
Keep in mind, experiences alone do not create the learning - it is reflecting on those experiences that bring out what worked and what didn’t, thereby establishing the learning and future strategies/plans.
Confidence is built as more experiences as racked up. This is why athletes have a rigorous practice system. Pay attention to these two points when wanting to build confidence:
Repetition matters: chop down the goal/task into smaller sections so you can take action and have a direct experience
Up-leveling is key: ensure the challenge is increased as confidence builds up to maintain the growth factor (much like your gym workouts)!
2. Role Modeling
Although not as strong as direct experiences, role modeling can be a contributor to building confidence.
We are social creatures. We form groups and thrive in communities. One of the positive aspects of communities is the ability to allow others to “imitate” or follow a path.
But role modeling isn’t simply copying, it is about getting inspired by the possibilities of what can be done.
In fact, the earliest studies on agency were by Bandura in the 70s, where it was observed in a behavioral lab that children were more likely to beat an inflatable clown after seeing an adult do that action.
It doesn’t matter if the role model is dead or alive.
In today’s world, we have infinite access to people who we can role model:
Social media and online personalities
Stories and characters in books, movies, and shows
3. Social Persuasion
A third aspect is through getting encouragement from others.
This is why positive feedback is SO important in an organization and in raising children.
But it isn’t possible to practice that with others when the conversation with yourself isn’t rooted in positive feedback.
To ENCOURAGE is to instill courage in others.
Foster a culture of positive feedback in your team and your close circle. Seek positive feedback and encouragement from others on areas you wish to build confidence in, and do the same with others who may need it.
4. Physiological + Emotional States
Often an aspect missed by most people, but physiology drives psychology.
We are a collection of our biochemical reactions and components. Whatever state of mind we experience is created through a complex mix of biochemical interactions and movement.
You already know this, your level of confidence when in a low mood is completely different from that when you are in a high-energy state.
To build psychological confidence:
Focus on building physical strength (recall the physiological freedom we talked about earlier)
Manage stress and emotional states through mindfulness and the resilience it builds
The last aspect is not so old but super powerful.
Visualization is as effective as physical experiences in certain instances. The mechanism is thanks to the brain’s ability to create neural pathways through thought alone.
Ever had a nightmare and felt the fear so real in you?
That’s the power of the mind, and you can use it to your benefit.
Per research on violin players, visualizing the act can be equivalent to the practice. What is critical here is to be as detailed as possible when visualizing.
So imagining the process of doing the work needed to achieve your goal, or even visualizing the outcome you wish to achieve, can help build agency towards taking steps towards it.
That’s why you have to dream BIG!
This is why so many positive psychology interventions are based on writing goals and planning toward them.
Reflect on the below questions (as you consider the five ways covered earlier):
What is one main aspect of your life you want to build more confidence in? (could be public speaking, writing online, or learning a new instrument)
For each of the five ways, outline what you will do to activate those experiences in the short and long terms.
What strengths do you have and can use to make those experiences consistent?
Like anything, we want to build awareness of what matters and make choices in line with that.
Make today count by charging up your agency, my friend.
Have a Super Sunday!
With much joy,
PS. In October, I will be running an 8-week empirically validated mindfulness program called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn more than four decades ago.
This program is the most researched mindfulness program in the world, deeply rooted in science, and has consistently been shown to deliver positive outcomes associated with increased self-awareness, as well as emotional and attentional regulation.
I studied this program at Brown University and then continued to the University of California San Diego, where I am currently teaching under mentorship.
If you’re interested in joining the program starting in October, click the link below to sign up for the orientation session and then decide if it is the right fit for you!