The global market in government bonds has been bleeding red lately. “Bond market screams for help but no one answers”, says Bloomberg. It is “the worst start to a year in bonds since 2015”, according to the Financial Times.Though bonds have been declining since last summer, the sell-off became a lot more violent in February.
This meant that the yield on ten-year US Treasury bonds, which is inversely related to the price, rose by around 60% to peak at over 1.6% a couple of days ago, before falling back to 1.5% at the time of writing.The US ten-year strongly influences the price of everything from mortgages to business loans in the US, and by extension around the world, so such a sharp rise has the potential to reduce borrowing and weaken the economic recovery from COVID –especially when there is so much debt in the global system.
The world’s rampant stock markets responded by going into reverse in February as they factored in higher interest rates, as well as higher production costs because of surging commodity prices.
Bond prices can fall for several reasons. It can mean that the market thinks that economic growth is going to pick up (meaning investors shift their money into riskier investments). But it can also reflect fears that inflation is on the way without much accompanying economic growth, meaning that interest rates need to go higher so that lending is still profitable.
In the present case, it is a bit of both: the rollout of the vaccination programmes has made many observers more optimistic about the prospects of a recovery. But the rise in the price of commodities like oil, copper and coffee is more about pandemic-related supply issues than because this optimism has prompted a step-change in demand.
When Fed Reserve Chairman Jay Powell failed to announce any immediate intervention to put a floor under the sell-off in bonds during a public appearance in early March, it appeared to trigger more selling – a sign that falling bond prices have been more a reflection of fears than optimism.
Interestingly, in the hours since the new US$1.9 trillion (£1.4 trillion) US stimulus package has been agreed by Congress, the bond market and stock market have both been rising. Though there have been fears that sending US$1,400 stimulus cheques to most Americans will cause a further surge in inflation, the extra consumer demand will also prop up the economy. On balance, then, this appears to have been received as a net positive by the markets.
QE and perverse consequences
Any attempt to explain what is happening in the markets needs to be in the context of quantitative easing (QE). Shortly after the first wave of lockdowns in early 2020, central banks stepped in to help their national economies. They announced huge new QE plans in which they would create new money with which to buy government bonds and other financial assets. This drove up bond prices and hence kept yields (and interest rates) at very low levels to encourage as much borrowing from consumers and businesses as possible.
Most central banks originally began QE programmes after the 2007-09 financial crisis (besides the Bank of Japan, which began a few years earlier). This was primarily to help companies get access to capital to boost their business, in the hope that they would then hire staff, which would help to reduce unemployment rates that had been sent soaring after the crisis.
However, some companies took advantage of these low interest rates in another way: they borrowed cheaply and invested it in the stock market. With investors doing likewise, this has helped to drive the relentless rise in global stock markets over the past decade. It also helps to explain why these markets have been mainly climbing ever since the COVID panic sell-off of March 2020.
In the coming months, economies are going to reopen, but interest rates are to stay low. Fed Reserve Chairman Jay Powell may have declined to announce any new interventions to date, but it is fairly clear that he will only let yields rise so far.
This gives investors a great opportunity to continue taking advantage of the situation. So long as the gain from your investment in stocks is greater than the interest rate you have to pay on your borrowings, you are a winner. Better still, buy stocks in a company such as Apple whose bonds central banks have been buying as part of their QE activities. Apple is still trading at over double the lows of March 2020, even after the February correction.
But if you are not in a position to take advantage of this one-way bet, you are a loser. The central banks have already created a situation where major institutions like the biggest hedge funds and investment banks are achieving record earnings while many families are sinking into poverty on the back of the pandemic.
The endless stimulus is in danger of creating an ever more divided society. While it is true that the latest US package (and the support measures announced in the UK budget) will temporarily help those struggling during the pandemic, the shot in the arm is also another way of propping up markets that seem too overvalued to fail.
And if they can no longer survive without central bank life-support to keep bond yields low, the question is how to prop up the markets without exacerbating inequality. It’s not clear that anyone has the answer. It might be that a shift to a much more redistributive politics to offset the widening gap between rich and poor is about the best that we can hope for.
Arman Hassanniakalager does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
How do you go about cultivating more gratitude? (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
This isn’t to say gratitude is a bad thing – far from it. But when wielded as a weapon, it gets a bad rap.Gratitude, viewed properly, as being thankful for the good things in your life, can be a powerful thing. There’s a wealth of research that points to gratitude – feeling it and expressing it – making us happier and boosting mental well being.
The key is not to ignore issues by sticking gratitude on top as a plaster, but incorporating gratitude more seamlessly into your day-to-day life. It’s about recognizing that things aren’t perfect, but there’s some stuff that’s worth appreciating.
‘Gratitude works to improve our mental health,’ says Counseling Directory member Kirsty Taylor. ‘It’s a really powerful emotion. ‘Gratitude is strongly associated with emotions such as optimism, greater life satisfaction and enjoyment of the moment, an improved ability to handle a crisis situation, increased self esteem, better resilience and increased physical and mental wellbeing.
‘Gratitude, simply, allows us to appreciate situations, people and every day things in a way that increases our happiness and allows us to take grater pleasure in all aspects of life.’Bringing an attitude of gratitude into your life isn’t as easy as just telling yourself to buck up and be grateful, of course.
It’s a conscious practice, a change to your way of thinking. So, how do you bring more thankfulness into your being?
Make a conscious decision to be grateful
Changing the way you think, feel, and behave isn’t going to happen magically, with no effort on your end. Sorry. ‘It can be hard to cultivate gratitude when the daily grind of life makes it hard for us to do so,’ Kirsty tells Metro.co.uk. ‘People can have stressful environments, jobs, families and life situations that make it especially hard to feel grateful for our lives and our circumstances.
‘However, if we don’t make a place for gratitude in our life, it can be a much darker world that we live in. ‘Gratitude is often a chosen state of mind or being and can be increased by making a conscious decision to try and focus on happiness.’
Practice gratitude in the mornings and evenings
Here’s an easy way to start getting into the grateful mindset. Each morning, before you get out of bed (and perhaps instead of doing your usual doomscrolling) challenge yourself to think of three things you’re grateful for – and spend a moment appreciating how great that thing is.
It’s okay if it’s something that seems teeny-tiny or silly, like ‘I’m grateful that I’m going to get myself a nice hot drink on the way to work’. Make sure you don’t just rattle through your list and get on with your day. Take time to really dwell on your gratitude for these things, and feel it.
You can do the same thing right before bed. Dominique Antiglio, a sophrologist at BeSophro, suggests combining this practice with a spot of meditation and physical relaxation. She recommends: ‘First thing in the morning, stand up, gently shake your entire body, letting go of any tension. Exhale fully all negative anticipation and anxieties you may feel.
‘Then sit down, inhale, tense your body, exhale and relax each part of your body from head to toe. Then in a relaxed state with eyes closed, think about one thing that you are grateful for now or that you are going to experience today. ‘It can be a simple as how comfortable your pyjamas feel in that moment (start simple!) and it will become deeper and more meaningful as you repeat this practice.
‘Last thing in the evening, shake the tension of the day away by moving and breathing, and then close your eyes. Think about one quality or resource that got you through your day i.e. perseverance, connection with a friend, hope, calm etc. ‘Then spend a moment gently activating this word in your body and mind through gentle in-breaths and out-breaths.’
Start a gratitude journal
Instead of only thinking or saying those things you’re grateful for, try writing them down. ‘One of my anxiety clients, I asked to keep a gratitude journal, and every time she felt negative or anxious to revert to writing all the things she felt grateful for at that moment,’ says life coach Denise Bosque. ‘It really helped, because it’s training the brain towards noticing and feeling the positive stuff that is all around us in abundance.’
Open your mind to little things
A key part of cultivating gratitude is learning to actually notice the good stuff and savour it. Once you know you’ll have to think of three things to be grateful for at the end of the day, you might find yourself naturally looking out for positive bits in life.
Keep your eyes and mind open to take in the parts of your day that you might normally overlook: how nice it is to walk past the park on the way to work, how tasty your lunch is, how you’re actually really enjoying a new hobby you’ve been trying.
‘Even when it feel tricky to find something to be grateful for, the simple fact that you are starting to look for it is like opening a door to a new world and perspective,’ Dominique explains. ‘When we feel grateful, we are naturally opening up our minds and body, calming our nervous system and shifting our perspective to something more constructive. We are learning to contemplate ourselves, our lives or people around us from a positive place.’
Okay, this is where it gets a little trickier. When you come up against bad times, it’s fine to feel sad, angry, or scared. But can you also take a moment to reframe some small part of what’s happened with gratitude?
‘It can be useful to think of a positive way of reframing each complaint that we might want to make,’ says Kirsty. ‘If someone is rude to you at work, you might want to complain to a friend about them. Instead, you could remind yourself of all the other great colleagues you are fortunate to work with and be grateful that perhaps you aren’t having the same stressful day as a rude colleague.
‘When difficult things happen in life, such as loss and bereavement and relationship breakups, we all can have a tendency to feel very down and depressed and low in mood about such painful life events.
‘It can be very hard to reach for a positive when things feel very difficult, but those who can practise daily gratitude might be able to find a positive in even the darkest situations.
‘Loss reminds us to love those around us, relationship breakups show us that love feels wonderful when it’s going well, and that we can learn something so our next relationship will be different. Bereavement can make us stronger in the long term, can remind us of the precious nature of life and allow us to breathe in our surroundings each and feel grateful for the life we get to live.’
Express gratitude out loud
Don’t just think grateful thoughts – speak them. Comment on how lovely the weather is today, say out loud that you appreciate your body for getting you where you need to go, talk about positive things in your life to balance out any venting.
Tell people you appreciate them
Why keep all that gratitude to yourself? If you’re thankful for someone’s support, their actions, their presence, tell them. This can be as small as giving someone a genuine thank you for making you a tea, it can be telling your partner how much you appreciate them, it could be writing your parents a letter to say how grateful you are for all they’ve done.
Stick some visual reminders around your house
Again, it’s all about retraining your brain to notice the good. If you find the adjustment difficult, it can help to add some visual reminders around your living space.
Dominique suggests: ‘Stick post-its around the house, for example in a room or cupboard you open often throughout the day, put a smiley on it and let that be a trigger to find something, at that moment, to be grateful for.’
Do a random act of kindness
Gratitude begets gratitude. Once you’re feeling it, you can spread it around like wildfire. Try doing a random act of kindness. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in the queue, get some flowers for your neighbour, give your friend a call. You’ll inspire gratitude in them, and also feel that glow of doing something good.
When kids get anxious, they become avoidant instead of learning how to handle situations better in the future.
Discipline is tough. With the number of times kids need correction every day, it’s understandable that parents develop habits that aren’t always thought through. In a flood of snap judgments, chaos management and a desire to regain control of a difficult situation, ineffective and problematic discipline techniques come up. Not only don’t they work, they can make kids confused and anxious. Nobody wins.
“As parents, we have to ask ourselves questions about what outcomes we want when we discipline our kids,” says anxiety therapist Chad Brandt, PhD. “The best scenario is that they come to understand why what they did was wrong so they can learn and practice alternatives.”
Brandt sees several common discipline mistakes from parents, but luckily he has simple tools for reflection and change to help parents get their kids mentally and emotionally engaged. Then, rather than kids walking on eggshells while focusing on not getting caught, they can maximize their growth potential from challenging situations.
Physical discipline can also contribute to a cycle of misbehavior by modeling actions that are likely to land kids in additional trouble if they emulate them. “You’re solving one discipline problem with a solution that you would tell them not to use in any other instance,” Brandt says. In other words, you don’t want your kid to hit their peers when they do something wrong.
And although kids aren’t likely to find any type of discipline fun or pleasant, the anxiety that physical discipline elicits can exacerbate behavioral issues by driving kids to be even more secretive. “When kids experience the physical reaction to pain, they’ll start to hide their behavior from you.
Or they’ll lie or cover things up because they don’t want a spanking,” he says. “You’re not teaching them how to change the behavior. Instead, you’re teaching them how to avoid you.”
Successful discipline teaches kids how to understand why what they did was wrong and appropriate responses for the next time they’re in a similar situation. An engaged child will grow in self-awareness and emotional attunement. But an anxious child will become avoidant.
Want to really help your child engage during the discipline process? Brandt suggests parents show their kids empathy. Walk them through ways they can more appropriately handle similar situations in the future to add layers of positive reinforcement.
“If your child lashes out at a sibling for taking their toy, you can ask what emotion they felt when that happened,” Brandt says. “Then let them know that the next time they feel that emotion, they can either politely ask for the toy back or come get you for help. Then you and your child can practice one or both of those solutions together.”
Discipline Mistake #2: Overly Harsh Discipline
Even parents who don’t ascribe to physical discipline can be overly harsh with their children. When a kid gets put in time-out, for example, it can be tempting to keep them there just a little too long, for any number of reasons. But if the timeout stretches too long, it can become counterproductive.
“Usually, we would say about a minute per year or life with a max of like 10 minutes before it stops being a useful tool,” Brandt says. “There’s a limit to how long kids can process information. And for younger kids, that limit is pretty short. So they might have a timeout and learn for a minute, and then play in their room or sit on the chair and daydream. And that’s something that you don’t want. That defeats the purpose.”
It may be helpful to combine a brief timeout with another appropriate disciplinary action to help kids process their misbehavior. But again, the emphasis is on suitable. Being too extreme pushes the experience past being a learning opportunity and makes it anxiety-producing. Your child ate candy without asking? They don’t get dessert that night. But don’t take away dessert for the whole week.
Discipline Mistake #3: Inconsistent Discipline
“The most important aspect of discipline is being consistent with rules and consequences. In fact, consistency is going to be more important than the specific consequence, especially when kids are younger,” Brandt says.
When rules and expectations are constantly in flux, kids can get anxious even when they’re behaving appropriately. “Parents will put off disciplining their child because of how the child might respond. So the child has free rein to do whatever, until the parent snaps and gets angry,” Brandt says. “For the child, it’s confusing when they get to do whatever they want, until all of the sudden they get yelled at.”
That combination of confusion and fear is a breeding ground for anxiety. In contrast, clarity, closure, and positivity create an environment where kids can learn it’s safe to acknowledge their mistakes and grow from them.
Brandt encourages families to end any disciplinary interaction with a note of optimism as a way for everyone to move on. “We don’t want to stay stuck in that difficult moment where the kid is angry because they feel misunderstood and like they’re labeled as a bad kid,” he says.
“So I’d just end the interaction with, ‘Now we understand what happened, and how we can keep it from happening again in the future. I can’t wait to see you handle that better the next time. You’ll do great.’”
And, hey, don’t be afraid to use some of that positivity and optimism on yourself. Habits can be hard to break. In chaotic parenting moments, it’s easy to slip back into anxiety-provoking discipline methods in an attempt to regain control of the situation. But reflecting on why you reverted to the undesired habit and what you can do differently in the future gives you a chance to handle the chaos better next time. You’ll do great.
Dr Nate Zinsser, a top US army psychologist renowned for helping lieutenants and officers build their confidence, is giving me a talking-to. We’ve been discussing highly disciplined writers who sit at their desks at 9am each day, no matter the circumstances, and assertively punch out stories. “I definitely don’t do that,” I say, remarking that I envy their confidence to sit and deliver. An aggressive perfectionist streak combined with niggling impostor syndrome insecurities mean I need conditions to be just-so in order to have faith that I’ll produce anything decent. Zinsser blanches.
“The statement ‘I don’t do that’ is a decision you’re making about yourself,” he says, speaking over video call from his office at the US Military Academy in upstate New York; behind him there’s a whiteboard, ornamental Japanese swords and photos of athletes he’s counselled, including the Olympic-medal-winning US men’s bobsled team.
“A constructive shift in your thinking would be the idea that, ‘Whether or not I got the right amount of sleep the night before or had a good breakfast, once 9 o’clock strikes, I am at my desk, lights on, ready to go – and I’m producing good stuff,’” he says. “That’s a belief about yourself that you can de-li-be-rate-ly cultivate,” he adds, stretching out each syllable in “deliberately” so there can be no question that in this matter, as in all self-confidence-related issues, change lies with me.
Delivered with a gentle assuredness, rather than barked across the screen, it’s not the tone you might expect from a man who for 27 years has directed the academy’s performance psychology programme. Indeed, the only thing about him that screams “army” is his black jacket, which has the word emblazoned in capitals across its front.
With his snow-white beard and softly yawning New Jersey twang, the 67-year-old has a calm, almost paternalistic presence. His brand of optimism is far more reserved than the full-throttle enthusiasm often associated with self-help gurus. “We don’t live in a world of sunshine and lollipops,” as he puts it. “We live in a real world of deadlines, sweat, blisters and muscle fatigue, and we have to look at what is a constructive way to think in those situations.”
In addition to his army duties, in his private practice Zinsser has worked with a glittering roster of clients, including neurosurgeons, congressional candidates, ballerinas, writers and star athletes, such as two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning. Whether their arena is the surgical table or the running track, they come to him for gamechanging advice on how to dispel those pesky naysaying voices in their head so that they can deliver knockout performances under pressure. And now he’s distilled his knowledge into a book, The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance.
I’m hoping to glean some tips from the famed confidence-whisperer. While hardly a quivering mess, I do have a habit of second-guessing myself in parts of my professional – and social – life. And the thought of public speaking sends me into a cold sweat. The chance to smooth out the chinks in my self-belief armour and come away with a quarterback’s swagger is tempting to say the least.
But is it realistic? We tend to view confidence as a magical elixir that’s only available to Olympic sprinters, CEOs and other creatures blessed with rare talent, puffed-out chests and Colgate-white teeth (plus, the odd blustering buffoon). For most of us, being an adult means having a PhD in our multitude of shortcomings, foibles and crippling insecurities. And while I can improve my fitness with a Peloton, and my inner calm with meditation, surely I can’t just learn how to think highly of myself, can I? How to be unflappable under pressure? How to believe – with a surety that overrides any lingering doubts – that I can be good at anything?
In his poised, methodical way, Zinsser is here to tell me that, if I doggedly commit to altering the story I tell myself about myself, then yes: yes I can.
First, some housekeeping: Zinsser wants to straighten out some common misconceptions around confidence – starting with how we define it. Although we tend to think of it as a sense of belief in one’s own ability, he finds this unhelpful because it neglects a crucial fact: we are hardwired to perform skills unconsciously. When we’re in the zone – whether during a tennis match, maths exam or violin concerto – we’re not critically assessing each movement but operating in a free-flowing state.
“If you’re hung up with the mechanics, and trying to think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it, you access a whole lot of neural pathways that tie you up,” he says. He defines confidence, then, as having “the sense of certainty about your ability that allows you to do something without thinking about it: that allows you to execute more or less unconsciously.”
Being in this state makes success possible, not guaranteed. It won’t conceal a lack of ability, but it will enable you to go into a performance thinking: “I’ve got this money in my wallet and now I can spend it – let’s see if I’ve got enough,” he says. Without confidence, we’ll never know how good – how talented, how skilled – an individual really is.
Zinsser doesn’t particularly see confidence as a product of genetics. Nor is it necessarily linked to competence. Sure, we idolize superstar athletes whose talent and bravado seem to go hand-in-hand, but he comes across just as many gifted people lacking self-belief. “The unfortunate fact I have seen is that our actual competence is higher than our degree of confidence in it,” he says, speaking about the population generally. “It’s the conclusion you draw about yourself from experiences of success [that breeds confidence],” he says. “Unless you make those conclusions, the actual success that you have might not do you any good.”
He believes confidence is cultivated during childhood – “how you were encouraged as a young person to think about yourself” – and cites as an example King Richard, the recent biopic showing Richard Williams constantly telling his daughters Serena and Venus that they were destined to become the world’s best tennis players.
Can anyone become more confident or is it only attainable for certain individuals? He pauses for a few beats, chewing over his words. “I think it’s quite possible for anyone to develop a greater sense of certainty,” he says, eventually. “Some people might have to overcome more baggage from their past than others, but I’m quite a believer in that kind of human potential.”
In any event, there’s no such thing as “a confident person”; it’s more that you’re confident in a particular skill or situation (and even within a skill, you’ll feel better about some things than others). Case in point: Eli Manning. The former NFL superstar, who twice led the New York Giants to Super Bowl triumphs, “was very confident in his ability to throw certain balls and reach certain defences, but he did not like to stand up and talk in front of a crowd,” says Zinsser. “I’m convinced that’s the case for all of us: I don’t think there’s anybody who’s confident across the board.”
“Have you ever produced good work in suboptimal conditions?” asks Zinsser rhetorically. We’re back to helping me forge a bulletproof writing mindset. “I would think so,” he continues, “otherwise, you wouldn’t be in the job you’re in. So what you need to be reinforcing, a story that you need to tell yourself about yourself, is: ‘I work well, despite distractions. I work well, in almost any condition. My editor can count on me to deliver quality work, even when things are chaotic around me.’”
This rather simple reframing of how I view myself feels pretty significant. And I put it into immediate practice: in a meta situation, I’m writing this article from a cramped plane seat en route to Australia, a series of pre-flight texts from my editor demanding reassurance that I will be able to deliver words by the deadline still warming my phone. With each blood-curdling wail from a baby in a nearby bassinet, I repeat my new mantra about myself with an increasingly feverish vigour.
Yet there’s much more to be done. Zinsser likens confidence to a mental “bank account” that we must constantly top up with valuable deposits. That includes mining our memories for instances of when we have done things well. After each training session, or day at work, we should devote about five minutes to reflecting on things we have accomplished and committing them to our “internal hard drive”. No victory is too small for inclusion. (He also notes that it’s worth spending time looking ahead and envisioning, in realistic HD-film quality, the dreams you most desire.)
This can apply to whatever knee-knocking situation is keeping you up. Plagued with impostor-syndrome thoughts of not being qualified to do your job? “I’d tell you to give me the whole of your résumé,” says Zinsser. “We’re so good at overlooking the skills that we have cultivated, the effort that we have put in to develop ourselves to the point where we are indeed employable and competent. Look for some of the reasons that you are indeed the genuine person for the job.”
His book contains countless tactics for keeping that bank account fat by recasting how you think about your missteps. Some are sourced from Martin Seligman, the father of “positive psychology”. These acknowledge that you will have negative thoughts and will make mistakes, but you can effectively see them off by viewing them as “temporary (“It’s just this one time”), limited (“It’s just in this one place”) and non-representative (“that’s not the truth about me”).
There are physical techniques, too: keeping your shoulders slightly back and eyes straight ahead will improve your posture, while focusing on breathing during a performance can be a powerful way to bring a feeling of control and yank you into the present moment. (Note that none of these require you to obnoxiously strut about like The Wolf of Wall Street.)
The most extreme example of selective thinking, the “shooter’s mentality” pursued by Golden State Warriors basketballer Stephen Curry, involves treating missed shots as temporary and as an omen that you’re about to experience a return to fortune (“I’m bound to make the next one”), while viewing successes as permanent (“Now I’m on a roll”).
One nagging thought I had while reading these passages: building confidence often requires you to ignore logic. This took me back to the late 2000s when, as a tennis-obsessed teen who travelled around Australia competing in tournaments, my on-court confidence was fragile at best. If my warmup went badly, I was convinced the whole match would be a disaster.
And I couldn’t get my head into the game if I had assessed, pre-encounter, that my opponent was better than me – smoother technique, bigger shots, flashy overseas academy training. In those instances, I was defeated before the match started. As often happens when we enter a situation devoid of confidence, it became a self-fulling prophecy.
If someone had told me about the shooter’s mentality, which Zinsser calls a “thermonuclear psychological weapon”, I would’ve said: “Great, but how am I actually meant to believe these things?” To cast aside all reason and buy into a fantasyland where errors lead to success and success also leads to success?
If I’m being honest it sounds slightly delusional, I tell Zinsser now.
It is, he replies. But the way to wholeheartedly believe in it is to practice it, repeating these mantras, memories and mental tricks until the story they tell becomes “your dominant way of thinking about yourself in that context”, he says. “It’s got to become your dominant habit of thinking about yourself – just like you brush your teeth every morning and night – if you want it to materialize in a challenging atmosphere.
You can’t just turn it on. It has to be already in you.” He can’t say how long this could take: for some clients it’s happened after only a few sessions, while for others it has taken six months of conscientious observance before it became endemic to their thinking.
In case confidence wasn’t slippery enough, once you have gained it, the struggle continues. “We’re all imperfect beings and, no matter how many times you practise that second serve, occasionally you’re going to mess it up,” says Zinsser. Confidence is more delicate than a handblown vase. Acquiring some of it “doesn’t mean you’re going to have it for ever. It can easily be knocked down. You’re going to have to wake up again tomorrow and rebuild it.”
Talk of confidence has been around for as long as humans have been going into battle. Zinsser’s book opens with a quote from the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu who, in his fifth-century BC treatise The Art of War, declared: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
Yet now, perhaps more than ever, individuals need to embrace self-assured thinking. Modern society is, at best, “very ambivalent” about confidence and is not about to puff us up, says Zinsser. Growing up, we’re taught that a soupçon of it is good; any more and we risk becoming smug or arrogant and therefore unlikable. Zinsser believes the biggest hurdle to striving for greater confidence is “the misguided impression that if I become certain about myself, I will somehow become lazy and complacent and I will lose my fire and motivation to improve,” he says. “Boy, is that a big misconception.”
As part of our education and socialisation, we’re taught to focus on fixing imperfections and mistakes, marking every facet of our lives with red pens. “There is a curious tendency in our modern world to over-identify with our shortcomings and even define ourselves by our mistakes, presumed limitations, and all the things we can’t yet do,” writes Zinsser. While he admits that there’s a time for being a harsh critic, “there’s also just as much value in being one’s best friend”.
Social media hasn’t helped the cause. “The 24/7, nonstop barrage of messages are always putting these somewhat false images in front of us: ‘Look at me, at this place, enjoying this wonderful day and this fabulous drink,” he says. “It tends to make us think, ‘Well, gee, I’m not in a beautiful location with a beautiful someone enjoying a beautiful drink. What’s wrong with me?’”
Are we less confident than previous generations? There’s another long, reflective pause from Zinsser. In the 1950s and 1960s, he says, “There was a whole generation or two of folks who really grew up believing, ‘Things can be better, I can have a great life, I can succeed. Today, with the generation that’s grown up online, I’m not sure there’s the same general level of optimism,” he says. “My sense is that maybe we’re not quite as confident and optimistic now.”
All the more reason to get to work on that movie about your life in which you’re the charming protagonist who completes everything – real feats from your past and wishlist goals alike – at a remarkable level. It takes dedication to stream this flick in your mind each night, sure, but it makes all that other hard work you’ve done – the backhand drills, the weekend reading, the university degrees, the blood and sweat – worthwhile by putting your head in the game come crunch time.
Zinsser calls it the cherry on top. “It’s the decision to say: ‘I’ve done the work. I know what I know. I’m going to deliver now. I am enough.’”
The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance by Dr Nate Zinsser is published on 27 January by Cornerstone Press at £14.99. Buy it for £13.04 at guardianbookshop.com
The stock market rallied to record levels yet again on Friday after a better than expected October jobs report, a big announcement from Pfizer and a slew of strong corporate earnings results all helped boost investor optimism about America’s economic recovery.
All three major averages touched new highs: The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6%, over 200 points, while the S&P 500 gained 0.4% and the tech heavy Nasdaq Composite increased 0.2%.
The United States added back 531,000 jobs in October—better than the 450,000 expected by economists, according to data released by the Labor Department on Friday.
The long-struggling labor market is showing signs of improvement, notching its best monthly showing since July, while the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.6%—its lowest level in more than a year.
A major announcement on Friday from vaccine maker Pfizer also helped boost stocks tied to the reopening of the economy: The company said it will seek FDA approval for its antiviral pill, which reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 by 89%.
Although the Pfizer announcement caused shares of other vaccine makers such as Moderna, BioNTech and Merck to plunge, travel and leisure stocks widely rallied on the news and led the market’s gains on Friday.
Solid earnings also helped drive optimism, including from the likes of Uber, which reported its first-ever adjusted quarterly profit as demand for ride-sharing recovered, and Airbnb, which had its “strongest quarter ever” as travel continued to rebound.
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While reopening stocks have performed well recently, several pandemic favorites have struggled. Shares of at-home fitness equipment maker Peloton plunged over 30% on Friday after reporting dismal quarterly earnings—making CEO John Foley no longer a billionaire. Other companies have also seen their businesses take a hit from the reopening of the economy: Smart TV company Roku and online education company Chegg both reported lackluster earnings this week.
The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that despite labor shortages, supply chain constraints and inflation fears, the U.S. economy was recovering well. The central bank announced that it would begin reducing the historic level of stimulus it has been providing markets since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Fed chairman Jerome Powell also clarified his stance on high inflation, saying it was “expected to be transitory.” Markets have since rallied on the news.
The stock market has continued to hit fresh highs in recent weeks: The S&P 500 rose over 5% in October for its best month so far in 2021 and is up nearly 2% so far in November. Optimism around the reopening of the U.S. economy has grown, in large part thanks to third-quarter corporate earnings that have proved resilient despite higher costs and inflation fears. Of the 445 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results so far, nearly 81% have beaten expectations, according to Refinitiv.