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How To Fight a Powerless Feeling When It Really Matters

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Five-minute technique can boost confidence and performance in high-stakes situations.

Self-affirmation can boost performance for people who are put in positions of low power, a new study finds.

Thinking or writing about your family, your strengths or something that is important to you boosts confidence and performance.

This can even work when self-affirming about a situation which is apparently irrelevant to the situation. 

Dr Sonia Kang, an organisational psychologist at the University of Toronto, who led the study, said:

“Most people have experienced a time in their lives when they aren’t performing up to their potential.

They take a test or have a performance review at work, but something holds them back.

Performance in these situations is closely related to how we are expected to behave.”

The study involved putting some people in positions of high power and others in positions of low power.

Then people carried out high-stakes negotiations.

Before doing so, though, some were given a short exercise in self-affirmation.

Dr Kang explained the principle:

“You should reflect on things that you know are good about yourself.

Anyone has the potential to do really well.

It’s how you respond under pressure that makes a key difference.”

The researchers found that self-affirmation boosted people’s confidence and performance, despite the low power situation into which they had been placed.

Dr Kang said:

“Writing down a self-affirmation may be more effective than just thinking it, but both methods can help.

Before a performance review, an employee could write or think about his best job skills.

Writing or thinking about one’s family or other positive traits that aren’t associated with the high-stakes situation also may boost confidence and performance.

Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations.

Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat.”

The research was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Shirako et al., 2015).

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