Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right. – Henry Ford
Self-Doubt, the Great Thief of Success
More than any other problem, self-doubt stifles men who would otherwise be successful. In short, it prevents them from trying. I can’t remember who said it, but there’s wisdom in the idea that those who believe they can’t don’t because they won’t, and those who believe they can do because they try.
Fortunately, self-confidence (the antithesis of self-doubt) can be developed. But be forewarned: Developing true, effective self-confidence requires accurate self-assessment, self-accountability, and consistent daily practices. Repetitive affirmations mean nothing if there’s no truth to them.
If you’ve sacrificed countless opportunities because of a fear of failure or a toxic belief that you can’t achieve success, this article’s for you.
What follows is the first installment in a three-part series delineating strategies to help you build confidence that’s founded on real, accurate truths about your abilities and not on fluffy, so-called “positive affirmations”.
We begin with a primer on how to develop real reasons for being confident – ones that don’t leave any room for negative self-talk, because you can prove to yourself they’re true!
Building Self-Efficacy Through Goal-Directed Preparation
Matthew Caldaroni, high-performance resiliency coach and founder of Mind-Body Fusion, specializes in solving mindset problems in high-performance athletes when their sport psychologists get stuck. He’s been hugely successful in his approach, for good reason.
The issue, Caldaroni maintains, is that most people over-plan and under-prepare. Do you enjoy making to-do lists, but not actually completing tasks? Or planning your workouts but not actually training? Do you like the idea of outcomes but lack confidence in your ability to execute processes? Then you know what it means to excel at planning but fail in execution. Your issue is likely a lack of true preparation.
At the heart of preparation, says Caldaroni, is unwavering self-confidence rooted in self-esteem. Psychologists call this “self-efficacy” – confidence in one’s own ability to perform a task at the level required. No amount of visualization, positive self-talk, or any other common mental skills tactic will have any effect if you’ve failed to strategically build reasons for the belief that you’re capable of doing something in the first place.
Unless you’re given to narcissistic delusions that you’re simply great all the time, you’ll agree that simply repeating affirmations to yourself is nonsense. Any honest person will recognize they can’t simply wish skills into existence. There has to be a process of development by which we build the requisite tools and become so adept with them that we can confidently call on them anytime, anywhere, under any conditions. Believe it or not, that is possible. Here’s how to get started:
Use Your Head: Think Strategically About the Problem
Task Assessment – What’s Required And What’s Your Role?
Any good strength training program begins with a needs analysis: What are the performance characteristics of the sport or task, or what physical attributes need to change in order to look or feel the way you want to? Similarly, any program of self-improvement, regardless of the domain, needs to be based primarily on the demands of the goal.
Start by making a list of all the skills or processes that need to happen in order to successfully perform whatever task you’re after. For example, a powerlifter wanting a bigger deadlift might break down (some of) the requirements as follows:
- Proper set-up
- Proper technique/coordination
- Possession of basic elements of strength
- Appropriate muscle size
- Optimal body composition
- Good nutrition and recovery practices
- Adequate nightly sleep
As another example, a guy who wants to be an effective public speaker might list the following as some of the requirements:
- Knowledge of the topic
- Experience with the topic
- Effective and efficient use of stories and illustrations
- Voice modulations (inflection, volume, pace, etc.)
- Use of 3-dimensional space (e.g., on the stage)
- Body language
- Audience interaction
- Respect for time constraints
In a team or corporate environment, in which everyone plays a different part in working toward a common goal, your list should go one step further and begin with a clear identification of all parts of your role. How do you fit into the overall plan, and what skills do you require to perform your duties?
Once you’ve cataloged the requirements of a successful performance, the next step is to self-assess.
Performance Assessment – How Are You Doing?
In the strength and conditioning world, we call this testing. Tests are selected for their relevance to the specific demands of the sport task to allow the coach to determine the athlete’s aptitude at each component.
In the case of our powerlifter above, a qualified coach might:
- Assess set-up and technique visually
- Test performance at various sub-maximal weights
- Take a training history (i.e., determine what the athlete’s done in the past to improve his performance)
- Determine the athlete’s “training age” (i.e., how long they’ve been training well, and the effects of that duration on their body’s expected future adaptations)
- Conduct a nutrition and lifestyle analysis
- Ask the athlete to record sleep habits for assessment
Similarly, a speaking coach might ask our presenter above to give a speech to a group of other learners and have the group collectively rate various elements of the delivery.
The point of all this is to produce some kind of score or evaluation by which to assess your areas of strength, as well as those areas you need to work on. This should be honest, but not pessimistic. Humility and accountability aren’t about downplaying your strengths – they’re about being honest about your weaknesses! When you’ve done this honestly, you’ve laid the foundation for building substantial self-confidence.
Experience Assessment – Where’s Your Focus?
Following your objective assessment of your execution of each component of a successful performance, it’s crucial to stop and pay attention to your subjective experience of a complete performance.
Think back to your last performance of the relevant task.
How did you feel before-hand? Were you anxious, excited, or just blah? Were you hungry? How sweaty or dry were your palms? Did you pace? What did you do to mentally prepare? Can you recall any thoughts that went through your head? What was the overall tone of your inner voice? Was it dominant and optimistic, or more pathetic and pessimistic?
What did it feel like during execution? How did you feel physically? Does anything stand out as being especially memorable? How about mentally? Were you focused on the people around you? Was your mind on nothing but the task itself? Were you thinking at all?
Afterward: Did it work out for you? How would you rate your performance? Did you rate your performance at the time? Were you concerned with others’ feedback more than your own assessment of the job you did?
This type of experiential assessment is powerful. Noticing and naming the characteristics of your perceptions before, during, and after performance highlights your areas of focus. Understanding your focus allows you to do the all-important task of asking yourself: Can I control the things I’m focused on? If not, you need to start paying attention to something else.
The circle of control. Figure out which task components fit into which circle, and focus only on those within the two inner circles, with most of your attention on the centre.
Using Your Results To Develop A Champion’s Mindset
By now, you should have accomplished four things:
- You know the elements separating a champion performance from a pedestrian performance.
- You understand your specific areas of technical strengths and weaknesses.
- You’ve identified the realities of past experiences and noticed the things that stood out to you.
- You’ve realized which aspects of the performance are worth your energy and focus (i.e., those you can actually control).
Generally, those who turn in pedestrian performances make one of three mistakes when presented with this information. They’re:
- Neither purposeful nor intense in their preparation. (That is, they’re scattered and lazy).
- Purposeful in their areas of development, but they lack the intensity of effort required to really improve. (That is, they’re focused but lazy).
- Intense in their efforts (i.e., they really want to improve), but they focus on the wrong aspects of performance (e.g., those that don’t matter as much, those with little room for improvement, or those they can’t control.) (That is, they work hard at all the wrong things).
If you want to succeed in whatever area of performance is important to you, you need to be both purposeful and intense in your development. Having identified your areas of focus through the exercises above, then, commit now to putting as much effortful work toward their improvement as possible, and forget about the things you can’t control!
Use Your Time: Practice Performance Elements Strategically and Efficiently
Now that you understand what’s required to do well, you have two options for becoming better. One is to focus on bringing up your weaknesses.
In the case of our powerlifter above, this might be a great target for improvement. In strength exercises, there’s often some limiting muscle or technical element that prevents progression in a lift.
Strengthening your weaknesses might also be useful when a sport or job requires you to be a great generalist. For example, special operations forces soldiers have to be pretty good at everything, as well as being pretty good at doing everything all at once. If something’s lacking, someone could die.
With that said, however, it seems to me that too many people focus on improving their weaknesses when they should be working on total mastery of their strengths instead. Jon Goodman, founder of The Personal Trainer Development Center and the Online Trainer Academy, explains it this way:
“In high school I was really good in English but my math grades were subpar. I never failed any classes, but averaged about a 60% in any math-related class. My parents did the obvious thing:
Hire a math tutor.
Stories like mine are common. Child excels in one subject but not another. The subject that the child excels in is ignored while the child is forced to work hard getting better at everything else so that it’s all brought up to a nice even level.
This mentality doesn’t make sense to me.
This isn’t how the real world works.
Being good at a bunch of different things doesn’t get us very far. Excelling in one area and going all-in does.
My parents should have gotten me an English tutor and kept a watch to make sure that I didn’t fail math class.”
So consider the demands of your particular performance task – should you be focusing on your strengths or your weaknesses? Whatever you choose, determine your exact plan of action and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Summing it Up
The point of what I’m saying today, and I think what Matt Caldaroni’s point is as well, is that the foundation of self-confidence has to be real. It’s a hard, crappy truth for guys that would be confident about something they’re not skilled at:
If you suck at something you need to do, then you need to become better, or any confidence you have is false.
Another way of saying it is this:
No amount of confidence-boosting drills, activities, or tactics will fix a lack of skill.
Therefore, if you have confidence issues, the very first thing you need to do is assess whether you actually do have reason to be confident. If so, lighten up. If not, get to work on becoming better.
Scary? Maybe sometimes.
But you can be confident of this: When you’ve taken stock of both your strengths and your weaknesses, your confidence will begin to rise.
Because you’ve finally taken the reigns of your performance and taken control.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]