We often hear the word ‘confidence’, and we’re often told to be confident. What is typically left out, however, is what being confident really means, what it looks like, and how to get there. So what does confidence mean to you? What does confidence feel like, how do you know when you have confidence? Where does your confidence come from?
Confidence is contextual, multidimensional, and flexible. You may be confident on your home field or court, but not on the road. You may be confident in practice, but in games you find yourself doubting your performances and what you are capable of. You might be confident on the last rep, but that first rep can be daunting. It’s based on the thoughts leading up to performance and during performance.
We often skip over the time to understand what our internal emotions and thoughts are, and skip over the thoughts that are unproductive in the ways that they hinder our confidence. Each of us have triggers that produce unproductive thoughts, our minds are incredible at grabbing our attention and pulling us in. Maybe there’s that one gym where you think “I can’t pass a ball”. Maybe it’s a specific team that you had a previous experience with of choking during the game and think “I suck, I’m an awful player, I’m going to choke”. Or maybe it’s seeing a certain person that leads you to think “I’m not good enough”. Events, situations, and people can trigger unproductive thoughts, just in the way that other events can trigger productive thoughts where you feel on, feel good, and STRUT.
We all have those days where walk the walk and talk the talk and strut into our performance environment fully knowing we are capable. It’s quite the feeling. At the same time, it feels like those days don’t come quite often enough and our confidence goes for a roller coaster ride, or on the “Confidence Wave”.
When we think about performance, it goes up and down, and we have good days and bad days. Without the awareness of it and the skills to step out of the confidence wave, confidence becomes tied to the outcome of our performances with each up and each down, resulting in confidence following the natural performance wave. Sure, you get amazing high-highs on the confidence wave, but you also experience the lows and the inconsistency that comes with the outcomes of our performances. Confidence becomes invariable and reliant on outcomes, which is problematic as the outcomes (i.e. winning a game, hitting a home run, scoring a goal, finishing first, breaking records) are out of our control, and we don’t fully trust our actions and ourselves.
Instead of feeling like confidence comes and goes and only appears when things are going well, we want to tie our confidence to our ability levels, our actions, and our self-talk. Ability levels that coincide with purposeful, intentional practice and preparation will go on a general upward trajectory. With confidence tied to our beliefs and trust in our abilities, we create consistent and stable confidence. Take action in building your confidence rather than waiting for the feelings of confidence to come from outcomes, or from outside sources. Practice the skills, apply them, assess the results and modify as needed.
Take a quarter for example. What is the probability of flipping heads? Flip the quarter. Again, what is the probability of landing on heads? Flip the quarter. And again, what is the probability of landing on heads? Each flip the probability is 50/50. So, what is the ability level of the quarter? 50/50. The ability of the coin is unchanging, you could flip 100 heads in a row but the ability of the quarter never changes. The outcome is what side the quarter lands on, but that does not change the ability of the quarter.
Your abilities are within your body, and the things that change the performance outcomes are extraneous, uncontrollable variables. Even if you strike out, shank a ball, or false start, your ability level is the same and is on that upward trajectory through intentional, purposeful practice combined with self-talk and how you engage with your thoughts.
What corrections can you make from a poor performance, and what can you learn from your performances? Both the good, and the not so good?
- Jennifer Simmons
University of Denver MA Sport and Performance Psychology
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