Lesson 13

The Enemies of Confidence


Bad is Stronger than Good


Throughout this book we have been discussing the merits of being confident and how confidence can affect your life in so many positive and productive ways.  But why is it that when we are feeling confident and believing in ourselves things seem easy, comfortable, and natural?  Are the things that we are experiencing really this easy or is it just perceptual bias?  Is the confident feeling that you are having a permanent one or is it temporary?  If it is a strong feeling of positivity, then how do you make the most of it?   If it just a feeling, then why don’t you try to understand what is really happening?   Is it possible to describe it or at least have some clue as to the genesis of this belief in your ability?  These are all relevant questions that you have been exploring throughout this book and by now you should have a pretty good idea about where your thoughts and feelings are coming from and how they affect your behaviors.

I have been investigating the idea of confidence for a long time and it seems that whenever I ask someone who is feeling extremely confident they cannot tell me specifically what it is that they are doing or what has been happening.  They merely say that they were in the “flow” or that they weren’t really trying at all. They simply knew that good things were going to happen.  It is as if they almost don’t want to investigate their thoughts and feelings for fear that they will dig too deep and bust the balloon of confidence!

From a performance viewpoint, it almost feels as if everything is going our way and that we are almost bullet-proof to the ravages of misfortune and pain.  As a professional athlete, coach and sport psychologist for over 45 years, I don’t ever remember walking down a fairway or running up the basketball floor thinking: “Wow, I am really brimming with confidence!”  But in reality, I knew that something good was going on and that I didn’t want the feeling to end.  But as soon as we lose this feeling of magic within ourselves, we start to second-guess our ability and we lose whatever magic that we thought we had!  We all know this feeling.  Whether you are on the athletic floor, in a classroom or at a sales meeting, we know that we are losing it!  So it is with the millions of people who possess confidence and then for some unknown reason tend to lose it or that they allow it to dissolve from their grasp.

Then, if confidence is a feeling that we can achieve something and it allows us to do great things, what causes this feeling to vacillate and dissolve so quickly? Why is it that we have confidence one moment and lose it the next?  What is going on here?  Well, the answer is that all human beings are wired for survival and not for the pursuit of happiness or pleasure.  What I mean is that we are hard-wired via our DNA to be on the lookout for our own safety, security and peace of mind and body.  In a nutshell, human beings are hard-wired to protect themselves from harm via bodily injury or emotional and mental anguish.  But in trying to protect ourselves from the ravages of the external world, we also fall victim to negative influences in our internal world more than we do the positive ones.

If you think hard about this next statement you will know it to be true: It is great to think happy thoughts and be positive, but in truth, negative thoughts and feelings have a greater and longer lasting impact on the human spirit than positive ones.   In short, bad thoughts are stronger than good thoughts.  If we take a look at the neurophysiological data we also tend to see that negative thoughts and emotions tend to have stronger connections in the brain that those that are positive.   We intuitively know and understand the wonderful value that Dr. Norman Vincent Peale presented in his classic book, “The Power of Positive Thinking”.   But what no one really talks about is the tremendous power of a negative thought or feeling.  It is as if there is an evil twin book entitled “The Power of Negative Thinking” and almost everyone has either read that book or finds the message easier to follow than the positive message!  It is as if there is a roadblock of negativity that overrides anything positive that comes in its way.

It reminds me of the story about the Father and his adolescent son who was having problems with his homework.  The Father was trying to help his son gather some confidence within himself and he presented him with the book by Dr. Peale about The Power of Positive Thinking.  He told his son to read it and that the message inside would help him.  The young man took the book from his Father and he replied: “Okay, I’ll read it….but it probably won’t help me much anyway!”   Although this is a funny story but there is much truth in jest.  Isn’t it ironic that we can all identify with the feelings of this young man?

What it comes down to is this: In order to develop and maintain confidence, you must come to grips that you do not have the luxury to think negative thoughts, to wander into deep or negative feelings and allow doubt and fear to rule your life!  You have to move in the opposite direction of the diffidence.  But in order to combat the negative feelings that often erode our feelings of self-belief and confidence, we must be aware of what we are dealing with in the first place.  The following pages will contain the enemies of confidence and how they present themselves into your lives.  In order to face our fears we must identify them for what they are and what they are not!



The greatest performance interference in our lives as human beings is our own self-doubt.  Doubt is defined as the lack of conviction about something or a feeling of uncertainty.  Whenever you have doubt you have an uncomfortable feeling that something is wrong or that you won’t be able to handle whatever it is that you are facing. It’s as if there is a little voice inside of your head that says: “uh-oh…look out….there is a mistake coming up!”   Create enough doubt and it builds into a specific fear or phobia about specific events or situations.

Doubt is the most insidious of feelings because it always makes you feel inadequate, incapable and incompetent. Doubt is the little devil in your head that is always telling you: “you aren’t talented enough or you aren’t ready or prepared the way you should be”.  Or it says: “you’ll never be good enough…why don’t you just give up!”   All of these adjectives and negative affirmations are opposite the feelings of confidence.  In fact, confidence is really what one feels when there is the absence of doubt. When a person has total confidence, they do not possess any doubt. There is a self-assurance and certitude that suggests “I can handle this!”

One reason that doubt is so pervasive in our lives is that we are often taught to be cautious and not taking risks early in our lives.  We are told to be careful and not hurt ourselves physically, emotionally or mentally.  We become overly cautious and tentative and fail to stretch our risk and potential muscles. As parents we want the best for our children but we sometimes forget that our children need to experience the pangs of real life failings and rejection.  Even as role models and parents, we cannot protect our young children from all of the bad things that happen in their world, but we can certainly help them learn to cope, adapt and become aware.  As we grow and develop coping skills, these help us to be more accountable and responsible for our own thoughts and actions.

Another reason that doubt is so harmful is that it is the preferred way to think and feel because it is easy to do.  It is so much easier to just give up and give in rather than strive for achievement.   For example, say that you would like to learn how to play the violin.  This is not an easy task and when you state your intentions to do so, another person may say to you: “what makes you think that you could learn how to play?  I hear that it is quite difficult!”  This reflection of doubt linked with critical evaluation lends itself to you questioning your abilities.  By allowing someone else’s opinion to create a sense of uncertainty about the possibility of you learning a new skill, they have produced a sense of doubt in yourself. You start to question your own intention and desires and before long, you have convinced yourself that the whole idea was silly and what were you thinking!

That is how the seed of doubt is sown.  Someone causes you to question your absolute conviction about something that you want to do or are thinking of doing, often leads you to indecisiveness and trepidation.  In truth, if someone can get you to doubt your own convictions or thoughts, they can control you!  And what is the killer in all of this is that many times, that other person is none other you!  We so often get in our own way because we feel we don’t have the skill, the talent or even the time to achieve our goals or even to be comfortable just being ourselves! We are so busy trying to impress others and worry about what they are saying about us is that we give up our own true identity trying to be like someone else!  What a vicious cycle of self-destruction and smallness!

This reminds me of a time when I was directing my NIKE golf school at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  As I have alluded to earlier in the book,  I have been associated with the NIKE golf junior schools across the nation since 1992 and have had a blast teaching thousands of young golfers not only the basics of grip, stance and swing but also the life skills of confidence, persistence and focus.  On one particular occasion, we had a group meeting with about sixty junior golfers and my staff in a room that was aptly called the Moose Room because it had a huge moose head overlooking the fireplace in the lounge area.

Also in that room was a piano. I looked at the piano and walked over to it. I asked the group the question: “Who in here can play the piano?  Please raise your hands.”   Almost half of the group raised their hands.  In particular there was a young man of fifteen years of age named Matthew who raised his hand who was seated directly in front of me and the piano.  As I looked at him I asked him if he could come up and play a piece of music for the group.   He looked me directly in the eye and said: “I don’t know how to play the piano just yet, but I am sure that I could with practice.”   To which I responded:  “But I asked everyone to raise their hands that can play the piano.” “And now you are telling me you cannot play?”  Matthew’s answer was one of the best thought-out replies that I have ever heard from a person regarding ability, confidence and possibilities.  Matthew responded with: “Well, you asked the question of everyone about the piano.  You asked…can you play?”   I simply looked at the word of can as being able or capable of playing.  I cannot play anything at this particular moment, but I know that I can play the piano if I dedicated myself to playing it.”

What I learned from this interchange with Matthew is that his interpretation of playing the piano wasn’t a current state of performance but rather one that he could attain via practice and dedication.   What impressed me the most about this exchange was his absolute conviction that he felt he was able to play.  There was no doubt that if he wanted to learn to play, he could.   The idea that he can’t or could not ever learn to play never crossed his mind.   Now this is what a confident mind is all about.  It is about a mind that is void of doubt and void of conviction.   The lesson that we should all learn from Matthew that nothing is incapable of doing if we only give ourselves the chance and conviction to go after it.  The only thing that truly holds us back from ever achieving anything in our lives is that little voice of doubt that is constantly there because it is the default button of apathy and mediocrity.

After that brief conversation with Matthew, it got me to thinking about what the word doubt could possibly mean if we dissected it and added a twist. Remember that this is the NIKE Golf School at Williams College and I felt that if I could use a bit of the NIKE brand marketing to drive home a point, I would.  That led me to walking over to the easel and writing the word DOUBT on the blank page.  I printed out the first two letters…..D O……..and then put a large space between the letters D O and U B T.   I suggested to the group that in order to get through the doubt we need to focus on what to DO!     After all…the worldwide slogan for NIKE was “Just Do IT!”   So, I asked them to look at the words DO….. and then I wrote out three words to go with the other three letters…..Unbelievably Big Things!  That was the message: DO……Unbelievably Big Things!   Big things with your golf, your schoolwork and your life!

But that has always been my message.  To be able to get through your doubt and move on to what you want to accomplish is the first and most important step into developing your self-confidence in whatever you are trying to do in your life.  Remember, doubt is the greatest interference you will ever face in your life.  It is everywhere and everyone is so quick to add to the pile of doubt we face every day. Your choice is to move past the doubt and get into the do.   When you do that….you can DO…….. Unbelievably Big Things!    Confidence is living without the doubt and getting to the DO!

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