Are you Short-Circuiting Your Potential for Gratitude?

By Donald Officer


Do not wait for someone else to write and sing your song. Only you know the melody of your life, so sing it with your unique voice.  

                                                                                                                                                            – Louisa Jewell


In Wire your Brain for Confidence: The Science of Conquering Self-Doubt, author and Canadian Positive Psychology Association founder Louisa Jewell, offers a blueprint to complete both those tasks in a style for which she is well and widely known. Side bar: This title is written with women in mind. So, when I received my review copy with the promise I’d publish my impressions, I realized I was cornered. And if the press release were not enough to reinforce that inescapable conclusion, the definitive subtitle to the book’s introduction, “Why Women Need to Rule the World,” should have been the clincher!

Nevertheless, plunging into the text was well worth any risk to my dignity. For while the book reflects Jewell’s own experience and particular socialization, there’s plenty of credible material to read here regardless of your gender or background. In truth, the most striking quality which authenticates Wire your Brain for Confidence is the way the author’s own life underscores all the conceivable challenges to anyone’s confidence at every stage of her or his journey.

Louisa Jewell’s résumé leaves no doubt she has the knowledge base to write with well-earned authority. This is no ultimately uplifting confessional bio you might grab on your way past the airport magazine shop. Retelling her profile without pulling punches throughout the book, we see her working life has been punctuated by insight-based decision points and personal crises – each requiring a serious elevation in confidence underwritten by pertinent science. As she explains:

I was pretty successful. I’d completed my degree in business at the University of Toronto and landed a great job at IBM. I married a lovely man and had a nice home in a great neighbourhood and two beautiful daughters.  


Somehow back then, she thought that whole package was just dumb luck. “There is no gray zone for chronic self-doubters: you are either a huge success or a complete failure.” she assumed, and obviously wasn’t satisfied. But let’s think about that impossibly high bar for a minute in case you’re wondering where the gratitude connection comes in. Then ask yourself how convincing you will be as a grateful leader whenever you see your own life as a colossal underachievement.

In other words, Louisa actually was lucky. She realized where she was selling herself short, sought counselling for her “mixed-up” thinking and reset her career compass. If she could be helped, was there a way she could help others?  Her dream was to become a professional speaker and writer. She has done that and way more in the forefront of the positive psychology field, graduating with the first Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) cohort at the University of Pennsylvania, a program begun by Positive Psychology founder Martin Seligman.

Jewell began her own consulting firm, appropriately named Positive Matters now operating in its eighteenth year. Still building towards that dream, she continues to master as she teaches the three powerful zones of self-determination theory: Autonomy, Competence, and Connectedness.Positive psychologists recognize that in some measure we already possess strengths in all three zones. Our personal improvement goal should be to continue to develop them starting with, at the minimum, a sufficient degree of effectiveness or self-efficacy to get the job done. As a leader, your task is also to spot progress towards them among your reports, colleagues and others acknowledging effort as well as achievement. Self-efficacy is a key competency serving both as a gateway to other key capabilities we might aspire to and as a measure of well-being.

Competent as Louisa is in all three parts of the SDT triad, it is as a connector that she has raised the bar to an extraordinary height. The culmination of that achievement has been the founding of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA) in 2012. Hard on the heels of her MAPP designation she brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to share what they have found to be “where human potential, success and happiness intersect.” That is where I first met Louisa as she was beginning her six amazing years as CPPA president.

The CPPA just held its fourth biennial conference last May – still growing strong and still keeping that important balance between research and practice. None of this could have transpired in the brief months between making the decision to launch the first conference and the actual event, if it were not for the vast and committed network of supporters and volunteers Louisa had steadily built over her years of practice and study. If you’ve ever watched her go through one of her famous “hug” lines you’d know how deeply she acknowledges her connections.

The book provides the reader with a credible blend of practical advice and tested science. Here you’ll find solid support for any confidence builder, although to be sure she attends to the particular kinds of doubt that often plague women in our world. Nevertheless, she notes men too get stuck or derail if for different reasons, Self-doubt is universal. Sadly, because of the “manly” role society has assigned them, many men are reluctant to confront their issues, despite multiple benefits. Wire your Brain for Confidence could offer them a lifeline too.

With Wire your Brain for Confidence Jewell has built a detailed outline of a program that moves systematically from an explanation of the many origins of self-doubt offering examples through the stages of building confidence “muscles,” to dealing with setbacks and new sources of doubt, ignoring confidence sapping distractions and determining when to settle for good enough results or to strive for excellence. Considering the struggles we all face in one domain or another, a little gratitude along the way plus some unequivocal acknowledgment for goals already reached, couldn’t hurt. And yes, that applies to any leaders and colleagues extending the gesture too!



What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning, Inc. Senior Vice President, Judith Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.