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Time to Reflect on Confidence

Written by Daniel Dymond on Wednesday, 29 October 2014.

What happens when we chase feelings of confidence?

We need to take a moment to pause and reflect on confidence. It's a term that is used everyday but I am unsure if humans are actually any good at promoting and maintaining confidence. So perhaps we need to look at confidence differently.

Let me ask three important questions:
1. Is it possible that needing confidence actually promotes inconsistent performance?
2. What comes first - confidence or the actions of confidence?
3. What are the consequences of trying to gain confidence when you are not experiencing it?

Experiencing confidence is not a problem; let me be clear on that. We know from the experiences of athletes that confidence can make it easier for them to perform well. We also know from athletes' experiences that confidence can be a very fragile thing. It can go as quickly as it comes. The temperamental nature of the confidence experience can be frustrating and confusing for athletes and coaches. Particularly when it seemingly affects performance levels. It appears logical then to ensure that athletes are confident as much as possible. Therein lies the problem.

Buying into the idea that you need confidence often reinforces the label of being "a confidence player". This belief about yourself can mean the following:
• Having a small emotional window in which you can perform at your best - how realistic is this considering performance under pressure often induces uncomfortable emotions that are associated with low confidence (anxiety, frustration, doubt)?
• Trusting emotions to inform you of your ability to perform in the moment, rather than trusting your competence that has been built up of many hours of hard work.
• Externalising reasons for performance - It's not really your skill, your ability to focus and your ability commit to action that enabled you to perform well, but confidence (reinforcing low perceived competence!).

Another important reflection is to assess whether the actions of confidence come before the feelings. Think about when you learned to ride a bicycle. Did you wait until you were confident to ride without training wheels, or did confidence come after the actions of riding? If the actions of confidence come before confidence, then why is confidence consistently pushed as a reason for performance? I would argue that it is far more important and helpful to work on your ability to focus and commit to actions under pressure than to try and enhance confidence.

The final reflection on confidence is to think about what the dangers are in trying to gain it when you aren't experiencing it. Think about your attention and focus. In trying to gain confidence, it is common to focus your attention on finding that emotion. You might try to think more positively or try to change your emotional state. This can be both time consuming and fatiguing. In performance moments, time is not always on your side and your energy is better spent on actions rather than attempts to try and change how you feel. Most importantly your focus and attention needs to be on task, not on your struggling with your emotions and thoughts.

Let me restate: I am not saying confidence is a problem; absolutely not. The problem lies in searching for confidence when you're not experiencing it.

We can be guilty of treating confidence as an elixir; like a commodity that when we have it, makes us perform well (like a performance- enhancing drug). We buy into the idea that confidence is a reason for why we perform well. The reality is something very different. Thoughts and feelings of confidence are temporary experiences that fluctuate in duration, frequency and intensity. Confidence is more like the weather in that way. It may feel easier to perform when confidence is high, but it is not a reason for performing well.

To reduce the confidence experience having a negative affect on your performance I would recommend these strategies:
1. Know the difference between your competence levels and your feelings of confidence.
2. Learn to trust your competence and not your confidence.
3. Stop talking about confidence as something you need to get or as a goal to achieve.
4. Reflect on the times when you do become caught up in searching for confidence and acknowledge the error.
5. Expose yourself to uncomfortable emotions and work on retaining task focus and committed action when you have those emotions.

About the Author

Daniel Dymond