Confidence and self-esteem


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A look at the neuroscience of self-confidence and motivation.

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  • For many Aboriginal Australians, Country is a word for all the values, places, resources, stories and cultural obligations associated with that area and its features. It describes the entirety of their ancestral domains. I would like to acknowledge we are on the traditional lands of the Kaurna people.
  • Today I’d like to talk about brains – oh go away – and in doing so, talk about motivation and self confidence. In many ways, they are connected.
  • In caveman days, life was simple and so were our brains. We avoided pain by running away – and we hunted down pleasure – or dragged it into our caves if necessary.Thursday 13/2/1412 noon – 12:45 pm2:00 pm – 2:45 pm4:15 pm – 5:00 pm
  • Today, we still run to pleasure. Or stand in line for it. But we’ve gone beyond survival instincts and food.
  • All of us have things we love in and about our lives. What are your passionate interests? How do you run towards the?
  • Of course, we also have things that cause us pain that we run from. (Apologies to those of you who love a dentist…)
  • What do you avoid? Why?
  • The thing is, we still have the caveman brain – except most people call it the lizard brain. Over that, we have what some call the mouse brain. It’s the brain that learns by doing. On top of THAT – we have the executive function or pre-frontal cortex. It regulates attention, decision-making, reasoning and flexibility in responding. In humans that doesn’t fully develop until our early 20s. It’sWe should be pretty logical beings then – so what’s up?The answer is deep inside the brain and is called the amygdala and it is old and powerful.The amygdala is a trigger point for emotional distress, anger, impulse, fear, and so on. When this circuitry takes over, it acts as the "bad boss'" leading us to take actions we might regret later. However, it is what has kept us alive these several thousand years and it’s fairly important. And because a threat can kill us whereas pleasure rarely kills – unless it’s intrinsically harmful – The amygdala is more attuned to identifying threats – and the avoid response is therefore stronger.Long story short – human beings are – at heart, all paranoid.But what does this have to do with motivation and self esteem? Bear with me a moment and let’s talk about a Scarf.
  • Scarf is an acronym that David Rock of the Neuroscience Institute uses to describe a model of what motivates human beings to behave the way we do. It also explains a lot about self-confidence. SCARF stands for
  • Status – where one perceives oneself to sit in the pecking order. Winning a game or an argument releases dopamine. And when we feel under threat – the same areas of our brains light up as when we experience physical pain. What can we do to increase a sense of status if we’re not in charge of promotions?
  • Achieving and learning is invaluable to building self-esteem, confidence and status. You may not be top of the hierarchy at work, but if you want to progress and are passionate about what you do –learn. Take courses, get qualifications, read everything you can, join online groups and professional networks and put your passion into practice. You can also work on exceling in your areas of passion. Are you into sports? Crafts? Writing? Music? Go from good to really good – or head for great or best.
  • The Brain is a pattern recognition machine. Think about all the thought that goes into picking up a cup of coffee. Finding it hard? Probably not – unless you’ve hurt your hand and have to do it differently than you’re used to. It’s the same with riding a bike or driving or reading – when you start off doing something unfamiliar, you consciously go through a thought process. As the act becomes routine – it moves back into a burned in pattern in our brain synapses.When uncertainty strikes – or a new task is assigned, our brains see it as a threat and freak out. I consider myself reasonably smart – but it took me months to figure out how to fill in our new timesheets at work. If you can relate, here’s the trick: break down a complex task into a series of small steps and review each one. Tie it to what you know, ask questions and take notes. Create a check list and go through that. And PRACTICE. What’s important to remember is that you CAN learn. Don’t let your amygdala hijack you.
  • Autonomy is about having a level of control over what you do.The fact is that you’re not always going to be the one in control at work – or at home. In a team structure, everyone works together and in a job where you have protocols to follow, you can only be creative within the framework you’re given.Express yourself within your limits – and again, achieving and learning for work or your own passions – can satisfy a good deal of your need for autonomy. As well, learning and volunteering for more responsible tasks will show that you deserve to be trusted.
  • Our brains automatically perceive strangers as foes – which is why it is daunting to be the new person on a team or be at a party where you don’t know many people. Our amygdalas are telling us to get the hell out!Getting from foe to friend requires social interaction – which feeds our brains something called oxytocin. How do you boost your levels? Being trustworthy and trusting others. Introduce yourselves. Shake hands. Talk about the weather, the traffic, your families – when appropriate. The trust you feel for others and that others feel for you will help all of your brains to relax and achieve more.
  • An interesting thing about Fairness – How is it possible that two people from the same socioeconomic background earn five dollars for a minute’s or two interaction and one is happy and one is not? Brains!In a UCLA study, pairs of people were given different amounts of money $10 to one pair, $23 to another, to split. One person could offer the other any amount. The other could accept or decline. If they declined, neither would get money. Half the time, the people on the receiving end would agree to accept offers of just 20-30 percent of the total money – but their brains’ reward circuitry didn’t activate. The brains’ reward regions were more activated when a person received a $5 offer out of $10, than a $5 offer out of $23. It didn’t matter that the net amount was the same --
  • In every day life, a sense of unfairness can result from a lack of clear ground rules, expectations or objectives. As a staffer you can look for answers to better understand expectations. As well, consider a manager’s point of view.
  • So you can see that in knowing what motivates us – and the people around us – we can see that these motivators impact upon our self-esteem as well that of those around us. As customer service people, we can also see where some of our more unpleasant customer interactions might go wrong – and how we might help people with their feelings that their Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness or Fairness is being threatened.
  • All of us have lizard brains motivated by running from pain and to pleasure. Fortunately we also have an executive function that over-rides the lizard and the panic button that is the amygdala – or we’d never try anything new or take any risks and thus we’d never get the practice and sense of achievement that builds self confidence and self esteem which in turn creates the motivation to keep going.
  • As an Online Learning Specialist at the Institute, I deal with students over the age of 40 who tell me that IT is for young people, it’s too hard, they can’t do it. What do YOU think the greatest barrier is for these people?They THINK they can’t, so their brain helps them to achieve that negative goal. Then they berate themselves for even trying. Here’s how I try to get them out of this.
  • When a baby is learning to walk – do you think of it as failure when they fall? Do you yell at them? Or do you encourage them to keep trying and get excited when they keep trying until they succeed.Do it for yourself – prime your brain that you can and will achieve.
  • And you will.
  • Confidence and self-esteem

    1. 1. The Australian Institute of Social Relations is a division of Relationships Australia (SA) KerryJ Online Learning Specialist Australian Institute of Social Relations a Division of Relationships Australia SA Motivation and self-confidence
    2. 2. Acknowledgement of country The Kaurna people (PD) “Aboriginal Family Travelling” by W.A. Cawthorne
    3. 3. BRRRAAAINS!
    4. 4. Motivation…
    5. 5. Pleasure motivators
    6. 6. What are you good at?
    7. 7. Pain motivators
    8. 8. What do you AVOID?
    9. 9. Evolution of brains David Rock: Your Brain at Work, John Medina – Brain Rules
    10. 10. SCARF – Motivation and self confidence Status Certainty Autonomy Relatedness Fairness
    11. 11. SCARF Status
    12. 12. SCARF
    13. 13. SCARF Certainty • Break down new, complex tasks • Tie new things back to what you know • Ask questions • Write instructions • Practice
    14. 14. SCARF Autonomy
    15. 15. SCARF Relatedness
    16. 16. SCARF Fairness UCLA Source:
    17. 17. SCARF Fairness
    18. 18. SCARF – Motivation and self confidence Status Certainty Autonomy Relatedness Fairness
    19. 19. How our brains help David Rock: Your Brain at Work, John Medina – Brain Rules
    20. 20. Barriers
    21. 21. Self talk
    22. 22. The Australian Institute of Social Relations is a division of Relationships Australia (SA) KerryJ Online Learning Specialist e Motivation and self-confidence