Day 15: Mastery Experience Think back to the first time you rode a bike without training wheels. The bike wobbles, and you fall. Tentatively, you try again, and you fall again. Over and over you fall, as your confidence starts to wane. Then, suddenly, it clicks. You’ve learned how to balance your body, you've learned how to lean in to turns…it just makes sense. You feel fantastic. Within two weeks, you’re doing wheelies and riding with no hands. You may have heard the term, “Confidence leads to success,” but often, it’s success that leads to confidence. Empowerment isn’t something we either have or don’t have, it’s something that we can build. The Building Blocks of Empowerment By giving ourselves the experience of successfully achieving tasks, we're able to develop a sense of empowerment. Cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura called this, "mastery experience." My favorite example of mastery experience comes from Dead Poet Society: Evolutionarily, we’ve been wired to use past experiences to try to predict future events. Essentially our brains think, “What you’ve gotten is what you’ll get.” When we repeatedly experience failure, we come to anticipate failure. This cycle naturally leads to a feeling of disempowerment. On the flip side, when we experience success, our brains come to expect success. We begin to believe that we’re capable, competent, and strong. Generating Momentum In the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Boston Red Sox were down 3 games to 0 against the New York Yankees. In the fourth game, the Red Sox found themselves down by a run in the ninth inning, facing the best pitcher in baseball. Not even the most optimistic Red Sox fan thought they had a chance to win the series. But then Dave Roberts stole second base. Given the magnitude of their deficit, it was relatively insignificant. But they tasted success, and started to believe, “We got one, maybe we can get another.” Then Bill Mueller singled up the middle and the game was tied! With two successes in a row, the crowd was growing confident. In the 12th inning, Dave Ortiz hit a homerun and there was dancing in the streets. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series, and were the first baseball team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit. But it all started with that first stolen base. Experiencing Success I’m generally pretty responsible. I always call people back, I don’t cancel appointments, but there’s one area where I’m lacking – I’m terrible at checking my mail. And the more mail there is, the less I want to deal with it. But every now and then, I’ll sit down and power through the whole pile. And when I do, it’s like I climbed Mount Everest and ran a triathlon all at once. The mail itself isn’t very important, but that feeling of accomplishment inspires me to tackle much bigger, more challenging tasks. To develop a sense of empowerment, we need to experience the feeling of success. But our brains are not discerning. We can get a sense of accomplishment from almost anything. Generating small wins throughout the day can release dopamine in your brain, and help you develop the neural pathways associated with empowerment. It doesn’t matter how small the win is. Whether it’s catching your fear thoughts, doing a load of laundry that you’ve been putting off, or running on the treadmill for ten minutes, allow yourself to celebrate the accomplishment. What you’re truly celebrating is that you’re changing your habits, and building a sense of empowerment.