Building confidence

I doubt anyone would ever say they want to be less confident. We intuitively know that confidence is helpful, for performance at the level we are at today and to help us develop towards our full potential. But how do you build confidence? What should you work on?

C = P + S

Or, in plain English, confidence equals preparation plus skill. Let’s break that down. Confidence is best thought of (in sport at least) as a combination of your preparation (conditioning) and the level of control you have over your skills. Think about it this way – if you got called up to represent your country for the first time tomorrow would you be confident? Most people would say no and the main reasons would likely be related to a fear of making mistakes under pressure (skills) and/or fear of getting hurt (conditioning). We can think of confidence then as “readiness to perform”. It’s not some mystical emotion, it is the result of diligent effort over time on two things:

  1. Conditioning your body to be able to do what you ask it to do at the level you are performing at, and;
  2. Developing your skills so that they are second nature and don’t require conscious thought.

As we step up our performances to higher levels of representation, nerves are inevitable. Why? Because we don’t yet know if the work we’ve done is sufficient. It’s still an unknown, and our minds don’t like unknowns. Future uncertainty always creates anxiety and our minds love to fill in the blanks with a whole bunch of worst case scenarios… “what if you get injured”, “what if you embarrass yourself in front of your family and friends”, “what if you play terribly and never get picked again”?

Being nervous when you step up doesn’t mean you’re not ready – although it can feel like that sometimes. The nerves are just your mind doing what it does when there are blanks to be filled in. The more you try and relax, the more the nerves will come. Instead of turning away from nerves we need to turn towards them. I had a client recently who was worried that she was too relaxed and the lack of something to worry about was causing her anxiety… our mind has a habit of turning even the supposedly ‘ideal’ mental states against us. Worrying about failure is just a signal that we care about the game, we care about doing well, and we care about the people who have invested in us to get us this far. Nerves remind us of who we are and why we do what we do.

But here’s the thing. The rugby ball, or hockey stick, or barbell doesn’t know you’re nervous. Your shoes don’t know you’re nervous. The opposition don’t know you’re nervous. That all exists inside your mind as a collection of predictions sitting in your hippocampus (note: massive neuroscience oversimplification for dramatic effect). C = P + S will determine what you do if you can get out of your own way and let it. You don’t have to feel confident to act confident. You don’t have to feel ready to be ready.

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