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“I believe that we can ‘all’ perform miracles, it’s all up here”, says actor Cuba Gooding Jr., signalling his head. He is playing the role of neurosurgeon Dr Ben Carson in the 2009 film ‘Gifted Hands’, recently released by Netflix. Whether the script reveals his true words or not, the fact is that in real life, he ends up performing a miracle. After twenty-two hours of surgery, he separates twins conjoined at the back of their heads, with both children surviving, for the first time.
Even though the procedure impacted the twins' lives later on, Dr Ben Carson managed to take on this very complex case and conducted a successful surgery at the time. After extensive preparation, Dr Carson experiences an ‘insight’ moment while playing billiards by himself.1 This allows him to formulate a plan to perform this difficult operation.
Watching this movie made me think about the word ‘miracle’ and its association with supernatural events. Some scientists believe the brain may be able to explain some of these miraculous moments. For example, some believe the placebo effect and the power of suggestion may be responsible for the miraculous healing that has been reported.2
Others believe the brain can produce altered states of consciousness that lead to feelings of transcendence.3 While these events might not be easy to explain, the power of the brain to produce these experiences cannot be denied. Miracles are not just extraordinary events that we cannot explain. They can also be small acts that we initiate to make a difference in someone’s life.
Miracles come in many forms. It could be something as simple as a smile, a positive word, or a hug. It could also be more substantial, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or accomplishing something we thought impossible.
When you feel uninspired,
I encourage you to start noticing
the miracles in your life.
What happened to you today
that was unexpected
and had a positive effect?
Did you do anything
that positively changed
the people around you?
‘Gifted Hands’ is a must-see for motivation and hope. The film shows what people call ‘miracles’ are, in many cases, a combination of hard work, dedication and perseverance sprinkled with epiphanies that take place when our brains are calm (playing billiards could have induced this brain state). This calm state may allow us to imagine a potential outcome more effectively.4
I believe that experiencing or witnessing ‘miracles’ can give us the confidence to continue our journey through life, particularly when things are tough. Studying the life of accomplished people is one of the things I love to do. I consider this a resource of high value, particularly during those times when I have felt stagnant or did not have the confidence to do something I had not done before.
The whole world is a series of miracles, but we're so used to them that we call them ordinary things.
Hans Christian Andersen
One of my latest study subjects has been former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. Much has been written about her, but one thing that drew my attention was an interview when she talked about the ‘confidence gap’.
She noticed how little confidence people feel about their chance to achieve something significant in their lives. This was obvious to her when talking with children as she visited schools around the country. During the interview, she was asked about any recommendations she would offer to her younger self. She replied that no matter how hard the climb might seem, ‘believing in yourself’ was key.
Her observations confirm what I frequently encounter in my work as a leadership coach. I often find those who might not be so skilful but feel confident and believe in themselves seem to get where they want much easier and quicker than those who have the skills but believe they cannot achieve the things they want.
Improving confidence is critical to getting where you want to go in life. An excellent way to start is by watching how you speak to yourself. If you find yourself saying negative things or being critical, you might want to reframe these thoughts by asking yourself, would I say these things to my best friend? Most of the time, the answer would be definitely not!
Studies by Maria Richter and collaborating scientists discovered that painful or negative words release stress and anxiety-inducing hormones.5 In other studies, scientists were able to observe that increased levels of anxiety in children were associated with higher rates of negative self-talk.6
Ultimately, negative words can have a detrimental effect on the brain. They can trigger a fight-or-flight response, whether spoken, heard or thought, potentially impairing cognitive functions, such as problem-solving and decision-making. Additionally, negative words can lead to rumination, where a person is stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts.7 This can lead to further mental health issues such as insomnia, fatigue and decreased motivation.
You might also find yourself comparing what you have been able to achieve with the achievements of others. We are all different and have unique brains and talents; our life experiences are not comparable.
Comparing yourself to others is a natural human tendency and can be a powerful motivator.8 By looking at what others do (after ensuring it is not just a fake life portrayal in social media), you can choose to learn about their achievements and get inspired to do what you want to do next. Using comparison might help you change the lens to focus on your life rather than theirs.
Finally, the concept of ‘self-efficacy’ is crucial if we are to understand how to build confidence. Cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura coined this term in 2008, a concept we might want to revert to when planning our future. Bandura defined ‘self-efficacy’ as the ‘belief in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations’.9
Putting it in simpler words, it is the belief that we have the power to influence our environment and achieve our desired outcomes. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to take on challenging tasks and persist in the face of adversity. They are also more likely to be resilient and develop strategies to cope with failure.
What is your default mindset?
Do you believe ‘you can’
or ‘you cannot’?
Believing ‘you can’ makes
you feel more confident.
As author Doug Moran explains, one of Jacinda Arden’s leadership attributes is self-efficacy. However, she didn’t just wake up and say, ‘I believe in myself. I can do anything I put my mind to.’ On several occasions, she admitted that she often struggles with self-doubt and ‘impostor syndrome’. Ardern spoke of her strategy of channelling ‘her self-doubt into a positive’. She also referred to using the feeling associated with self-doubt to focus her attention and to encourage collaboration.10
Positive beliefs about abilities are crucial for a person’s decision to engage in a task or to avoid it and are respectively linked to professional success and emotional well-being. Numerous neuroimaging studies have examined different forms of self-beliefs, but few studies investigated self-efficacy per se.11
If someone so accomplished as a Prime Minister feels self-doubt and works on it, I think we can all work on our confidence until it feels comfortable enough. Then we can stretch or challenge ourselves a bit more and try again.
Whether you choose to believe or not believe, economics provides a simple, almost trivial-sounding answer--believe something when the benefits of believing outweigh the costs, otherwise don’t.12
In my case, I have learnt to believe in myself. It does wonders for my confidence, and after extended periods of concentration and hard work, it has produced miracles.
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Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute
Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.
Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.
Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership
In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.
Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.
Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.