Ian Robertson - How Confidence Works

Ian Robertson - How Confidence Works

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About the episode

In this conversation, Professor Ian Robertson discusses the importance of confidence and how it can be developed. Confidence is the belief that one can take action towards creating a desired outcome, and it has profound effects on the brain and behavior.

Ian Robertson emphasizes the role of goal setting, mental rehearsal, and reframing anxiety as excitement in building confidence.

We also explore the gender differences in confidence, the relationship between confidence and power, the significance of collective confidence and the role of values in binding people together.

Professor Ian Robertson is Co-Director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin. He is a trained clinical psychologist as well as a neuroscientist and is internationally renowned for his research on neuropsychology. He has written five books, his latest: "How Confidence Works. The new science of self-belief", and has published in newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Time magazine and New York magazine.

Find out more about Professor Ian Robertson on https://ianrobertson.org, https://www.linkedin.com/in/ian-robertson-4480502/, and https://twitter.com/ihrobertson.

Find out more on https://politicwise.org, on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/politicwise/ and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-daniel-matteo/.


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Episode transcript

AI transcription, with some human edits


  • The Importance of Confidence
  • Competence vs. Confidence
  • The Role of Belief and Action in Confidence
  • Building Confidence through Goal Setting
  • Building Confidence through Mental Rehearsal
  • Reframing Anxiety as Excitement
  • Build Confidence By Taking Action + Stretching Your Comfort Zone
  • Gender Differences in Confidence
  • Confidence and Power
  • Collective Confidence and the Importance of Values

Daniel Matteo:
Professor Ian Robertson. Welcome to the podcast. It's a pleasure to have you.

Ian Robertson:
Hello, Daniel. Nice to meet you.

Daniel Matteo:
I read a lot. And over the weekend, it didn't take me long to really devour your new book, How Confidence Works. And I thought the research was insightful. You also use stories to illustrate the research. I made some copies of some of the ideas from my own life. And I think it's quite a practical guide for those listening to this podcast of how confidence works, how to be more confident.

So I'd love to start here perhaps, why is confidence important? What do we know from the research about confidence and why it matters in our lives?

The Importance of Confidence

Ian Robertson:
Well, thank you for that. And thank you for the question because it's a very important one. Can I maybe go back a bit and say what distinguishes human beings from all other species more than anything else, more than tool use, more than language, more than capacity for empathy...

... it is the ability to envisage states of the world that don't yet exist and to strive towards creating them. And that's what all of your, I suspect, subscribers who are in the political world are trying to do. They're trying to create different states of the world that exist at the moment, sometimes states that don't yet exist. And this is the, there's no other species does this.

To work collectively towards creating new states of the world. Sometimes it can be new states of the internal world, more often of the external world. And the critical, this is what I call the bridge to the future. And it's the basis of all civilization. We would not be having this amazing technology connecting us between Berlin and Dublin. And we would not be privileged to live to the ages that we're hopefully going to live to because of medical advances and scientific advice and advances and technological advances. So everything about human civilization and human organization depends on this ability to collectively envisage new states of the world that don't yet exist and to work towards creating these as yet non-existent states. That's the basis of all science, of all medicine, of all politics.

But to cross that bridge, there's a critical ingredient and that requires confidence. And confidence is the belief that you, that I, or we can do something. We can take action towards creating that state of the world. That is the energy that takes us across that bridge. And it's essentially a belief.

It's essentially a set of beliefs, two particular beliefs, I can do that, or we can do that. And this can happen if I do that. So it's the can happen and the can do. And that has profound effects on the brain that I can go into later to make it actually partly a self -fulfilling prophecy. And so, but the last thing I'll say about confidence is,

Confidence is always about stretching the limits. Because it's in the future, you can never be 100 % certain. If you're 100 % certain of what the outcome will be, or of whether you can do that or not, you don't need confidence. If it's something you've done a thousand times, you don't need confidence to do that. Confidence is about bridging uncertainty. The future always involves a certain amount of uncertainty. And so confidence allows you to price in uncertainty.

And to take action because you believe you can do something, not with 100 % certainty, and that ability to bridge uncertainty is one of the probably the greatest resource of the human mind and the fuel for human civilization. Yeah, let's dive into that, the difference that this belief makes in our lives and the way we act.

Competence vs. Confidence

Daniel Matteo:
I've once heard this statement against confidence in a way to say, build competence, not confidence. There's on the one side, the actual capacity, the skill sets to do something. And then on the other, the feeling or the belief that you can do it and that it can happen in the world. Say a bit more about why this belief is so important.

"Build competence, not confidence" - "Whoever said that is terrible advice and don't follow it."

Ian Robertson:
Whoever said that is terrible advice and don't follow it.

There are many very, very competent people who don't manage to fulfill the fruit of that competence because they lack confidence. And that on average is more true for women than men. So, yes, you need competence. Absolutely. But by goodness, without, without confidence, competence is can rarely realize its potential.

The Role of Belief and Action in Confidence

But the truth in that argument is the competence is about action, about actual practical behavior, taking steps. And that is the critical thing about confidence that distinguishes it from optimism. Optimism is the belief that things will turn out okay, but it doesn't entail any action from you. Nor is it self-esteem.

Self -esteem is your evaluation of your own ego, your own evaluation of yourself. And that is not linked to action either. The secret sauce of confidence is it's linked to action. The confidence is linked to the action systems of the brain, whether they're motoric or verbal or planning in the future. And the thing about believing you can do yes, partly is based on previous success. The greatest source of confidence is successful past behavior in a domain. If you've had failure experiences, it saps your confidence if you've had success experiences.

So yeah, past competence is one of the building blocks of confidence, but it's not sufficient. The thing about confidence is when you believe that you can do something and you believe that that's successful, something will result in a reward or a positive outcome in the world that you expect that activates the brain's reward system, the dopamine -fuelled reward system, the same system that's activated by pay rises, sex and cocaine. And so when you even just anticipating and believing that you can do something, causes a slight increase in the activation of this system. And that has four effects on your brain and mind.

  • First of all, it's a natural antidepressant and mood elevator. That's because of the effect of the small lifting of dopamine activity.
  • Secondly, it's an anti-anxiety agent. So it reduces anxiety because of its mood elevating effects.
  • Thirdly, it makes you more likely to take action in spite of uncertainty.
  • And fourthly, it makes you a tiny bit smarter. It makes you smarter because of the dopamine particularly infiltrates the frontal lobes of the prefrontal cortex, the brain, which is where you do your planning and your abstract thinking. And that elevation of mood makes you a little bit more able to think more clearly and to plan and to have a bit of see the wood for the trees.

So that's even, that's before you actually do the thing. So then you do the thing. And because you're in this state, this mood elevated anxiety reduced, slightly smarter and action -prone state, then you're more likely to do the thing and you're more likely to do it better, to succeed in doing it.

And then you get all of these things happen again. You get a reward in your brain because you've bridged uncertainty. There's been a certain, can I do this or not? You're not 100 % certain. You've achieved it.

And your brain then gives you that second boost of all of these things. And that then multiplies like compound interest in an exponential way over time, because you're then more likely to take action against a new goal or target, which is slightly, stretches you slightly more. And then the rewards multiply and the achievements multiply. So that really goes back to 'The Winner Effect', a previous book of mine, where the greatest source of success is.... success.

Daniel Matteo:
And so it is a strong ally then to have on your side, this belief in all of these feelings with all of the mechanisms that you have just described, and it is self-reinforcing. And I wonder, and this is something that you explain in your book, and perhaps you can tell the listeners a little bit more about it: how do you start this cycle? So how do we start to build confidence? You have a very clear statement, it is something that can be learned. It is something that you can actively learn.

Ian Robertson:
So the first thing to say about confidence is that it's domain-specific. It's not a general purpose. I am a confident person, although there's no doubt about it. If people become confident in several domains, there's a likelihood that they will be. There's a kind of meta confidence develops where they feel confident in domains where they don't have experience as well.

But it's not typical, there are many people who are academically very confident, for example, but socially very unconfident. There are people with great confidence in physical prowess, but lack confidence in mental prowess. So, it pertains to a domain of activity. So the first thing you have to do is define the domain of confidence. If you're going to have a plan to become more confident, you have to define, start with at least one domain.

Building Confidence through Goal Setting

And then the critical thing is to visualize the thing it is that you feel self -doubt about doing. Okay. What, what is it that I feel self -doubt about doing? So you may have self -doubt that you can become an MEP in the European Parliament, but that's, that's a big far away goal and big far away goals don't really work.

as agents of confidence. It's good to have them as a distant goal, but it's as likely to defeat you and deplete your confidence if you have goals that are too big and too far away as it is to motivate you. So yes, by all means, have some fantasy long-term goal that you want, but you have to build an edifice of intermediate goals leading up to that one.

So you have to have proximal goals in the domain. And it could be, yeah, I'm going to, I'm going to, my goal is I'm going to make a short presentation to the party meeting this weekend. I may be very anxious about speaking in public or putting myself forward, but that's my I'm going to, and it has.

The critical thing about goals and goals are central to confidence. The critical thing about goals is they have a sweet spot. They can't be too hard or too big or too far away. That leads actually people who have, if you like, fantasy goals about being rich or famous or beautiful or thin or distant goals are as likely to sabotage your ability and undercut your confidence.

So the sweet spot and easy goals are no good either because they don't give you much of a reward. If they're so easy, then your brain doesn't respond to doing them because you know you can do this. So this is sweet spot of goals that something's where there's uncertainty. You're not 100 % certain you can do this, but you're setting yourself your goal. You're going to do this. This is my intermediate goal. And then...

Building Confidence through Mental Rehearsal

Having set that goal, there's a whole lot of things you can do to make it more likely you will achieve that goal. And mental rehearsal is a very important part of this, where you mentally visualize yourself doing the thing that you're hoping you can do. The mental rehearsal activates almost all the same brain circuits that you would use if you were actually doing it.

And so that's a really, really important part. All great athletes, all top athletes use mental rehearsal. Very, very detailed going over in your mind in real time as if you were actually doing it, the thing you're doing. The second thing is what the greatest enemy of confidence is anxiety. And the greatest antidote to anxiety is confidence.

Reframing Anxiety as Excitement

And so the next thing you can do, you know, if you're anxious about public speaking, you will feel the anxiety growing.... is to realize the fact that the symptoms of anxiety, beating heart, dry mouth, sweaty hands are identical to those of excitement, and nearly identical to those of anger. So anger, excitement and anxiety. Actually, as far as the brain and the body is concerned, are pretty identical.

And they only become a particular emotion by the label we put on them, by the context. So for example, a couple of years I was at home on my own in the afternoon and I suddenly felt these symptoms of dry mouth, beating heart, et cetera.

What emotion was I having? When I ask that question, most people say anxiety or fear. I said, no, I was excited because Scotland was beating England at rugby. And how then did I know that I was excited and not angry or not anxious? Only because I was sitting at home with a beer watching a rugby match. Had I been in a dark street with some figures approaching, I might have had these symptoms, I would have immediately interpreted them as fear and anxiety.

So the great thing about these symptoms that we feel when we're anticipating doing something that stretches us a bit is that they are actually just a form of energy. They are just your body preparing for action. And your body doesn't care whether that action is running away, celebrating or fighting, punching someone.

It's just a preparation for action. That's what it's doing. And so it's possible for you to change the emotion by changing your labeling of that emotion. And peculiarly enough, there's a very nice study done in Pittsburgh, getting people who were doing a very anxious present to public presentation, anxiety arousing public presentation, where their heart rate was demonstrated on monitors to the public and they were asked very challenging questions. They had to do mental arithmetic in front of people. It's called the Trier, the Trier stress test. It was developed in Trier in Germany. And what they did was they got one group to say out loud to themselves before they did the mental arithmetic. They got them to say, I feel anxious, which was accurate because they could see their heart beating. But they got the other group to change just one word and say, I feel excited.

And the group that said, "I feel excited", performed significantly better on the mental arithmetic than the group who said, I feel anxious. And that was because they had created a different state of their brain, which was reward oriented of, can I do this? It was oriented towards the confidence domain of behavior rather than the threat perception domain of behavior. And that would have actually lowered their anxiety slightly and made them able to think more clearly and do the task. So that's the other thing about it is to take control of this energy that's common to these three activating emotions and realize that you can relabel that and think of it as excitement rather as a source of threat because

When you're excited, that anticipates you saying, anticipating successfully mastering a challenge, even those not certain. Whereas when you say, I feel anxious, that promotes and activates the threat, punishment detection system of the brain. And that biases your attention and your memory to make your mind and your consciousness much more full of memories of past failures.

of attention to future threats. So that's the second thing. So set the goal. Try to relabel your anxiety as part of the energy for achieving that goal.

Build Confidence By Taking Action + Stretching Your Comfort Zone

And then, I mean, the critical thing is action. For all confidence, it's just taking that step. So if you can even take a mini step just before the speaking to your party on the Saturday meeting, if you can just say, well, I'm going to set myself an even smaller task that maybe even causes me some anxiety. I'm going to phone up the party secretary and say, I'd like to speak on Saturday. Okay. And that's, that is quite important because that's forward commitment and it makes it harder to back out as well.

So taking action is just critical to confidence, doing things that are not too comfortable, not too easy, but also that are within that kind of zone of the sweet spot of, yeah, it's hard, but I can do it. Because the other thing about confidence is doing things in spite of anxiety is a huge source of confidence. If you do something and it's very easy and you don't feel any anxiety, yes, it'll build your confidence, but it's like a vaccination.

The vaccination of a bit of anxiety really, really strengthens that behavior quite considerably.

Daniel Matteo:
And I guess what you're doing, if you're following these tips is you're learning how to mentally rehearse something to channel your attention on what needs to be done in the next step. And you're learning how to reframe an emotion as excitement versus anxiety.

Ian Robertson:
Yes, absolutely. And the other thing is, is responding to failure. And this works out in the markets and the economy as well. We have these two basic systems of the brain, which are partly implemented in each hemisphere of the brain.

  • We have a reward anticipating future oriented approach system, which tends to take us towards goals, which is what we need for confidence.
  • And we have a threat punishment detection system, a kind of risk perception system, an avoidance system.

And these two are in conflict. They try and inhibit each other. And a healthy brain needs a healthy activation of both because if we don't have risk perception, we'll be in trouble. But because the two halves of the brain are trying to inhibit each other, if one becomes over strong, it can inhibit the other one too much.

Similarly, if one becomes weakened for whatever reason, the other one can strengthen. And so in, you know, before the big, great recession of 2007, in a boom economy, not just the financial traders, et cetera, but the whole population is biased towards thinking about future rewards.

And their memory systems are actually impaired. They find it difficult to remember past, past downs, past crashes. And then what happens when the crash comes, that system collapses. And then the avoidance risk perception system expands hugely where all people can think about is past failures and past crashes.

And all they can pay attention to is signs of future risk and future punishment, if you like. And that's the bear market. In Japan, after their great economic crash, you know, a generation ago, it took them, I think, 20 years to come out of that where people, were able to gradually escape from the prison of this, just not wanting to spend, not wanting to invest. They were so burned by that, that dominated the attention and memory systems being focused on the downside.

And that's true of individuals as well. And most of us, most of us in a healthy state, there's a slight advantage for the approach system over the avoidance system. And that's why people start new companies, new businesses. If they were following strict logic and statistical, background, they wouldn't do it because most businesses fail. But because we are all, if we're not depressed, we're all slightly, slightly overconfident. Men are more overconfident on average than women. And that gives them the advantage of that slight overconfidence. Because the other thing about confidence is it's, it's a huge source of persuasion of others and slight overconfidence gives you status which makes you more persuasive and therefore more effective in politics.

That's so important because it allows you to persuade other people and influence them and get your way more successfully. That's the whole interpersonal aspect of it.

Gender Differences in Confidence

Daniel Matteo:
Say a bit more about this gender gap and the research that we have on the gender gap as it relates to confidence. I found that hugely interesting on why it exists and perhaps if we have the time even how to address the gap.

Ian Robertson:
Well, I, as a privileged white male, I, you know, I thought, well, I'll do a chapter on gender differences and sex differences and confidence in this book. And I was so humbled by what I discovered in the research by the huge and manifold disadvantages that women are experiencing against men in terms of this incredibly valuable resource, confidence.

Now, there are many, many reasons for it. So let me give you a couple just random examples.

Now, this was research done in the USA and different cultures have different aspects of this. So women, if you look at the well-being of men in the relationship, say a marriage or a

As the woman's proportion of the joint income increases, the more it increases, the less the well-being of the man, until at the point where if she is hugely dominant, his well-being is as low as if she was earning nothing at all. So in marriages, the male ego finds it easier if he is earning 60 % of the joint income and the woman 40%. You get a kind of happy point there. But when she's, when it goes to 50-50 or then goes the other way, his wellbeing goes down. And this is a fundamental obstacle to relationships. Now, there's one caveat here: where people go into the relationship knowing that there's going to be such a difference and it's accepted upfront, then that dynamic doesn't necessarily work out at all. And there are many enlightened people much younger than me, men quite happy to be in relationships with women who are much more of higher status because of their higher income, et cetera.

But particularly people of my generation and generations below me, it's tough for us not to feel we're the top dog in a male female relationship. And that makes it really hard for smart, successful, achieving young women to maintain relationships because there's relatively few, very few enlightened men of my age, you know, for instance. So that's a kind of one of the structural things.

But then if we go much earlier, there was a wonderful study in Switzerland where they got six-year-old children to predict the winner of an election based entirely on seeing the photographs of the candidates for less than a second. And they didn't know the candidates. And the children were 70 % accurate at predicting who would win the election.

And when they analyze what the key factors were in the photographs, it was the perception of competence. It was the perception of competence in the face. And when they looked what determined the perception of competence, it was the relative masculinity of the face.

So, the electorates will be biased to perceive male faces as competent, more than female faces.

Now, in women's faces, you get variations of, if you like, masculine features. And yes, the more angular and masculine a woman's face starts to look, the more competent she's perceived to be. However, for women as a tipping point, when she starts to look too masculine, the competence ratings go down and the behavior starts to be interpreted in different ways, for instance, as aggressive and negative as opposed to dominant and firm as it would be in a man.

But these are just two examples. I mean, I could list about 20 or 30 structural, both external factors, the fact of men like me, feeling, having this unconscious need to maintain a dominance in a male-female relationship, for example, for that structural thing to the internal things, to the woman's ability to compete.

And I'll give you that third example just there - and we're talking here about Western individualistic society here, not about collective societies like Japan, that's a different dynamic there. But when you look at women's self -representation, and you can look at this in the brain and the medial frontal cortex, when they think about themselves, is much more involved and related to their relationships with other people, their close relationships.

Their self-concept is much more closely tied to their relationships with other people, with friends and colleagues, etc. Whereas men's, when you get them to think about themselves, it's much more isolated from their relationships. And this means that men can compete much more comfortably than women can.

Competing essentially means ruthlessly dominating. And it's much easier for a man to ruthlessly dominate, to have the 'killer instinct' than it is for a woman, because a woman's competing against herself, if you like. That's why there's evidence of women being less inclined to take part in competitions of any kind than men, which of course disadvantages them hugely. But I could go on about this. It's just an enormous fact.

Confidence and Power

Daniel Matteo:
And if I understood your book correctly, it's apart from the scenario where they are doing this together, where they're feeling that they are not competing against each other, but as part of a group. And also, I think, and please comment on that if that's incorrect, the link to your previous book, The Winner Effect, where you also highlight this gender difference in terms of how men and women seek power. And if I understood it correctly, you're saying there is no difference in terms of seeking power, this drive to seek power, but it's the purpose for which power is sought that that is a difference.

Ian Robertson:
Yes, so power is one of three primitive motivations that we have to different degrees: for power, for achievement, and for connection to other people, for affiliation, for being accepted.

And the power drive is... there's just a basic pleasure in calling the shots, a basic kind of reward of being top dog. And that can happen in a company, in a country, or in a family.

So big sisters and big brothers have more experience of power over little sisters and little brothers. And some of them never get over that. So the power drive, however, has an additional aspect to it. There is this basic fuel, an appetite for calling the shots. And not everyone has that appetite to a huge degree.

And if you want to be successful in politics or in business, you probably have to have, or if you want to rise up - you can be successful as a contributor to a collective endeavor by all means. But if you want to be a leader in politics or business or elsewhere, you have to have an appetite, basic appetite that you want to call the shots. You think you want to implement your ideas.

However, there's another, not alternative source of power, but another kind of part of the mind, which is, yes, you want to do that. And that's your primitive, if you like, the primitive drive, but you want it on behalf of the group, the country, the cause.

So the first type of power is called P power. And that's basically what fuels the engine, but the S power is the gears that distributes that energy for its purpose, if you like. And the wonderful thing about S power is it actually dampens down the primitive and addictive biological effects of the P power on the human brain, which causes real big problems when it becomes unconstrained and success breeds success and the ego grows and narcissism and that whole pattern of behavior.

But if you have S power as well, it mitigates, it actually lowers the hormonal response to beating another person. It makes you less likely to become addicted to the power. And on average, women have better, higher levels of this S power than men, on average.

They may have lower levels of P power on average because of the different baseline testosterone levels. But generally, if you get professions like teachers and doctors and nurses all have quite high levels of appetite for power, raw appetite, but it's much more tempered with the S power.

And in politics, you can actually analyze and measure the relative appetites for P power and S power in free spoken language. You measure the P power by the use of words to do with impact, reputation, concern with reputation, action. Whereas the S power you measure by the proportion of nots, don'ts and shouldn'ts in the free speech. Because that's evidence of, if you like, the constraints, the feeling that your power is on behalf of, and there are rules bigger than you about in terms of how you can execute this power.

That's why we, when they studied George W. Bush compared his free speech with Barack Obama's, they both had similar levels of P power, but Barack Obama had much higher levels of S power. And that's one reason that he found it, I think, so easy to give up power as president because he wasn't nearly as addicted to it as some other presidents have been.

Collective Confidence and the Importance of Values

Daniel Matteo:
That's a fascinating detour and link to power between confidence and power. Coming back to confidence, so far we've spoken about confidence largely in the sense of individual confidence, the confidence that I have, that you have.

There is also a collective confidence that you refer to towards the end of your book. You talk of confidence in business, confidence in politics and talking about confidence of a nation. Perhaps with the listener in mind, people who are new in politics, going into politics, what do you think is relevant to know for them about this, about collective confidence?

Ian Robertson:
So collective confidence is enormously powerful as any political person would know. If you can get a hundred people or a thousand or a million people all believing they can do something, you're essentially networking a million brains together. You're going to get ideas and action that's going to make it much more likely you'll achieve your goals. So that's the kind of politician's dream.

And of course, populist politicians unfortunately can do this very well by using fear and external threat and dehumanizing the other and can create that sense of collective identity, which is very rewarding in a quite negative way.

And the challenge in liberal democracies is how to get a more positive, collective mobilization of a million brains or 10 million brains together. And critical to that, absolutely critical is values and trust.

Humans are essentially wired to be quite moral. And you can see this in babies that there's a very, very early wired preference for fairness in the human brain, a preference for acts that are positive rather than acts that are negative. But the enemies of that are tribalism and greed and addiction.

The reason we have evolved this tendency to prefer good acts to bad acts is because values are the essential way of binding people together in common action.

And in order to trust someone, we have to feel that they share our values. So if we're a tribe in early Neanderthal or pre-Neanderthal times, and we're going to go out hunting, we have to feel that we trust our leader, that we trust the person we're going out hunting with or fighting with. If we don't trust them, then we're not going to get the coordinated cohesive, action of the tribe and more likely to be killed off. So values have evolved, are an evolved state. Morals are an evolved state to bind people together. And so an aspiring leader has to really, if they don't want to be a populist rabble rouser like Orban or someone like that, they have to really bind to their values, know what their values are, communicate their values and become trusted for walking the walk of their values and not just talking the talk.

We see now the collapse and confidence in politics happening in many countries, because politicians or business leaders for that matter have been seen to behave hypocritically or defy the values that they ostensibly held.

There's a method called self-affirmation, developed by American psychologists, Deci and Ryan, which is that if you're feeling threatened psychologically by criticism or negative opinions of other people, which is the greatest source of stress for humans... if you just take a few minutes to write down what your values are, why you hold them and what they mean to you, that's called a self affirmation exercise.

The evidence is your brain will respond much differently to criticism and threat. Because you have reminded your ego of its place within values. Most responses to criticism and to potential humiliation are essentially a fear of extinction. It's a death fear, it's called terror management theory. And the reason we have our egos is to give this illusion of continuity. But when we're under threat, our egos try and protect in all sorts of ways. But one of the great things to do is to affirm your values, embed your ego in your values. And the great thing is that values are eternal. And so there's a certain immortality in embedding your ego in your values.

And so I would recommend that any political, aspiring political leader just realize that that's your bedrock, that's your psychological defense, but you're also inspiring the chemistry, if you like, to join people together who share your values.

Daniel Matteo:
A follow up question on the self-affirmation exercise. This is something you do beforehand. You have a clear grasp of your personal values. And then in the moment where you feel that threat, you can bring that to mind and reaffirm that.

Ian Robertson:
You actually, yes, you can do this mentally as well, but it's quite good to just write it down. So because at the time of threat, if you haven't actually done it, your mind will be so full of noradrenaline and other chemical messengers that you won't remember to do it. So these things are, it's a bit like breathing. And that's another thing about confidence is when you're feeling under pressure or criticized or stressed, you tend to breathe faster and more shallowly and that increases carbon dioxide levels in your brain and changes the chemistry of your brain.

If you can just remember to breathe slowly in for four and out for six, slow your breathing. But you have to do that beforehand because you won't remember to do it unless you practice it 70 or 80 times beforehand to make it a habit. And at the time of stress, you won't remember to do it. And of course, that will help you be more confident and more likely to deliver the behavior, the goal you've set for yourself.

Daniel Matteo:
Professor Robertson, I think there are so many takeaways here for the listener, so many very concrete things and exercises as well. Perhaps to end on this note, imagine you have this billboard and you can write anything on this billboard as a message.

This billboard is located outside of government buildings and parliament buildings around the world. And people walk past it to work in government. What is it that you would like to write on this billboard as a statement or a question?

Ian Robertson:
You are going to die. So don't get hooked up into believing that you can fend off death by... success or developing your ego or narcissism. Affirm your values and you will be immortal.

Daniel Matteo:
Professor Robertson, this has been a really insightful conversation. It will be difficult for me to tease out all the golden nuggets. I think it's going to be a long list. But I thank you very much for taking this time to share the research on this really important topic, I think, for people who are just joining politics. Thank you very much.

Ian Robertson:
Thank you very much, Daniel. A real pleasure talking to you.