The Truth about Doubt and Confidence
Performance in athletics or in the work place is often likened to a scale. One side of the scale is filled with confidence and trust and the other side is filled with worry and doubt. When people work, perform or play at their best, they say they are filled with confidence. Everything seems easy and that everything is going their way. The scale is tipped toward the side filled with confidence. However, when things go askew and job assignments are blown or shots are missed on the basketball court, the scale tips immediately in favor of the doubt.
People often say: “I need to be more confident! Will just thinking about confidence tilt the scale back into balance?” The answer is: not exactly. The doubt definitely tips the scale in favor of worry and fear. The way to correct the scale is to identify and eliminate the doubt and put in an action program that creates success. Create one success after another and eliminate the doubt and uneasiness until positive thoughts and momentum tip the scale to the other side. The residue of those success experiences is called enduring confidence.
The second enemy of confidence is worry. Worry is related to doubt in the sense that when you worry, you are feeling out of control and do not feel that you will be able to handle whatever situation or event that you may be facing. As in doubt, your internal fortitude is challenged and you fret that you will not be able to get through this crisis. The fret and worry of not being able to accomplish a task or do something that has value to you is a type of emotional cancer that eats away at the spirit of one’s capabilities.
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow”
According to Dr. Edward Hallowell, one of the world’s leading researchers in the study of worry, he discusses that worry robs us of our ability to control our situation and our thoughts. His definition of worry is that when you worry, there is an increase in feelings of vulnerability and frailty coupled with decrease feelings of personal control. Simply defined, when you worry, you are losing control over your ability to make things right and that you are afraid of being hurt! Perhaps you may worry about being physically injured but for the majority of people, who worry, it is an emotional or ego hurt that they are most likely to incur.
The problem with worry is that many people worry about things of which they do not or cannot control. These would be items such as worrying about the weather, or that their dress will be judged inappropriate for the dinner party, or the package they are expecting will not show up in time or any number of random issues. People who worry focus their energy on things that may or may not even happen in the normal course of events! I love what the author Mark Twain said about worry. He stated: “I have worried and suffered thousands of calamities in my life……none of them ever happened of course….but I worried about each and every one of them just the same”. What Mark Twain was referring to was that he would use worry as a strategy (albeit a poor one) to channel his energy and hope that bad things would not arise or happen. The truth in his statement is that even though he wasted his energy on things that did not happen, he still managed to worry himself into needless exhaustion. And so too is it with millions of people who worry about things that they do not have any control over and it affects every part of their personal and public lives.
The reason that worry is an enemy of someone trying to develop confidence is that confidence is a deeply held belief that something can and will be accomplished. Whenever a person introduces worry into the equation of performance, they sap the energy that is to be used productively for achievement and misdirect it towards failure. Worry isn’t so much about losing one’s energy or capacity for achievement rather than it is about giving your energy away knowingly and purposefully. When a person places their energy into doubt and worry, what they are proposing is that whatever happens is out of their personal control.
A great example of people worrying and who frighten themselves into believing that bad things will happen to them occurred in the classic movie, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In the movie, Mr. Willie Wonka brings five young children who each found a golden ticket in a hidden Wonka Bar and invites them to visit him in his chocolate factory. The children were allowed to bring one adult to chaperone them in their wondrous trip through the hallowed Wonka factory. However, in trying to get to the magical chocolate room, the children and the adults became huddled in a small room that was continually getting smaller the further in they traveled. The room was becoming so cramped that Mr. Salt, the father of the spoiled girl, Veruca Salt, shouted out: “Someone’s going to die in here Wonka!” In response to that statement Willie Wonka turned around and said this classic line: “Oh, you should never ever doubt…what no one is sure about!” Truer words have never ever been spoken! What Willie Wonka was saying is that you should never worry about something that hasn’t happened or may not ever happen!
Therefore, in a very real sense, worry is placing your trepidation and fear into something that is perhaps only imagined. If you worry about something that is dangerous or can create tension and anxiety, the logical solution is to prepare for that possible contingency and await the consequences. This is what is meant by “worrying well”. When a person worries well, they are being proactive and using their energy to produce a feeling of capability and productivity. It is closely aligned with the state of creating confidence. The act of creating confidence is opposite of being worried because when you are in a confident mindset and moodset, you are feeling capable of using your energy to counter any difficulty that lies in front of you and that everything will work out well.
A good example of “worrying well” and creating confidence is when a college student finds out that in a week they are having a major examination on the material thus studied so far in the semester. What a worrier would do is procrastinate and waste their time thinking about how poorly they will do on an examination that they will never feel ready to take. They would spend each day fretting and worrying and not doing anything productive to increase their intellectual acumen.
However, when a person takes a proactive and confident posture, they are in the aspect of worrying well. They will take a look at their notes and create a study outline and work on the major aspects of the semester. They might even take chapter outlines and create mini-examinations at the end of every chapter. In a very real sense, when you worry well, you are taking control of what you can control and moving in the direction of proficiency and competence. These are items that are closely aligned with feeling confident. Then, when the examination day comes around, the person who has prepared themselves for the examination can feel that they have prepared themselves to do the best they could because they have used their energy wisely and not wasted it on random or chaotic thoughts.
If we think about the Hallowell definition of worry, we find that when we increase our feelings of control and competence we also will decrease our feelings of being vulnerable. This means that when we take control of our thoughts and actions, our feelings will follow. This is a very proactive and disciplined mindset that suggests that we create our own zone of personal control. When we This is the formula that we will use later in the book to create confidence by moving away from the doubt, worry and the pain of failing. But in the meantime, for the millions of people who live their lives in fear and self-doubt, their main culprit is that they increase their worry by choosing that it is the road of least resistance and they become what your Grandmother called a worry wart!
The third enemy of confidence is fear. When discussing building confidence and going after your dreams, people tend to be overly cautious in their estimation that they can truly achieve their hearts’ desires.
Perhaps the one dominant element that holds people back from ever reaching their dream goals is that they fear that they may not make it in the first place! The fear of not knowing what lies ahead in their future tends to hold people back and freeze them into doing nothing! Thus, they remain helpless and stagnate into doing the same, mundane things that they have been doing all along knowing that something could be done,but they are unwilling to risk the chance because they believe it might not come true anyway! Therefore, they never even try. Fear is the stop sign where people always assume that it is a red light. The problem becomes that they are always waiting for the light to turn green, but it never does. They do not grow nor do they risk. The fear of change stymies them into inactivity or avoidance behavior and confident action is never taken.
Fear is a very real thing that occurs in almost every human being. Even when the fear of the unknown turns out to be nothing, it still awakens the fear response within you. An example of such a false expectation appearing real (F.E.A.R. acronym) is when you are walking down a dark alley and you feel scared that something bad may jump out at you and you realize it is only a cat. The fright that you felt was very real and it created a fight, flight or freeze response within milliseconds. Based on this response, your body goes into a state of high alert and signals multiple hormonal responses that get you ready to combat your opponent, run from the threat or even play possum and freeze. But the moment that you realize that the threat isn’t real, your body goes into a state of homeostasis and you tend to relax and your body system starts to normalize.
Make no doubt, for many people; fear is a very real and heartfelt emotion. Fear even helps to keep us alive in many situations so to say that fear is bad is not entirely true. But when fear becomes so overwhelming, it is stifling to any progress that a person may want to make. To state that fear is an enemy of confidence is to suggest that many people have different fears that hold them back from ever reaching their potential or being comfortable in their own skin. In this book I am not discussing specific fears such as the fear of death, spiders, drowning or the fear of flying. I am discussing psychological fears that interfere with your ability to perform or live the kind of life you want to live. A few of these fears are specific to performance and a healthy lifestyle: Here are just a few that may hold you back.
- Fear of failure
- Fear of embarrassment
- Fear of looking stupid
- Fear of appearing incompetent
- Fear of not meeting your personal expectations or other’s expectations
- Fear of not accessing one’s talent
- Fear of not being smart enough
- Fear of letting other people down
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being alone and viewed as an outcast or misfit
- Fear of not being understood or heard
A Fear Example
Now that I have listed a few of these emotional and psychological fears, let me give you a specific example of how fear affects a person who is trying to perform. I will use the example of giving a speech or public presentation. It is well known that for a lot of people, they feel great stress when having to get up in front of an audience and give a verbal presentation. There are even fear scales that suggest that giving a speech produces more fear than even the possibility of death! If that is true, then what is the underlying cause of all of this fear and why does it have such an impact on human beings? It turns out there are a number of reasons.
The first thing about giving a speech is that you are being placed in front of an evaluative audience. “Evaluative audience” is the key phrase here. Every time you step in front of a group of people, there is always the thought that they will be assessing, evaluating and judging you on many aspects. And to be honest, they are. They could be judging you on your appearance, how you speak or even if they are interested in the topic you are presenting! For many of them just sitting there, their main thought is: “What is this person going to tell me and do for me?”
What you need to realize as a speaker is that everyone in that room is a critical judge of what you may be saying because it could affect them! That is why the judgment is prevalent. If people didn’t care or value what you had to say, there wouldn’t be any evaluation or feedback of any kind. You would simply be taking up space and time and everyone could go on their merry ways and it would be done. There is no pressure because no one values what you say or how you say it! If you knew this last statement to be true and you didn’t care about how you did or what value you placed on your performance, you would probably not feel any pressure either. Why? Because it has no value or meaning to you! Fear is caused by us directing pressure on ourselves because something we are discussing or presenting has value to us! If you feel there is no value….there will be no pressure!
But when you stand in front of an audience and they are listening to what you are saying, displaying and even inferring by your words, motions and body language…..there is accountability. This accountability brings your awareness to what you are saying and how you may be saying it. For many speakers and even the professionals, the fear of not being liked or appreciated is a very real concern. No one wants to stand in front of a group of strangers (or even colleagues) and be viewed as incompetent, lackluster, and misinformed! This is why public speaking is so stressful. It creates a fear of being perceived by others as being stupid and is a perfect place to embarrass yourself if you say the wrong or incorrect things.
As far as the fear of not meeting your expectations or the fear of others, there is nothing worse than to be told after a presentation that your talk was “fine”. To hear the words “It was fine” to a speaker is much like saying “It was filling” to a master chef! Not much satisfaction for either the provider or audience!
Developing confidence as a speaker or as someone who just wants to be perceived as having something worthwhile to say, it is important to feel comfortable within your skin and realize a couple of important items. First, whenever a speaker wants to get through his fear and speak with authority and conviction, they have to understand what it is that they are presenting. The speaker should know his topic better than anyone in the building. This is a form of psychological and intellectual competence, a building block of confidence.
Secondly, there has to be an appreciation that the speaker is glad for the opportunity to present his information to a noteworthy audience. This collaborates with another foundation of confidence which is temperament and emotional composure. The speaker has to remind himself that he or she is glad to be in front of this group and a feeling of being grateful that this is the audience to which they will present this valuable information!
Thirdly, the speaker needs to dive into his material and become absorbed with delivering the information. This element of focus is another foundation of self-confidence which is the ability to focus on the task at hand and not worry about the outcome.
Finally, the speaker has to trust that whatever he or she is talking about, they are fully engaged in the material and that they are inspired to deliver the message. That is the ultimate level of self-confidence when you allow yourself to know that whatever happens, the result will work itself out and that everything will be okay.
So there you have a working example of how fear can affect a person on the stage and how confidence can help to diminish or even eliminate fear in the most dreaded of performances, the public forum! But fear will always be present and the most important aspect for building confidence is to face the fear and know that you are moving with purposeful intent towards your directed goal. As the sage philosopher Aristotle said: “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.” Becoming confident is the courage to face your fear even when the emotion is stifling and you muster the willpower to execute your message or performance.
The fourth enemy of confidence is a neologism that I created called can’tism. Can’tism is a form of the word can’t as in the word cannot. When a person says to him or herself that they can’t do something there is no action or movement to achieve. The motivation and drive to persist is done and finished. That is certain death to performance execution.
When I think back to all of the toughest sport cases that I have been involved with, some of the best work that I have done (and most difficult) is with people who have the cancer of attitude called can’tism. The neologism that I have for these athletes and anyone who has this affliction is “attitudinal-sclerosis”…..that is, it is a hardening of one’s attitude. When an athlete or any individual gets it in their head that they cannot do a thing and they give up, that is an example of can’tism.
Can’tism becomes the frustrated person’s default mechanism when things become difficult or that they reach an impasse’ in skill execution or delivery. When they become discouraged, disgusted and angry, they immediately shut down and say to themselves: “I can’t do this!” Or,” I don’t have the talent to do this”. “I will never get it”. “I am hopeless”. Their destructive self-talk comes gushing out of their mouth like a dam that has just burst open. What they fail to realize is that they are reinforcing a negative mindset and moodset every time they shut down. With every “can’t” that they proclaim, it is another block in the wall of giving in to a weak constitution of apathy and mediocrity.
The reason that can’tism is such an enemy of confidence is because it is a condition that saps the willpower out of the performer or individual. It isn’t that a person cannot do a thing but rather that they don’t want to do it or will not do it! The person who suffers from can’tism doesn’t realize that they are giving their power away through sheer lack of energy and drive. In a very real sense, it is much easier to say that you cannot do something versus to state that you can.
Remember, the word “can” means that you are able to do something or at least carry out the directive until you get to some finished completion. When you say to yourself that you can’t, you have already given up and whatever drive to continue is faded. Of all of the enemies of building confidence, the affliction of can’tism is one that is quickly learned by the masses of poor to average performers and one of the hardest to eliminate.
The fifth enemy of confidence is indecision. Although it may not be perceived to be as strong an enemy as the first four, indecision is still opposite of confidence because it promotes hesitancy, vacillation, trepidation and faulty judgment. A formal definition of indecision means that you cannot or will not make important or valued choices. It is as if you are hesitant or feeling trepidation to select one side versus another.
The ability to make a decision with clarity and conviction is a sign of a confident person. A person who suffers from indecision will waver and feel hard-pressed to make a definitive choice when it becomes crunch time. In fact, the inability to make a clear decision is actually about making a choice of no-choice! It is a choice of no action and no plan! When you fail to make a choice due to indecisiveness and trepidation, you have already made a choice of sloth and ambiguity. What this means in performance is that you have given away your power and your perception of being in control. This is why indecision is an enemy of confidence because it robs you of your ability to be in control of your own thoughts and behaviors.
In discussing how you move past indecision and gain control of your thoughts, one of the greatest basketball coaches and mental strategists of all-time was John Wooden who coached the UCLA Bruins. Coach Wooden guided and mentored multiple NCAA championship teams and numerous All-Americans including Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. One of his favorite sayings was: “if you fail to plan, you are just planning to fail!” What Coach Wooden was stressing that when you make a plan….. you stick with it and commit to it and live with the results! That is a key aspect of being decisive. You have the capacity and the willpower to make a decision or plan and to stick with it. The idea of abandoning your plans or your decision making capabilities leads to confusion and chaos.
Another sporting example is a saying by professional golfer, Brad Faxon. When asked if it is better to be decisive than correct, Brad answered with this: “My lifetime philosophy is: It’s more important to be decisive than correct. If you’re decisive …you will be correct. All I need is to believe in the shot. The closer you get to the hole, the more important that philosophy becomes.”
What Brad Faxon was stating is that for him it was more important to be decisive in what he wanted to do than perhaps hitting the correct shot or use the perfect club. I love the aspect that when he says he is decisive, he will be correct. This goes hand in hand with a person who is comfortable playing their game the way they know how or even when giving a lecture to a professional group. By knowing that they are going to do it their way they feel that things will work out well. They have made a plan or strategy to carry out and they feel comfortable in doing it this way. By giving themselves the freedom and authority to execute in the manner that they feel most comfortable, they are in a very real sense creating a confident performing state that will produce positive results! But it first starts by being decisive and staying committed to a specific strategy that allows a person to move through the doubt and negativity and perform with confidence!