Biofeedback, Mindfulness, and Performance
"Confidence is key. Sometimes, you need to look like you're confident even when you're not."-Vanessa Hudgens
Biofeedback is an emerging field of study that links psychological functions with physiological and neurological metrics. That might sound like a whole bunch of jargon, but it’s actually a pretty simple concept. When you’re stressed, for example, your heart rate and the brain waves you emit are a lot different than when you’re relaxed. What biofeedback does is allow you to recognize, with more than just a feeling, the state of your mind and body and how they relate to your performance. In the coming years, you can expect biofeedback to go from niche concern to widespread trend.
In one study, decoded neurofeedback was used to determine that a person’s confidence could be trained unconsciously. But for the time being, most of us won’t be able to afford, or have ready access to, reliable, accurate biofeedback systems. Instead, we must rely on mindfulness to close the gap between what we think we’re feeling and how our bodies are reacting. Many times, we ignore those physical signs, or so-called “gut feelings” that alert us that something is wrong, because we believe we can push past it. Many times we don’t actually explore why we are having those feelings and if they are getting in our way to take the next step in our careers. For women in the workplace, this process is especially important in regards to confidence.
It’s a Confidence Game
A recent study conducted by Dr. Wiebke Bleidorn, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, uncovered a large gap in self-esteem and confidence between men and women. While the study didn’t investigate the reasons behind this gap, Dr. Bleidorn offered up a theory. “I can speculate that in Western societies, women are more likely to compare themselves to men,” she states. “Men tend to have higher-status positions and higher salaries, for example, so the comparison is less favorable to women.” Lean In’s Women in the Workplace 2017 survey found that women are less represented at the higher levels of organizations, making women less optimistic about the ability to make it to the top.
In essence, because many times men have been in a position of privilege, especially in the professional sphere, they have more confidence as a result. Women may look at these patterns and believe there is only one available seat for a woman at an organization and decide not to put themselves out there — especially if there are already one or two existing senior women leaders. How do women overcome this imbalance? Often it is a matter of “fake it ‘til you make it” and confidence takes practice. You need do your best to identify what’s going on physiologically when you’re in a particular state of mind and what is holding you back so you can push past it. You need to hit the confidence switch. Jump at opportunities when they arise without throwing up roadblocks and creating reasons why not to go for what you want.
How to Harness Your Best?
The next time you’re at peak confidence, try to take stock of your heart rate, posture, and any other factors you can. Do the same thing when you’re feeling particularly tired, stressed, or beaten down. Of course, your evaluation will be a lot less precise without the aid of high-tech devices that can analyze your brain waves. Nevertheless, you’ll be surprised by how much you pick up on through mindfulness and intuition alone.
I have found that when I get nervous or have that feeling of anticipation, taking some really deep breaths and audibly exhaling begins to settle my nerves. Another tactic may be to stand up and forward fold, maybe hanging your hands to the side or grabbing your elbows to shift the energy flow. A less energetic tactic can be to simply close your eyes and settle into being silent for a few moments and monitoring the flow of your breath. All of these techniques can help settle you, so you can be more clear-minded and confident in an uncomfortable situation.
Eventually, you can use your knowledge to reverse-engineer these feelings through your physical state. If you’re headed to a big meeting or other a nerve-wracking situation, think back to that time when you were at your best. Attempt to restore your heart rate, blood pressure, and mannerisms to that state by using one of the tactics I describe above. Wear your confidence proudly, and go in and crush that meeting as your most authentic self.
Maybe someday soon we’ll all have ready access to accurate biofeedback devices. Until then, we’ll have to settle for our old-school instruments and intuition. Don’t pass up your next opportunity because of a lack of confidence, instead, be mindful of the environment around you, how you are feeling, and utilize the tools you were born with to tap into what you need to get where you want to go.