In this Mind the Product APAC talk, Janice Fraser, Partner at Seneca VC, explains what she’s discovered about confidence and reveals how we can all take control of negative thoughts.
Watch the talk in full or read on for a detailed overview. Her key points include:
- What is Confidence?
- What Helps People to Have Confidence?
- Inspiring Confidence Pros
- 5 Easy Confidence Hacks
- Putting It All Together
Janice began her talk by admitting that despite being a serial entrepreneur and having done many bold and exciting things in her career (training US Navy Seals for one!), she still experiences the odd knock to her confidence.
“Even when I was preparing to give this talk two hours ago, I was nervous. My heart was beating fast, I was kind of sweaty and having to take big breaths because I knew there would be hundreds of people watching, and I’ve never done a big keynote address remotely before,” she said. “I still have, what you might call confidence issues because, it turns out, all humans do!”
Keen to learn more about confidence, Janice started to think about what it actually is and how she can teach entrepreneurs to be more confident.
“I went looking for the psychological basis of confidence,” she said. “What is it? Is it an emotion? How does it work? And I went into that research, thinking that confidence was like a room that I could step into when I needed it. I wanted to have the keys I wanted to know where I’d find the room and how to unlock it at a moment’s notice. So that could step into confidence.”
She shared a picture of the co-working space where she spends most of her days. A beautiful room where she feels she can is in her ‘comfortable place’ and she explained that her research into confidence made her realise that the feelings she experiences when she’s not confident, are in fact, the complete opposite to those she experiences in her ‘comfortable place’.
“When I’m not confident, it’s like I’m trapped in an escape room challenge, and I just need to solve the puzzles to get out of it,” she said. “That was a huge mind shift for me.”
This, she explained, reminded her of something a colleague at Pivotal once said to her some five years earlier. “He said, I think everybody deserves to feel confident. And that has stuck with me.”
Confidence is something that ebbs and flows. Some days, you have more, others less but ultimately, she said, “everyone deserves to have confidence at work”.
Janice explained that the title of her talk “Hacking confidence”, like a hacking a system, requires you to understand how the system works, its component parts and what you can do to manipulate those component parts. “So that’s what I sought to do and what I’m sharing with you today are the results.”
What is Confidence?
As Product Managers and Product leaders, Janice explained that we need to be able to enter into negotiations, be they about what to build, what’s going right or wrong, what to measure etc, feeling like you can have difficult conversations without losing your sense of confidence. “Even if a conversation doesn’t go your way,” she said, “you should be able to walk in and out of each room, feeling confident about your own skill, and your solidness in your job”.
That confidence is the belief that you can handle whatever happens – a quiet inner knowledge that you’re capable. The opposite of which is fear and to tackle that fear, we need courage – the willingness to act even when you’re afraid to.
“I’m in my fifties and I’ve been working for 30 years in a field that is dominated by men,” she said, “and I think, looking back, that I’ve spent most of my career really engaging courage – the courage to act even though, there weren’t a lot of people like me.”
She explained that from personal experience, that the confidence she’s felt, is effortless and energising while invoking courage can be completely exhausting. Her hope, therefore, is to teach the skills needed to be able to step into challenging work situations and handle them with less effort, despite fear, in order for those situations to be less demanding and to leave our emotional, mental and physical reserves intact so that we can use it for the actual work of our jobs. “My position is that if we can shift from a fear-based moment into a confident moment, then we’re better able to be effective.”
What Helps People to Have Confidence?
Next Janice talked about what helps people with their confidence when they’re vulnerable and also, what typically impedes it.
- Things that help confidence: Validating experiences where you are recognised and rewarded for something that you are actually good at
- Things that impede confidence: invalidating experiences where you are told that you’re not supposed to do something or that you’re not good at something
A level deeper, Janice said, there are neurotransmitters and hormones involved. “It turns out that testosterone is naturally connected to a feeling of confidence,” she said. “On the other hand, cortisol, which is the stress hormone, is related to a feeling of a lack of confidence. So what we see now is that it’s not just your past experiences. It’s not just the present circumstances. It’s also what’s happening neurologically, with your hormones and with your neurotransmitters.
In short, confidence is not just physical, it’s not just situational, it’s both. And this, she said, “puts confidence squarely as part of what we call a biosocial system of emotion, a system that helped me to unlock some tactics that we can use to hack confidence.”
To introduce her tactics, she takes us back to before her talk when her heart was being fast, she was warm and had a dry mouth. “All of those are physiological responses to stress, specifically to cortisol, and adrenaline,” she said, “which tells us that confidence is part and parcel with your body’s physiology and, along with that physiological response, come thoughts.”
Take, for example, imposter syndrome, she said. “Your brain tells you things that are just not true. So when I was getting nervous a few hours ago, my brain was telling me that somehow this wasn’t going to go well, but really underneath I know, there is a lot of evidence that probably I’m going to do okay.”
In addition to our physiology and our thoughts, there’s an emotion comes with an action urge – to run away, to hide etc.
Physiology + Thoughts + Action Urges = Emotion
All of those things together, impact our effectiveness in the moment.
Inspiring Confidence Pros
Janice then gave examples of people who’ve discovered ways to take control of theirs. Who knew Freddie Mercury and Beyonce Knowles would make it into a product talk!? But make it in they did.
In particular, Janice held Beyonce up as an example of someone who uses a technique to conquer her nerves and confidence, that technique being her alter ego.
“Beyonce has a constructed persona,” she said. “When she goes on stage or when she records music, she’s not Beyonce Knowles, she’s Sasha Fierce. She’s taken all of the most badass, confident, bold things about herself and rolled them up into this persona that she calls Sasha Fierce. She says that Sasha Fierce can say and do things that Beyonce Knowles doesn’t feel equipped to say or do and I found this story fascinating.”
5 Easy Confidence Hacks
Janice wanted to explore how we can all use some of that Beyonce magic in order to invoke confidence at any moment and shared some of the techniques she’s put to the test.
1. Validate yourself
In situations where you feel vulnerable, remind yourself of a validating experience – a time where you have felt masterful.
2. Power Tokens
The idea of a power token is essentially having an object that you imbue with a feeling of power. “I’ve been teaching workshops since about 2002 and I’ve been teaching workshops using Sharpies,” she said. “I feel really confident when I go out to teach a workshop. So for me, if I’ve got my Sharpie, I feel like myself, I feel powerful.” And, she explains, your power token can be anything. “It could be a favourite pin or a necklace, for me, it’s a Sharpie. Every time I touch my pen, I know hey, I’m pretty good at this.”
Another of Janice’s power tokens is ‘the power seat’ – choosing the seat that gives her the greatest feeling of power in a meeting. “You can’t always do this,” she said, “sometimes your boss is always going to sit in the power seat. But if I can, I just naturally tend to choose the seat away from the doors so that I can watch the whole room. And for some reason, that just makes me feel like the lady in charge, even if I’m not.”
3. Paced Breathing
Breathe in for a count of 4 then out for 8 as if you’re breathing through a straw. “You can do this super subtly, nobody else in the meeting has to know.” This exercise will reduce your heart rate but the key, Janice explained, is making your mouth look like you’re blowing through a straw. “What we’re doing here is we’re managing our cortisol and testosterone levels so that we can be really effective in the moment.”
4. The Power Pose
Another quick way to deal with the feelings of adrenaline is the power pose. “It looks dorky,” said Janice, “but if you put your arms out and stand with your feet apart, for a minute and do it twice, there’s some research that shows that it actually increases your testosterone levels. And testosterone is the confidence drug.”
5. A Wall Sit
When you’re feeling really stressed and need to quickly take the edge of nervous energy, Janice recommends a wall sit. This, she told us, is where you put your back against a wall (you can do this in a bathroom stall if you’re at work and need privacy), and sit like you’re sitting in a chair. “Hold yourself up until your thighs feel so tired they want to give up. When you’re done all of the adrenaline will be cleared from your system and you’ll be able to re-enter your meeting with calm and peace.”
Putting it all Together
So how do we manage our negative thoughts and our action urges? The key, Janice explained, is to notice and name your negative thoughts as they happen. “Simply noticing will help you participate in the moment effectively,” she said, and if you want to, you can even jot them down in a notebook. It’s when you notice these moments that you can draw upon your power tokens. You should pay attention to your urges too: “When it comes to confidence, the urges you really need to pay attention to our urges to make yourself small, to not talk, to hide – we want us to notice those urges.”
Then, there are two useful tactics you can try.
1. Avoid Eye Contact
Most of us are taught that it’s polite to look someone in the eye when they’re talking. But, as Janice explained, in the moments where you need to manage your action urges, e.g. to run away from a tough conversation, and invoke a feeling of power, it can be helpful to avoid eye contact.
In fact, there’s some research to suggest that this is a tactic employed by powerful people – to not make eye contact when someone else is speaking.
For many, including Janice, this is likely to feel uncomfortable. “I’ve always been taught to really lean in and to make eye contact with the person who’s teaching me something or telling me something. I want to listen and be empathetic,” she said. “But I have tried this a few times, and it actually does make you feel like the most powerful person in the room. And that’s an interesting phenomenon. So you might want to give that a try.”
2. Be Like Rapinoe
Finally, Janice shared an image of the American soccer player, Megan Rapinoe in a power pose. “This power pose that she’s doing here is one of the images that I invoke for myself when I want to feel powerful,” said Janice. “I think how would Megan Rapinoe do this? How would Megan Rapinoe stand?
So there you go, that’s what Janice has learned about confidence in the last year and she’s shared all her hacks and secrets with you. Got more? Please share them! Use the comments below to tell your product peers how you hack confidence.
Watch the video for even more from Janice as she answers a selection of questions from the audience.