Yes, we can!

by | February 2019


Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.

Rumi (13th century Persian poet)

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit

E.E. Cummings (American artist & writer, 1894-1962)

This month we are looking at self-confidence, that often-elusive sense that we can act effectively, despite the difficulties. Its spirit was captured by Barack Obama during his first election campaign with the slogan ‘Yes, we can!’

We aren’t born doubting ourselves. If we feel hungry, we seek food. If we need comforting, we ask for it, sometimes quite loudly! So, what happens that means as adults we can tie ourselves up in knots of self-doubt? There’s no simple answer. Perhaps somewhere along the way someone in a position of power - a parent or teacher - told us we were bad at something, or wrong, and didn’t add that if we applied ourselves, we could get better at it. Or maybe our lively curiosity got squashed. Or maybe society in general told us there were some things we just couldn’t do. This is how a fixed versus growth mindset is born (see the work of psychologist Carol Dweck), and how the volume on our innate vitality gets turned down.

So, while we may have learnt low self-esteem, that doesn’t mean we can’t unlearn it, and build our self-esteem as an adult. Yes, we can!



First watch the video ‘How to build your creative confidence’ (see below), then think of a task, small or large, that you generally struggle with, or find just plain dull. Now think how you could bring more creativity and vitality to the task to make it easier or more fun for yourself; or can you think of a way of engaging with the task so your actions and thoughts will have more flow as you carry it out? Is there at least one creative change you can make that means you can manage this task better? Write down your ideas.

Watch the second video listed below, ‘How to speak up for yourself’. Choose one of the strategies mentioned in the video that appeals to you and try it. Plan ahead for a situation where you know you will probably have difficulty speaking up. Afterwards you might write about what happened.



How to build your creative confidence.
David Kelly is the founder of the design firm IDEO and Professor of Engineering at Stanford University, and a leader in the area known as ‘design thinking’. In this presentation he says we are all naturally creative. But often we opt out of being creative in childhood, perhaps because of a negative comment from a teacher, and that becomes part of a fear of being judged for our creativity in adulthood. And so, the world gets divided into the creatives and the non-creatives. Building on the work of psychologist Albert Bandura on self-efficacy, he says that through particular processes we can transform our fear into familiarity – move from fear of being creative (I can’t do that), into familiarity with it – I am a creative person, and I can let my ideas fly.

How to speak up for yourself.
Social psychologist Adam Galinsky talks about the relationship between being perceived as powerful, and the ability to speak up effectively. His research supports there being several things you can do to increase your power in a situation. For example, take the other person’s perspective, be flexible, and ask for advice. Listen to the talk and find out how you can speak up for yourself more regularly.

The day I stood up alone.
In this inspiring talk by Boniface Mwangi, an award-winning Kenyan photographer and activist, he asks the question “Do you know why you were born?” He found out one day. It certainly wasn’t easy, but Boniface has found a strength and purpose by standing up for what he believes in.


Building Confidence and Self-Esteem.
Yes, it’s one of those ‘here’s a list’ type of articles. But it’s a surprisingly good one. Neel Burton is a doctor and author of several books on depression, the psychology of emotions, and what we can learn from failure.

How to build self-confidence.
Another ‘list’ type article, this one grounded in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and aimed more at a young adult audience.

Albert Bandura, mentioned in the talk by David Kelly (see above for his talk ‘How to build your creative confidence’), is one of the most cited psychologists of all time. He is best known for his work on what he called self-efficacy. Put simply, it is the belief in our ability to take action in a specific situation or manage a particular task. This article summarises some of the central ideas of the theory.