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Conquering self-doubt: How to be confident every time you perform

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

A lack of confidence is one of the most common issues we work with people on as Sport Psychologists. Self-doubt and anxiety about our own performances, and worry about what other people think of us, can leave us lacking in belief that we deserve to be there, or that we will play well.

Our negatively-biased minds have evolved to keep us safe and protect us from harm, and that involves thinking about reasons why we shouldn’t do something, or why we might fail. These reasons our mind makes up generally fit into four categories:

Obstacles I Self-judgements I Comparisons I Predictions

Just take a moment to think about something you’ve been feeling unconfident about recently. What thoughts have you been having about yourself and the situation? Which of these categories do these thoughts fall into?

Being able to identify where a thought is coming from is a very useful starting point to be able to do anything about it.

So, you’ve caught yourself in the act, needlessly comparing yourself to someone else or predicting a negative outcome that hasn’t happened yet. Now what?

Here are two strategies to help you in those moments when your mind is doubting your abilities.

Strategy 1 - Just choose the helpful one’s!

So, our mind comes up with all these reasons why we are not going to do well at something, and it’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of convincing ourselves that these reasons are true and therefore we should believe them. “That person is better than me” or “I have messed this up in the past”.

A really simple but powerful mindset shift is away from whether it’s true or not, and instead focusing on weather that thought is helpful or not.

Once you’ve identified a thought as being an obstacle, self-judgement, comparison or prediction, you can ask yourself this question: “Is this thought going to help me be at my best today?”

If the answer is no, shift your focus towards one that is more helpful for your performance instead!

I’m making it sound easy, and the reality is this is quite a difficult thing to do. But with practice, and over time, you will become better and better at doing it.

You’ll notice that I’m not telling you to stop thinking certain things or to block things out of your mind (this is actually virtually impossible). Instead, allow thoughts to come and go as they do anyway, but just choose to focus on one’s that are helpful for your performance.

Try it this week:

1. Notice a thought as it comes into your mind

2. Ask yourself “Is this thought going to help me perform well today?”

3. If not, shift your focus towards a thought that is more helpful.

4. Repeat when you notice your mind inevitably wandering back to the initial thought

Strategy 2 – BE confident first, then FEEL confident

There are two ways to think about confidence. Confidence is both: a feeling (of being certain of your abilities), and an action (of having trust in yourself, other people, plans or the future).

There are times when we feel amazing - no wobbles, no uncertainty, no fear of failure. At these times, we feel unstoppable. It’s brilliant, there’s no doubt about that.

But, the truth is that confidence comes and goes. There’s no straight line.

Whilst having the feeling or the belief in our ability can be helpful, the act of stepping out confidently is more important in the long-term. And this is not about faking it until you make it. It means being true to yourself, and handling the fear or doubt you have in an effective, performance-enhancing way. If you wait until you feel truly confident in a situation, the chances are you may be waiting a long time. That is because, however much you try, the feelings of confidence will come and go. What is consistent is that you are always in control of acting confidently each time you step out onto the pitch.

So, if you believe that you have to feel confident before you can be confident, I want to turn that on its head.

Being confident starts with changing what you do…and the feeling of confidence comes after that!

To put this into action, take a few minutes now to write down 3 things you do when you are at your most confident. (It can be helpful to think back to a specific time when you felt confident and recall what you did and how you behaved. Then, deliberately do those things each and every time you play, no matter how you are feeling.

Give it a go and see what happens!

In Summary:

~ Everyone has self-doubt, even those that appear super confident.

~ Trying to stop negative thoughts from entering your mind is futile. Instead notice what thoughts you are having and choose to focus on the ones that are helpful for your performance.

~ Don’t wait to feel confident to play your best. Be really clear on what you are like at your best, and go out there and do that – no matter how you are feeling.

~ You wouldn’t look at a treadmill and expect to get fit, just you can’t read things like this and expect to get better at building your own confidence. Deliberate practice is the key!

Good luck 😊

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