Do you have a person in your life who has a lot of confidence?  Somebody who blazes their own trail and doesn’t seem to care what other people think about them.  They operate in a different way than most people.  They aren’t afraid of life.

How are they able to do what they do?  They can go into new social situations and somehow everyone naturally gravitates towards them.  They say sometimes outrageous things that other people would be scared to say, and get away with it!  They do things that other wouldn’t dream of doing.

These are the people that create their own path.  They have self-confidence and self assurance in their mindset.  If they are struggling with something in their life, where do they turn for help?  They turn inwards to themselves.  They provide their own help.

These people have an internal frame of reference.


A frame of reference is a term used by psychologists to describe where a person gets approval from.  Who do you turn to, to make sure that your are doing the right thing?  Are you saying the right things?  Are you acting like a good person?

Steve Strauss on Coach Andrea describes it as:

When you reference externally you get your sense of Self from things, events, and circumstances outside of yourself.

You know people who define themselves by their title, status, car, home, vacation, past, future, parents, children, needs, or condition. They are on a constant journey of reaffirming who they are — to themselves. Some would say they are “looking for themselves where they are not.”

When you reference internally, life is much simpler. And stronger. You know who you are. You know why you’re here. You know what gives you your greatest sense of satisfaction.

There are two frames of reference:

  1. Internal frame of reference
  2. External frame of reference

People with external frames of reference are spending their time looking around at other people trying to figure out if what they are doing is okay.  They are looking for others to validate that they are acting appropriately.  They need other people to tell them that they are doing well.

People with internal frames of reference look to themselves to decide whether what everyone else is doing is okay.  Instead of looking to others for approval, they look inwards and give themselves approval.  They only need the approval of their own self to feel that they are doing the right things.


Where do you look for approval?  Do you look to others to see if you are on track?  Perhaps you even ask other people to look over what you are doing and ask their opinion about it.  Do you ever need others to tell you that you’re doing well to feel it?

Or do you look to yourself for approval?  Do you take ownership of your actions and thoughts, deciding what is right for your life?  Can you re-assure yourself that you are on track without anyone else’s help?  Is self-confidence and self-assurance in your mindset?


Building an internal frame of reference frees you to act in the world as you see fit.  It is about leadership.  First you start to take full ownership of your life and the outcomes in it.  You are responsible for your thoughts, actions, relationships and outcomes.

As you grow further with your internal frame of reference you start leading others.  You are able to tell others where they are going right and wrong and help them achieve their own goals for their lives.  You become a caring leader and mentor, you can affect not only your own mindset but other’s as well.

All good leaders have an internal frame of reference.  It is what allows them to make tough decisions.  It allows them to decide what is right, what is important and what to do.  When a good leader is faced with a challenge, they may look to others for help, getting advice and problem solving, but ultimately they look inside themselves and ask those three questions.

  1. What is right?
  2. What is important?
  3. What should I do next?

A good leader is self-assured and self-confident.  They give license to themselves to do what they think is right.  They assure themselves when tough times come up and they give themselves confidence to act in the world.

If you want to be successful in life, if you want to lead people or change the world, you must develop an internal frame of reference.  Start building self-confidence and self-assurance into your mindset.


As with anything, practice is important to developing this skill.  You can start slow and build gradually over time.  Starting by trying to identify in your life whether you have an internal or external frame of reference.  Do you look to others for approval?

Where does this come up?  Is it at work?  In your relationships?  In social situations?

Once you can see where you look to others for approval.  Ask yourself the three questions:

  1. What is right?
  2. What is important?
  3. What should I do next?

You need to be able to answer these questions for yourself.

Let’s take a work example:

An employee is preparing a document to be published.  They are proofreading their work when they come across an error in their work.  What they have written seems to conflict with the main message of the document.  How do they react?

If the person has an external frame of reference, they will likely turn to another person to ask whether what they have written is okay.  (Hopefully they have asked the right person).

If they person they ask for advice notices the error they will call it out.  Usually at this point the first person then agrees saying something to the effect of:

“That’s what I thought but I just wanted to check”

If the person they ask for advice doesn’t notice the error, there is a good chance that neither of them will do anything about it.

What is really going on here?

The person writing the document must notice something in the first place to be asking for advice about it, so you might think that should be enough to fix the problem.  But since they have an external frame of reference, they feel the need to have another person’s approval.  They want to off-load the responsibility to another person and not take ownership of it.  They have a victim mindset, the world is happening to them, they are not making things happen in the world.

If person 2 notices the error, then person 1 gets to feel vindicated that they were right to notice the error.  But if person 2 doesn’t notice the error, then person 1 assumes that they must’ve been wrong.

Why does this matter?

It’s about responsibility.  If everyone has an external frame of reference then no one steps up to take ownership of the situation.  It’s the blind leading the blind.  Everyone feels that somebody else approved or is in charge of what is going on and nobody steps up to lead.

Its the same mechanism that helps to produce the bystander effect.  Where a person is in distress in public and there are many people around, but no one steps in to help them because everyone assumes that “someone else” is responsible or going to help.

We need to start by taking ownership of our lives, our actions, thoughts, relationships and outcomes.  Then take ownership our our societies at large, leading groups, businesses, cities or countries.

We must take responsibility for the world and everything in it together, and to do that we need an internal frame of reference, an ownership mindset.


It’s true that leaders have internal frames of reference, and they give themselves confidence and assurance.  They decide for themselves what is right, important and what to do.

But good leaders also listen.

A good leader knows how to listen to others and compile knowledge.  To let others help them come to a conclusion while still deciding for themselves.  All major human accomplishments are possible because we work in groups.  We must be able to function as distinct individuals in the group, but also as a cooperative member.

A good leader is not so consumed by their point of view that they can’t hear what others are saying and thinking, but they are also able to decide for themselves when to stop listening to others and deciding for themselves.

It’s a fine line to walk, but an invaluable skill to learn.  Start building an internal frame of reference.


To achieve success in our lives we must take responsibility for ourselves.  To be successful in groups, we need leaders who lead well.

Building an internal frame of reference will help you along this path.

Ask yourself the 3 questions often:

  1. What is right?
  2. What is important?
  3. What should I do next?

Do you need others to help you decide? Do you seek the approval of others?

Or can you decide for yourself what is right for your life and what is right for society?

Mindset Upgrade – Software Updates for your Mind

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