The confidence confusion: How to build unshakeable confidence (and why traditional advice is wrong)

As a mental performance coach, I receive questions about confidence every single day.

Coaches, trainers, and clients want to know how to tap into this crucial mental performance skill so they can compete with the freedom and assertiveness that only flows from unshakeable belief in yourself and your abilities.

It often plays out something like this…

Them: “Hey Brian, how can I improve my confidence? When I ‘feel it’, things are great. But when I don’t ‘feel it’, something that happens far more often than I’d like, well… I struggle.”

Me:Are you that soft that you have to feel confident to perform well?”  

The looks of confusion then follow.  

Looks of confusion are beautiful. As coaches, when our clients or athletes are confused, it creates an opportunity for clarity. And through clarity, those we coach have the opportunity to bolster their confidence and develop a skillset that will allow them to perform to their true potential.

Me:Have you EVER not felt confident, yet still gone out and performed well?”  

Them: Well yes! Yes, I have.”

Me: “Well then, why are you so concerned about looking for the feeling of confidence vs. focusing more on what you need to do to perform well?”

Theatrically lifting up various pieces of furniture in the area, I ask if they have looked for their confidence under that table? Or maybe under that chair?  

Of course, I’m making light of this in fun, but all joking aside, you and I both know confidence is a serious issue. I’ve seen it time and time again through my work: High levels of confidence are a common thread you will find in ALL top performers, regardless of sport or industry.

And traditionally, confidence has been thought of as a feeling you have—or you don’t. But is that actually how it works? Or is there a way to develop confidence like any other skill?

You’ve heard the saying, “Success leaves clues.”

By looking at what the most successful people in your sport or profession have done, you can find patterns that may propel your performance and success to the next level.

Confidence is one of those clues you MUST recognize.

But simply knowing that the best of the best obtain a level of confidence most of us dream of isn’t worth a lot in and of itself. Knowing WHY and HOW they developed that kind of confidence is what you should really be interested in.

Today, I’m going to peel back the curtain and share confidence “secrets” the world’s top coaches and athletes use to develop unshakeable, unwavering confidence.

The kind of confidence that leads to consistent performance all season long.

The kind of confidence that allows clients to make change when change is hard and relentlessly pursue their goals, no matter what obstacle gets in their way.  

The kind of confidence that builds champions.

The path to unshakeable confidence begins by unraveling a foundational belief many carry around—a belief that’s destroying your confidence and the confidence of those you coach.

MORE THAN A FEELING: WHY PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH CONFIDENCE

Most people are confused about confidence and end up chasing a “feeling” that supposedly results from external stimuli.

When I play good, then I’ll have the confidence to play even better.

… When I hit a new PR in the gym, then I’ll have the confidence to pursue even bigger goals.

… When I lose 10 pounds, then I’ll have the confidence to start working out.

The problem? This line of thinking focuses on things outside, rather than looking internally at what is within our control.

This leads to faulty, limiting beliefs about confidence, such as…

  1. Confidence is a feeling I need to perform well.
  2. Confidence is all or nothing and— and someone either has it or they don’t.
  3. I need the approval of someone else—a coach or the front office—to have confidence.
  4. In order to have confidence, I need to get a certain result FIRST.

The worst part?

These beliefs are often “invisible scripts” operating below our conscious level of awareness. Like a termite infection hidden within the walls of a beautifully decorated home, destroying confidence from the inside out.

When you consider that most people base their feeling of confidence on things completely outside of their control, it’s no wonder developing high levels of consistent confidence is such a challenge!

But there is good news.

By adjusting our focus from the external to the internal, we can begin to develop the SKILL of confidence so this crucial component of performance becomes something we can predictably and consistently demonstrate.

The big takeaway is this: Confidence is more than a feeling you get, it’s a state you DO and a mindset you create—so let’s get to work.

LEGO BLOCKS OF CONFIDENCE DEVELOPMENT (REAL CONFIDENCE IS THE RESULT OF WHAT YOU DO)

The key is to get those you coach focused on DOING CONFIDENCE, not feeling confident.

… On ACTING confident, not feeling confident.

… On preparing well and trusting their preparation, not hoping on a feeling to show up.

… On focusing on what they need to do in this very moment of training or competition and on doing the work, not on feeling confident.

So how exactly do you do this? Think about it as stacking a series of “Lego blocks.”

If confidence is the result of something you DO rather than a feeling that comes and goes, we can develop confidence by stacking the right Lego blocks (strategies), clicking them together to make the right connections.

There are two strategies in particular—two foundational “Lego blocks”—that, when stacked together consistently will pave the way for all kinds of positive gains in the confidence of the clients and athletes you coach.

Coaching Strategy #1: The Importance of Preparation

The more prepared you are, the more courageous you can be. The more you can feel the calm and assurance that comes only with knowing you’re ready to go.

It can be tempting to look at the success of the world’s top performers and say, “Well yeah—they’re crazy talented, no wonder they’re so successful.”

While there’s no doubt the best of the best have extreme levels of talent, this is almost always accompanied by a way-above-average work ethic.

And regardless of what level we’re talking about, there comes a time when the talent gap closes, and those who end up rising to the top are those who relentlessly and consistently devote effort to preparation.

Because when talent levels out, mental performance skills like confidence are the difference maker. This is why we have to deliberately and consistently drive home the importance of preparation.

As a coach, you HAVE to vocalize this on a regular basis.

You have to remind your clients or athletes that while talent is a factor, thorough preparation is often the real difference maker—and that’s something 100% in their control!

It’s also important to note that, more often than not, those you coach have limiting beliefs about confidence that are incredibly damaging. It’s your job to help your clients and athletes recognize this and develop beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes that are more conducive to success.

In a big way, this comes back to external vs. internal factors that we touched on earlier… do your athletes believe confidence is the result of things out of their control or the results of tangible things they CAN control?

Someone who’s focused on external factors will respond with the following when asked where confidence comes from:

  • From previous success
  • Other people’s opinions or their approval

In other words: Factors OUT of their control!

An athlete who is focused on CHOOSING confidence through what they can control, on the other hand, will focus on things like:

  • My body language
  • My focus on the moment
  • My self-talk
  • My preparation
  • My physical conditioning
  • My use of mental imagery—I see it all before it happens

In other words: Factors IN their control like preparation!

Things ripple.

And in order to get the ripples moving in the direction of consistent, unshakeable confidence, the first Lego block you need to have in place is a deep appreciation for the importance of preparation.

This may seem obvious, but far too often coaches “assume” this is understood.

Reinforcing the importance of preparation is something you must intentionally and consistently vocalize and emphasize in every aspect of your coaching.

Coaching Strategy #2: Confidence is a Choice (So Start Acting Like it)

So you’ve done the work and coached the importance of preparation… so your athletes are ready to step into high levels of competition 100% confident, right?

Not so fast.

Having worked with everyone from professional athletes to Navy SEALs, I can assure you they all experience fear, self-doubt, and anxiety around competition, despite thorough preparation.

This fear keeps them humble and leads to a quality of preparation that allows them to compete with confidence.

Being fearless is false. Anyone who says they are fearless is full of sh*t. What looks like fearlessness is actually courage winning out because they CHOSE confidence despite feeling the opposite.  

Being courageous is what we are after. Being courageous is facing the fear and saying, “F*ck it”—and going all out anyway, even when you feel fearful.

Watch the short video below from ESPN’s Highly Questionable where 13x UFC World Champion Georges St-Pierre describes confidence and how he gets himself into the ideal and confident state on fight night despite self-doubt, fear, and anxiety.

GSP, who many people thought had a weak mental game early in his career, who I have worked with since 2007, will give you a glimpse into his brilliant mind and his perspective on confidence that I share with all of my clients.

Did you catch that? “Confidence is a choice. It’s NOT a state of mind.” Fear and doubt are normal.

Here’s another example.

In the 2nd half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season National League Cy Young Winner Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs statistically put up the best half of a season in MLB history. Arrieta was an instrumental part of the Cubs winning the 2016 World Series. Underneath the brim of the hat he wears on the mound, Arrieta writes the acronym ACE for “Acting Changes Everything.”  

Here’s what he had to say about how this strategy impacted his confidence:

“You’re not guaranteed to feel a certain way when you step on the mound to compete. Regardless of how you feel you have to project a level of confidence and believe that you have it all working that day. ACE is something I learned when I worked with Cain at TCU and it stuck with me. You have to act confident regardless of how you feel that day as to never tip the opposition that you might be at less than your best.”

The key is choosing confidence because you know everyone faces those same doubts and because you’ve done the work to prepare.

Again think of these strategies like Lego blocks…

You stack thorough preparation on top of choosing confidence and the end result is REAL confidence.

If our nations finest warriors, the best pitchers in baseball, and some of the greatest fighters in the history of MMA acknowledge they have fear and that their confidence comes from preparation and acting confident even when they don’t feel like it, what does that mean for those you coach?

It means that when, NOT IF, but WHEN there are feelings of fear and self-doubt, it’s key that we teach our athletes to recognize those feelings and quickly tap back into the “Fake it till you make it” mentality.

Or, as Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy and her great research on the science of body language discussed in the Ted Talk, Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are, “Fake it till you become it”.

The way you “Act yourself into confidence” is through understanding the power and importance of body language, focus, and self-talk, or “BFS”. No matter what someone is feeling, if they can get their BFS to reflect confidence, there will be a positive reflection in performance.

Of course, it takes practice like anything else. But done consistently, this can have a HUGE impact.

To begin coaching BFS, ask these questions:

  1. When you’re most confident and performing at a high level, what is your body language like, how would you describe it?
  2. When you’re most confident and performing at a high level, what’s your focus like, how would you describe it?
  3. When you’re most confident and performing at a high level, what’s your self-talk like, how would you describe it?

Answering these three questions will help bring awareness to what your clients’ or athletes’ BFS is like when they are their most confident and best-performing self.

Further reading: You can learn more about creating stronger confidence, motivation, focus and commitment in your athletes and clients here in another article I wrote called  3 Strategies For More Motivation, Focus and Commitment.

YOUR NEXT MOVE: IF YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR COACHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL, YOU NEED TO MASTER THE MENTAL SIDE OF PERFORMANCE

Knowing the what, when, and how of coaching mental performance—and trying to fit all of the pieces together on your own—can be burdensome.

That’s why I created the Mental Performance Mastery (MPM) Certification. Inside the MPM Certification, I’ll teach everything you need to add this crucial skill set to your coaching toolbox.

You will learn how to help your athletes and clients overcome mental barriers that trip them up and build the habits, mindset, and behaviors they need to be at their best when it matters most.

Not only will you develop a deep knowledge of the ten most valuable mental skills needed for peak mental performance, but you’ll also have a proven method for consistently and predictably developing these skills in those you coach.

The MPM Certification will open to new students for a limited time this May, 2019. Join the free Insider’s List below to save $200 on the certification and be the first to know when it goes live.