The Confidence Myth

The Confidence Myth is the notion that we generally tend to OVERVALUE how important confidence is in sport and performance. Read more here.

The Confidence Myth = You Need To Be Confident To Perform Well

What Is The Confidence Myth?

Let us start with a fact. You do not need to be confident in order to perform well. I know it feels like you do, but you don’t.

A feeling of confidence is not an essential ingredient to performance consistency and excellence. In other words, human beings are more than capable of performing very well with little or no confidence.

So, The Confidence Myth refers to anything that suggests otherwise. And I’m well aware that this will come as a major shock to many and may produce a bit of controversy around this article. If you disagree, then I recommend that you do the following. First of all, read this article twice in detail. Once you have done this, provide a counterargument via the comments section below, and I will do my best to respond as soon as possible. 

This Myth Is Very Entrenched

Many people involved in competitive domains will preach about the importance of being confident. I hope that this article goes someway to correcting this very common furphy.

If you Google quotes containing the word confidence, you will find thousands of statements from the past perpetuating this myth. There are some real stinkers out there. I will list just two of them:

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”

Carl Lewis

Sorry, Carl, I mean no disrespect, but this is completely incorrect.

“If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.”

Arsène Wenger

Sorry Arsène, but this is not true. Recent sports psychology research confirms this.

What Is Confidence Really?

Before going through why chasing confidence directly is risky, I thought learning more about the word itself would be worthwhile. The origin of the word confidence comes from Old French. Here is a screenshot from Etymonline:

The word trust appears a few times above, so this appears to be meaningful.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines confidence as “the quality of being certain of your abilities or having trust in people, plans, or the future”.

Hmm, more trust … with a pinch of certainty in there, too.

A Thought, A Feeling Or A Combination?

Putting confidence under the microscope from a psychological perspective is essential here. Some may experience ups and downs of confidence in a very cognitive way. In other words, being full of confidence will essentially be automatic thoughts like “I know I can do this”.

On the other hand, a lack of confidence will be mainly experienced via self-doubting thoughts. The most common might be “I suck, I know I’m going to fail etc”.

Others might experience variations in confidence in a much more emotional manner. This may be as simple as feeling confidence via bodily sensations, commonly associated with being relaxed. And on the other hand, feelings of underconfidence may show up as nervousness and the like.

How Do You Experience It?

In psychological flexibility frameworks such as ACT, thoughts, feelings, and actions are not as linked to one another as initially believed. In other words, you can feel hungry and not eat (an action). Or you can eat (action) whilst not feeling hungry. You can think about the consequences of missing the spare (ten-pin) but still execute your pre-bowling routine and start the ball on the ideal line (action).

Confidence is NOT an action.

PsychFlex is a big deal for us at Condor Performance. We attempt to help the performers develop skills that will allow them to execute their required actions and processes, regardless of how they are feeling and thinking at that time.

One way that it was explained to me many years ago, which I like, is that it removes a lot of unnecessary conditions that we inappropriately put on ourselves to perform well. 

I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y to perform well! Wrong!!

In reality, it’s more like this:

To perform well, I need just A, B and C. With A getting there on time, B having the best possible pre-game prep, and C having your equipment. Of course, there is a strong argument that a certain amount of quality preparation would be useful, but come competition time, that’s all in the past.

Although I’ve referenced this throughout the years, I think it’s very important to use this article to clarify why “to perform well I need A, B, C, D, E, X and Y” is such a barrier to the Holy Grail of consistently excellent performances.

If D, E, X and Y are specific thoughts and feelings, and we know that our influence on these is tenuous at best, we will always struggle when those thoughts and feelings are not showing up in the way we’d like to. Not through lack of intent but as a natural byproduct of how the human mind works.

Examples Please!

Of course, you can try to think a particular way via some preparation or previous rehearsal. Maybe you are a cricket or baseball batter who likes to think, “Watch the ball” when the bowler or pitcher is about to release it. There is nothing wrong with using these cue words unless your actions of actually fixating on the ball depend on these three little words.

Unlike actions, such as the trigger movement, which after a certain number of repetitions becomes virtually guaranteeable – this mantra, as simple as it is, may actually abandon you when you need it more. Maybe the crowd is so loud that you cannot hear yourself think. Maybe the pressure is so high that your thoughts become self-protective in nature.

Interestingly, some high-performers have worked this out. In the short YouTube video clip, you get to hear from some outstanding cricket batters on what they are doing in order to watch the ball, but none of them actually reference saying “watch the ball”. 

Summary

It’s important for me to summarise by clarifying that a feeling of confidence is by no means a bad thing. In fact, in our latest definition of what performance mental toughness actually is (coming soon), we actually include confidence as something we regard as beneficial. But it’s crucial that we accept that any feelings of confidence are simply a natural by-product of us being competent. 

Since 2005, we have helped countless individuals and teams to improve their confidence, but we don’t do this talking about confidence directly. We have done this by assisting them in optimising their performance. And surprise surprise, greater confidence normally follows.

And this is exactly the approach we’d use with you if you decided to become one of our clients too! To make a formal enquiry about our 1-0n-1 performance psychology services, please Get In Touch via this form here.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.

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