“When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.” — Joe Namath
Janice has a big game today. She thinks to herself, “What if I choke and mess up? My teammates are relying on me to perform well.”
John has a big speech to give to a group of potential clients and worried that he will not get the sale. “What if I look like an idiot to them?” he asks himself. “What if they don’t listen?”
Michelle has an interview for her dream job. She is nervous. She is having bouts of anxiety that she will forget all the reasons why she is the best person for the job. “I hope I do not freeze and look like a fool,” she thinks. “I struggle in interviews and cannot remember what to say.”
These scenarios and more rob us of our confidence. We doubt, second guess, and ruminate about everything that could go wrong. As we continue down the path of negativity, our body language begins to mirror our thoughts — strength and confidence turn to fear and terror. You want to run or hide and imagine the worst possible scenario. Vividly, you see the poor execution of a play you practiced hundreds of times easily and correctly. Your imagination runs wild. Before you know it, you’ve beaten yourself down and have little chance to recover. “Why can’t I just be confident?” you scream in your mind.
Rest assured, you are not unique. Everyone goes through periods of lacking confidence in their lives. Within one day, you could be confident in your job and then feel incompetent at the gym, worried that others are critiquing your every move. On the field, you are a stud and effortlessly performing complex techniques while your teammates struggle. However, three hours earlier, you were on the verge of tears in math class because you were completely lost.
The good news is that with effort, you can feel confident in activities that bring you stress, anxiety, or fear. The bad news is that you have to learn and practice to be confident. It just doesn’t happen on the day of the event. It needs pre-programmed long in advance.
In the military, they have the saying, “People do not rise to the occasion, they fall back on their highest level of training.” This means that you just don’t go out and perform well when the pressure is on. You will perform to the level of your training. If you train extensively, mentally, and physically, you perform to that level when the “heat is on.” You will not all of a sudden rise to the occasion.
The following is a list of seven strategies to increase your confidence. They need to be practiced repeatedly to be ingrained into your normal behavior, just like jump shots, double leg takedowns, and effective speaking techniques.
1. Check your posture and physiology.
Whether you feel confident or not, the way you carry yourself is a reflection of your current thinking. Stand tall and lift up your chest. Put a confident smile on your face. Move your body like a person with confidence. The psychosomatic (mind-body) connection is amazing. You can cause physical illness from negative thinking. However, you can also cause overwhelming feelings of joy with your thoughts, as well.
Try this: Right now, stand-up, pull your shoulders back, lift up your chest, tilt your chin slightly up, put your feet about hip-width apart, and fix you vision on a spot on the wall but allow your eyes to go out of focus. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds. Close your eyes if you need to feel the effects of the exercise fully. The activity should have uplifted you and gave you an emotional charge.
2. Reflect on past successes.
We all have times where we did well at something. Maybe it is your communication with your children or co-workers. It could be a past success in school or on the athletic field. Regardless of the event or situation, make a list of times in your life when you excelled. When you are lacking confidence, think back to those times. Feel the emotions in your body and imagine in your mind the success you had. If it is right before a speech or game, spend a few minutes fully reflecting back on a time when you exhibited confidence and success. On your list, describe these moments in detail. What did you say to yourself that day? What was your energy level? How did you feel and what were your emotions? The more specifically you identify those feelings and emotions, the more useful this activity will be to build your confidence when you need it.
3. Slow down time.
Well, this isn’t the Matrix or some kind of Jedi mind trick. It is being fully present in what you are doing. We lack confidence when we focus on past failures or future outcomes. We catastrophize and speculate on all the things that could go wrong or went wrong in the past. When we focus our thoughts and attention on what is going on right now, we cannot look behind or ahead. We focus on the present moment and free ourselves to do our best work. How do we be present? Intentionally focus on your breathing and your movement and minimize your focus to the smallest details. You focus only on the pass to a teammate or the single task at hand, not paying attention to your phone or trying to multitask and do many things at once.
4. Create “I am” statements.
During times of lack of confidence, have a list of go-to statements that can boost your mental outlook. When we are nervous, our brain bombards us with so many debilitating thoughts. “I am” statements direct your thoughts and attention. They settle your mind and thinking so you are not feeding into the negative avalanche of “what could go wrong.”
I am strong and confident and thrive when the pressure is on.
I am calm and focused and excited about this opportunity.
5. Fake it till you make it.
Pick one person who demonstrates the confidence you would like to have and do what they do. How do they stand and move? When they speak, what do they say? How do they say it? Are they loud? Do they talk fast? Mimic someone confident. Before you know it, you will feel confident.
6. Visualize yourself succeeding.
Spend a few minutes at night before bed and when you first wake up seeing yourself confident and successful. Research says that our brains cannot distinguish between what is real and imagined. Did you ever kick or jump and wake yourself up from a dream? In your dream, you were active and moving, and your body didn’t recognize that it was only a dream. When you purposely visualize positive outcomes, you are programming your mind and body to respond to events in a positive way.
7. Change your definition of failure.
It has taken me many years to get to this point as a teacher, coach, trainer, parent, and person in general. Too often, we define failure as not succeeding. It’s the “if you aren’t first, you are last” type of thinking.
I get it. Changing your definition of failure will not change disappointment about losing or not reaching a goal. But it will allow us to do our best work and take the focus off the outcome and put it on the process. It is releasing you from the need to define yourself by winning only. It is recognizing that in every game or event, you truly only have control of two things. Only two! Your effort and attitude. When you go into anything with that as your primary focus, goal, and intention, you cannot fail. You may not win that day. You may not perform up to your highest capabilities, but you excelled at what you can control — effort and attitude.
I do not want this to be construed as a cop-out. It is not. The greatest athletes, businesspeople, and presidents have all failed. If you research successful people enough, you will notice that most have failed more than they succeeded. Instead of “if you weren’t first, you are last,” make it “I will work hard each day, every day, and good things will come.” That is being successful, making the commitment to do your best, and developing the mindset that you will consistently challenge yourself to be better.