Confidence, or lack thereof, is one of the most common challenges that sport & performance psychology consultants are asked to assist with. In order to address confidence, it is first necessary to understand it. Simply put, confidence is pre-knowing that you are capable of meeting the demands of the task/challenge you are facing. Confidence is different from arrogance or cockiness, which are both more often an overreaction to uncertainty: not knowing that you are capable of meeting demands and attempting to cover this up with (over) assurance. Another key difference is that confidence is internally focused, about knowing what you can do. Arrogance and cockiness are externally focused, falsely thinking that you are better than some external opponent or criterion. This is an important distinction because I have seen many people sabotage their confidence because they did not want to be perceived as cocky or arrogant. Because confidence is internally focused (self confidence), there is no risk of true confidence being misperceived as arrogance or cockiness.
Perhaps surprisingly, confidence can effectively be built through two points of focus. Of course, this does not mean it is easy to be consistently confident, but these are the tools to begin building your skill of confidence. These points are once again thanks to Dr. Rick McGuire.
1) Competence Builds Confidence
If you want to feel confident, the first step is to actually develop your skill so you have something to be confident in. While this may seem self-evident, we have all seen people attempting something where they clearly are not highly skilled still become frustrated that they are not performing as well as they “should.” The person on the basketball court that screams and curses every time the shot is missed…on the golf course cursing out their clubs for every shanked shot…the tennis court…the boardroom…the performance stage. Unfortunately for these folks, they are performing exactly as they “should” because they have not put in the time to build competence. Develop your skill, realistically appraise your skill level, adjust your expectations accordingly (you are not the person on TV for a reason), and watch your confidence blossom.
2) Focus Confidence on the Performance, Not the Outcome
In short, this means that even when we are capable of doing something it is not always going to turn out the way that we would like. This is the reason sports and performances are so captivating. We never know what is going to happen. It is also the reason so many people feel like their confidence is a mysterious force that comes and (more often) goes. If your confidence is wrapped up in outcomes, then just like outcomes sometimes it will be there and sometimes it will not. Do this long enough, and it is not there very often because we are constantly reminded of the unpredictable nature of performance, and this undermines our outcome-focused confidence. Focusing on the performance, on the other hand, puts confidence directly in our control. While we may not always get the outcome that we desire, we can always have a successful performance. Through our effort and will we can deliver all the capability that we have to deliver, and perform to the best of our capabilities on that particular day, at that particular event. Focusing on success will develop consistency in both our performances and our confidence.