Of course, it is Michael Jordan or LeBron James with the game on the line saying, “Give me the ball.”
Or maybe it’s my 9-year-old grandson, a beginning golfer with two holes to go and one ball left in his bag, refusing to walk around the lake so he doesn’t send his last nugget to “a watery grave.” Instead, he tees it up, gets focused, takes a big swing and laces a line drive over the water to the green, his best shot of the day.
Or is it the young college student with Down’s syndrome (accompanied by eventual U.S. Open winner, Gary Woodland) trying to par the rowdy stadium-like 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale prior to the Phoenix Open. She just kept smiling and saying aloud to herself, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.” And she did!
Confidence vs. cockiness
Confidence is some combination of determination, perseverance, courage, preparation, skill and focus. Of all those, it always comes back to preparation for me, preparation that leads to genuine skill in whatever activity you are working on.
“Confidence” is an inner state of mind, while “cockiness” is an outward expression of that inner confidence. Confidence is a relaxed, self-assured feeling. Cockiness is the swagger, the trash talk, the boldly predicting success. The trouble with cockiness is that, even if you have the skill and confidence to back it up, talking about it puts added pressure on you to produce, thereby introducing negative distractions that might backfire on you. Quiet confidence allows you to focus better and apply all of your positive energy to the task at hand.
I’ve always thought that confidence was more a look in the eye, suggesting assertively that I’ve got this under control. This is in contrast to aggressive huffing, puffing and chest pounding that just tires a person out and might even amuse your opponent. True confidence involves calmness and relaxation rather than some intense show of bodily prowess. It is a total way of presenting oneself, rather than any one key feature.
Stan Smith: a picture of confidence
Recently I attended a talk by tennis hall of famer Stan Smith, who is now 72, trim and tall and ever blessed with a pleasant expression and smile. His posture is very erect, and his calm voice is never rushed, always pensive and expresses appropriate emotion related to the content about which he is speaking.
Despite his commanding presence, Smith entered the small room almost unnoticed and stood with his hosts smiling and listening rather than putting on any demonstrative show of celebrity.
“Now,” I thought to myself, “Stan Smith is the picture of confidence, even at 72.”
Indeed, his stellar playing days are over, but he still can talk about them non-boastfully yet with great fondness as he reminisces about the many accomplishments that earned him the confidence he still displays today.
So, how do you achieve confidence?
I have already alluded to the basic answer a couple of times above: If your “self” is going to become self-confident, it has to be repeatedly paired with honest-to-goodness success and worthwhile accomplishments.
Confidence takes time to build, because it takes time to experience the necessary successes that lead to genuine confidence. So, don’t waste your time looking for shortcuts, gimmicks and quick fixes. Instead, use that valuable time getting down to business of building a record of success.
Consider this series of steps:
>> 1. Think of some activity about which you want to become confident. It might be something in sports, something in your line of work, maybe public speaking, etc.
>> 2. Pick some reasonably small part of that activity and learn the correct technique from a pro, followed with systematic practice, practice and more practice.
>> 3. Then test yourself under fair circumstances (not too easy and not too difficult). Once you are regularly succeeding at this level, up the challenge very gradually, such that you maintain a reasonable likelihood of success. What you want to avoid is setting yourself up for failure by making the tests too difficult too soon, thereby experiencing repeated failures that set you back in your confidence building.
>> 4. Once you know you have “got it” with this one small part of the desired activity, then begin adding other small parts repeating the steps above. Don’t forget to keep practicing and staying confident on the parts you have “already got,” or you might lose them along the way.
An example of building confidence
Confidence is built in small steps. Golfing great Ben Hogan said he wouldn’t let a beginner out on the course until they had gradually built the game over a two-year period. Ben was very demanding of himself and others. Hopefully it won’t take you that long in whatever you might be pursuing.
Let’s say you wanted to become a confident tennis player like Stan Smith. Well, try these steps:
>> Get with a teaching pro and learn the proper technique for holding the racquet and swinging it.
>> Then start very close to the net where you can use the completely correct technique and likely succeed from the git-go in getting the ball over the net with the correct trajectory and into the desired area of the court.
>> Once you can confidently make repeated successful strokes up close, then gradually, (I repeat) gradually, start moving back from the net using the same correct technique at all times.
>> Practice from each new slightly more challenging position on the court until you are succeeding enough at each one to feel confident that you can make the final step back to the traditional baseline.
>> With this very gradual, time-consuming progression, you eventually are playing from where you are supposed to be on the court and with a full stroke that you have built gradually over a long period.
>> How gradual and how much time will depend on the activity, the person and the intensity of the practice. If you rush your development, however, you probably will sacrifice confidence for speed in your desire to quickly be playing the whole game.
“No amount of pretend confidence can overcome blatant incompetence.”
Confidence flows from only true competence, which takes a long period of dedicated practice to achieve, time you also need to accumulate all of the gradual successes necessary for building confidence.
British novelist E. M. Forster once said, “The people I respect the most behave as if they were immortal.” The great writer surely would have reveled in the confident passion of Italian Winter Olympic ski champion Alberto Tomba, who was once asked: “Alberto, what do you say to yourself after each of those great downhill runs?” Tomba looked the reporter in the eye and responded slowly and suavely in his sensuous Italian accent: “I say, ‘Congratulations, Alberto.’”