You’ve been training for months and it’s finally competition day. You can’t wait to get out there and battle, and show everyone how hard you’ve been working.
You make it to the venue early, but you’re feeling unusually nervous and a bit edgy. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, and they’re not flying in formation. Your mind’s racing a bit, and it starts to serve up a few doubts about how your performance is going to go today.
You begin your warmup to get the blood flowing and to clear your head. It feels good to sweat and move, but something’s off. Even though you’ve been busting your ass in practice and you know you’re prepared, your mind is serving up images of bad outcomes. It’s not comforting.
You start to wonder if you’ve trained the right way, if you’ve trained hard enough, if you’re really ready.
I haven’t met any athlete who hasn’t experienced a similar situation, at some point in his or her career. For some competitors, this is how they feel every event.
This is not the desired mindset of a confident champion. You can probably imagine that this level of worry does not lead to consistently strong performances.
So if you find yourself in this place, what you need is a proven and practiced process for dealing with it effectively. How can you take those feelings of doubt, flip the switch, and create unshakeable confidence? How can you substitute anxiety for raw energy and total belief that you will perform well?
One thing’s for sure, the suffocating pressure of big events affects every competitor. If you can train your own response, you can use this pressure to your advantage.
We Control Our Emotions
First, it’s important to recognize that worry, doubt, and uncertainty, are all emotions. Whether we’re doing it consciously or unconsciously, we create how we feel from moment to moment. This is key because if we are the source of our own emotions, we can learn to control them too.
To develop this level of mental mastery, we simply need to understand the steps it takes to form an emotion, practice them, and we’ll be able to feel what we want, whenever we want. In our case, that’s constructing a repeatable process for feeling self-confident.
Just so we’re on the same page, a dictionary definition of confidence is:
- A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/confidence)
I’d like to expand that definition. Confidence is also:
- An unwavering belief that despite what people say, what past performances indicate, what challenges are in front of you, you can and will perform your personal best no matter what the competitive situation
- A feeling, an attitude, and a belief that you’re worthy, capable, and completely up to the task you’re attempting
- An expectation that you have the mindset, the skills, and the ability to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.
So how do we “do” emotions?
Confidence Is About BeLieF
To create any emotion, we need three elements:
Just remember BLF.
To create confidence, pay close attention to:
- How you’re moving your body (your physiology)
- The language you’re using inside your own head (self-talk)
- What you’re focusing on (attention).
Let’s explore these elements in more detail.
Body – Move Like The Most Confident Athlete On The Planet
When you think of a confident athlete, who comes to mind? I think of Muhammad Ali (boxer), Kayla Harrison (Judo), Conor McGregor (MMA fighter), Larry Bird (basketball player), and Serena Williams (tennis player).
Which athletes in your sport are exceptionally confident? Write down a couple examples. What do they do that represents confidence to you? Try to picture and describe what they look like physically.
In most cases, confident athletes have a presence that is unmistakable. The way they carry themselves and move exudes and energy of self-belief that you can almost feel. Confident athletes show us a physiology that we can model or copy.
Being Confident Is About “Doing” Confidence
We’re going to discuss a lot of strategies and ideas in this blog. Reading words on a page is a start, but it’s not enough. If you really want to develop these skills, you have to bring them to life and work them.
Don’t be content to sit on the sidelines. Don’t hold up the wall. Get on the dance floor and move…even if it’s uncomfortable and you feel goofy. Be a little outrageous. Take action.
Go find a mirror, stand in front of it, close your eyes, and think about a time in your life when you were massively confident. It could be in sports, in school, or doing an activity.
Try recreating those same feelings of certainty. You just knew you were going to perform well. You were prepared and excited for the challenge. Before it happened, you had a sense that you would nail it.
If you can’t think of a time when you were really confident, picture a confident athlete you admire.
Now stand the way you were standing when you were totally confident. Pay attention to:
- Head – What’s the position of your head? Is it moving or not?
- Eyes – Where are your eyes looking: up, straight ahead, or down?
- Shoulders – Are they hunched forward or open and back?
- Chest – Is it up and out, or concave and slouching?
- Arms – Are they behind your back, at your side, in front, moving?
- Breathing – Are your breaths full and deep, or short and shallow?
- Smile – Are you smiling? Do you have that look on your face like any minute, you just might have to kick someone’s ass…and you’re totally ready to do that?
- Loose or tight? – What’s the tension level in your body: relaxed, tense, or a bit of both?
- Moving? – Are you moving or still? How are you moving?
Notice how you feel when you put yourself in this physiology. You should feel strong, sure of yourself, ready, and focused.
This is a confidence pattern. You craft it. As you practice it, you can evolve and improve it too.
To build this skill, start practicing this pattern every day and everywhere: during training, when you’re in school, at your job, or just walking down the street.
Intentional repetition is the key. If you practice moving your body in a confident, certain manner, over and over, when you do find yourself in a pressure-filled situation, you’ll be able to instantly change your physiology to access your best self.
Mad People Run Mad Patterns
Just for contrast, think of a person you know who’s habitually mad. How does she move her body? What does her face look like? Are her eyes squinting? Is she looking down? Does she shake her head side to side? Are her fists clenched?
If you see someone moving in this way, you don’t have to hear the person say a word. You know what state he’s in, and it’s probably not a happy one.
Our whole lives, we’ve learned to interpret the physiology of others and know something about how they’re feeling. What’s rarely taught is how we impact our own emotions by the way we move.
Two Inches To State
I’m an assistant coach for a local high school wrestling program. One of our coaching staff’s favorite athletes was Paul D. Paul was an excellent student who always worked hard in the classroom and during training. He was committed, very coachable, and a true team leader. His peers looked up to him because of the positive example he set in practice, day in and day out.
He was able to ask more of his teammates, and get them to train harder, because he always gave more himself.
Paul’s goal for his senior season was to place top four in the regional wrestling tournament and qualify for the State Championships. This was a stretch goal for sure. His previous performances in dual meets and tournaments had been shaky and inconsistent. He had never qualified for State before and there’s added pressure for seniors because it’s their last shot in high school.
Our coaching goal was to help Paul improve his confidence to a level where he could consistently bring his best anytime he stepped onto a wrestling mat.
A key part of achieving that goal was for him to change his habitual physiology.
He had adopted a routine pattern of slouching his shoulders forward, just a bit, with his eyes looking at the floor. It made him look like he was brooding all the time, thinking about an unsolved math problem or something.
What this body pattern didn’t do was put him in a warrior state where he was totally confident and ready to battle.
He only needed to change the position of his chest and shoulders about 1-2 in., and look up a bit more. Making this change, however, would have a huge impact on his psyche. Every time we’d see him in this position, we’d tap him between the shoulders to remind him. After a while, he’d remind himself.
At the regional tournament, Paul had one of his best competitive performances. He went on to the State Championships and had an excellent showing there too.
Was it solely because of how he moved his body? No. But understanding how his body affected his mentality, and then optimizing that pattern, certainly helped him be a more confident competitor.
Dedicated athletes who are committed to becoming champions take action on new ideas they’re learning. Champions do more!
Here’s a challenge for you:
- For the next week, wherever you go, stand and walk like you’re unbelievably confident
- Walk a little faster than you normally would
- Stand up straight, shoulders back, chest out
- Be a little cocky
- Take deep, full breaths
- Smile a little bigger than you normally might
- Laugh a little louder
- Walk around as if you’ve already achieved one of your personal athletic goals: qualified for a top team, won a junior tournament, or achieved a high senior ranking.
Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing, but see if anyone notices. More importantly, pay attention to how you feel.
Be brave enough to try new approaches. Experiment. Be playful. Have some fun with your bad self.
Apply What You’re Learning And Help Others
This suggestion has nothing to do with improving your competition performance. It has everything to do with applying the lessons you’re learning to help others in your life.
Question: What’s the best way to learn something?
Answer: Teach it.
Next time someone you know is feeling down, depressed, sad, or anxious, give him the experience of BLF. Tell the person, “Come on, let’s walk and tell me what’s going on?”
While you’re walking, do something to change his focus. Flick his ear softly, mess up his hair (gently), grab your own ears and holler “whoop, whoop, whoop.” For no reason, get in a quarterback’s stance, look left, look right, and then yell, “Omaha. Omaha. 747.” And then just keep walking like nothing happened.
Do something notably strange or funny…but don’t get beat up.
Feeling sad has a physical pattern: sitting down, eyes down, shoulders hunched forward, shallow breathing, low energy. As soon as you get your friend up and walking, you’ve shifted her body. You’ve made it a little more difficult for him to run his “sadness pattern.”
Messing with your friend, interrupts his thought patterns. Even if it’s a momentary shift away from thinking how sad he is, it’s a change in the right direction.
Listen intently but don’t allow your friend to adopt the sadness physiology he had before you arrived. Notice how she responds.
Give yourself props for intelligently trying to help a friend!
There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.— Amy Poehler