Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Confidence: How Important Is It?

"I didn't have any doubts, but I wasn't sure I was going to win."  
 --Gabriella Sabatini, a former professional Aregentine tennis player, who was one of the top players on the women's circuit in the late-1980s and early-1990s. She won a women's singles title at the U. S. Open in 1990, the women's doubles title at Wimbledon in 1988, two WTA Tour Championships in 1988 and 1994, and a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games. 

Despite considerable athletic talent, strong popularity and the beauty of a screen star, Sabatini seemed to consistently conflicted about her ability to win.  Many critics and experts had expected much more from Sabatini and felt that her overall career performance had left something to be desired.  

"Confidence isn't optimism or pessimism and it's not a character attribute. It's the expectation of a positive outcome. It is essential" - Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of the book, Confidence.

Framing and optimism are everything, as Andre Agassi demonstrates in this great quote from a panel (with Lance Armstrong) at the Milken conference in April 2006:

After wrist surgery, Agassi was ranked number 141 in the world in 1998. As Agassi said, he tried to look on the bright side, "only 140 people in the world could beat me."

A lack of confidence effects capability and reduces all-round ability. When confidence is high, real breakthroughs are possible.

It's possible to affect and, thus, manufacture confidence. Indeed it is a vital process to avoid the kind of expectation trap described below.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, performers' situational-specific confidence, or 'self-efficacy', is based on four primary sources of information.

The first and most important factor is past performance accomplishments. What we have achieved in training and competition forms the basis of future expectations of success or failure. Repeated success naturally leads to positive expectations of further success, higher motivation and enhanced self-belief.

Unfortunately, the drawback of this principle is that failure can give rise to a downward performance spiral and a 'snowball effect' whereby a performer starts to believe that success is unattainable.

Of course, such an athlete does not mysteriously lose his or her physical skills and talents, but without confidence in these abilities high-level performance is rarely achieved. This is the 'expectation trap', which has put many a gifted athlete into permanent decline.

In research, confidence has been shown to consistently distinguish between highly successful and less successful athletes. Although many people mistakenly assume that confidence reflects performance - i.e. we become confident once we have performed consistently well - it is becoming increasingly evident that confidence can be established, or 'manufactured' beforehand.

Several assumptions that can interfere with self-confidence and positive ways of thinking are:

ASSUMPTION: I must always be successful at every challenge that I undertake. This assumption is a totally unrealistic assumption. In life each person has his strengths and his weaknesses. While it is important to learn to do the best that one can, it is more important to learn to accept yourself as being human, and deficient. Let yourself feel good about what you are good at, and accept the fact that you don’t know everything and you don’t need to.

ASSUMPTION: I must be perfect, and loved by everyone, and satisfy everyone. Again, this assumption is a totally unrealistic assumption. All human beings are less than perfect. It’s well advised to develop personal standards and values that are not very dependent on the approval of other people.

ASSUMPTION: Everything that happened to me in the past remains in control of my feelings and behaviors in the present.

ALTERNATIVE: While it is true that your confidence was especially vulnerable to external influences when you were a child as you gain maturity appreciation and point of view on what those influences have been. In doing so, you can choose which influences you will continue to allow to have an effect on your life. You don’t have to be helpless based on what happened in the past.


Emphasize Your Strengths. Grant yourself credit for everything that you can do. And bestow upon yourself credit for every new experience you are willing to try.

Take risks. Adopt the attitude of: I never fail, because there are NO failures. However, sometimes I find out what doesn’t work and once I’ve learned what doesn’t work in a given situation, I can test something else.

Use Self-Talk: Use self-talk as a tool to counter harmful assumptions. Then, tell yourself to stop. Substitute more reasonable assumptions. For example, when you catch yourself expecting yourself to be perfect, remind yourself that it is impossible to do everything perfectly, and that it’s only possible to do things to the best of your ability. This allows you to accept yourself as you are working towards improvement.

VISUALIZATION (Make mental movies): Picture yourself in scenes that you currently have low levels of self confidence in. But see yourself behaving in the way that a person who has tremendous confidence  would. There are powerful Self-hypnosis and NLP processes that you can use to instill a sizable amount of self-confidence from within your subconscious mind. There are even NLP techniques that will let you take confidence that you do have in areas of your life, and then transplant that confidence to areas of your life that require more self-confidence!

Excerpts from Inside Tennis (April 2011) and the Peak Performance eCoach.  

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