Confidence is vital. In sport any competitor with confidence in their abilities will excel. In social situations it is a prized asset which allows those who possess it to move freely and comfortably from one interaction to another. And in business and politics it can be a highly persuasive attribute used to inspire or, sadly, to deceive. (The word con is an abbreviation of confidence.)
But where does our confidence come from? The best kind comes from an unshakeable belief in oneself. To know that we are capable, regardless of the situation, and that we can perform to the best of our abilities when it really counts. To see every problem as a challenge from which we can learn, and be aware that even (and especially) if we fail, we will grow.
Belief in oneself is a wonderful feeling. But it has to be the right amount. Too much and we get cocky, lose our focus and make mistakes which will erode its very essence. Too little and we are likely to instill frustration in those around us and create doubt in ourselves. But an appropriate, balanced level of confidence and self-belief is empowering, intoxicating and surprisingly attractive.
When we have it we feel like we can do anything. When it’s gone, we feel lost and incapable and we wonder how we’ll ever get it back. It can come and go without warning. Some people seem to have an inexhaustible supply, yet for others it remains elusive and fragile, like a house of cards: intricately constructed but ready to collapse at the slightest disturbance. When it does collapse we have to gather the pieces together and build again, from the bottom, piece by piece.
Collapses of confidence are most visible in sport, especially in individual sports. In golf, for example, there are numerous illustrations of players losing big leads on the final few holes. The pressure gets to them, they begin to make mistakes and their confidence evapourates. They start doubting their swing, their shot selection and their ability to hole even the simplest of putts. The flow disappears from their game and they capitulate.
Fortunately, most of us are not often exposed to such high-pressure situations but there are plenty of times when we lack confidence. A recent journal entry from 11 years ago, ‘Negative To Positive’, highlights my morning default setting at the time: negativity. It equates to a lack of confidence or self-belief. By that evening I was looking back on a positive day, but the initial negativity had been a barrier I had needed to get past first.
Creating and maintaining belief in oneself is a form of mindfulness. We must be aware of the ways and the regularity with which we undermine ourselves and how we allow ourselves to be undermined by the comments of others. Such awareness enables us to implement procedures which can help re-establish our self-belief. These include:
- Remind yourself of the facts (rather than remaining with the fantasies)
- Examine the evidence (You’ll find you’re better than you think)
- Verbalise the problem (Speak to a trusted friend)
- Exercise (Nearly always a good idea)
- Small successes (Don’t try and get your confidence back all at once because you’ll probably make things worse)
- Ride it out (It may be just a phase which will disappear as easily as it appeared)
As well as a mindful approach, we can inspire belief in ourselves by having belief in each other. Try believing in someone you know. Do it with all your might. See how easy it is and then begin to apply that same belief to yourself. Do it without contradiction, explanation or justification. There will be resistance to begin with, but persevere. In the same way you blossom by encouraging others to blossom, you will gradually create more belief in yourself.
And all the time you are practising, know that there is at least one person who believes in you. Most likely there are others too, but one is all it takes. He or she has the capacity to wipe away your doubts. He or she will pick you up every time you fall. Take note of how she does it, learn from her and repeat what she says to you. Do it over and over again until you believe it yourself. Until you believe in yourself.