Sunday, November 30, 2014

Confidence Is A Choice

This fall/winter/off-season/base-training season, I've embarked on something I've decided to call The Confidence Project.  Because I feel that a lack of confidence is one of my biggest mental hurdles, I have committed to the hard (and somewhat uncomfortable) work that is required to improve it.  One of my assignments for this project was to write a piece entitled "If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren't I Choosing It?"  It was very difficult for me to write, but it helped me learn a lot about myself.  I thought I'd share, below.

If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren’t I Choosing It?

Why aren’t I choosing confidence?  I had to think about this for a long time. 

I think the first problem I had to overcome before I could consistently choose confidence is that I had to first believe, really believe that it is, in fact, a choice.  I don’t think I always perceived it as an option.  Rather I was much more apt to think that you either had confidence or you didn’t.  You were born with it or you weren’t.  It was one of the tools in your toolbox, or it wasn’t.  And it definitely wasn’t one of my tools.

When I started to understand confidence a bit more, I started to realize that with hard work, confidence could be gained.  It took me a long time to get to this point, but with a bit of research and lots of reading, it started to become more clear.  Confidence could be one of my tools.  But I needed to stop making excuses for myself. 

“I believe confidence is a choice. And I always choose to believe that I am always going to come out on top.” Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers

So once I realized that confidence is a choice, why am I still not choosing it?  Perhaps the answer to this issue is a bit more complicated.  But in its simplest form, the answer is: I don’t choose confidence because it’s not the easiest option for me.  It’s not where my mind automatically goes.  To choose confidence is hard work.  And up until this point, I apparently have been choosing the easy way out. 

I think that my “confidence muscle” is weak, probably from years of not being exercised.  In the past, I had only “symptomatic confidence” which is the type of confidence that is built only on recent success.  This isn’t particularly hard to come by and doesn’t require much work from the confidence muscle.  But it’s also not particularly useful because it’s very easily destroyed.  It only takes one injury or even just a string of poor workouts to wipe away symptomatic confidence.  Instead, I need to build “sustainable confidence” that which comes from within and is not built on external events.  This is the type of confidence that will withstand the storms of life and still remain intact, but also the type of confidence that requires some muscle behind it.  It’s that muscle that requires hard work and commitment, both of which I have neglected.  I must exercise this muscle.  I must constantly and consistently correct self-doubt and negative thoughts.  This is a difficult process and seems tedious.  It’s not something I enjoy or want to do.  But in order to develop the sustainable confidence that I so desperately want, this is the type of work I must get busy doing.  Without it, the physical work that I so enjoy, is wasted.

On a deeper level, I think choosing confidence requires a strong self-worth, a trait that I’ve likely never possessed.  Or at least a trait that I never remember feeling.

“An athlete’s self-esteem and self-worth are intimately related to their self-confidence. When athletes feel good about themselves, they are more likely to perform well, especially when the pressure is on. An essential key to developing an unbreakable self-confidence is to cultivate an “inside-out” approach to confidence. This begins by teaching athletes to feel good about who they are and how they do things and ends with them feeling good about themselves regardless of outcomes.”  (Vernacchia, 2003)

Do I feel good about who I am?  That’s perhaps a question that I’d rather not discuss, or even think about.  But it is also central to this topic.  Growing up my self-worth was not high.  I ran cross country and track during those years and with success in sport, I found a reason to justify my worthiness.  But the dangerous mistake in this, is having performance so intimately tied to my self-esteem.  When one took a nose dive, so did the other.  And this is not favorable for sustainable confidence.  It easily follows why I fear failure.  With failure comes a significant loss of self-worth.  It seems to be a very tough cycle to break.

Perhaps then, building self-worth is the way out.  With a higher self-esteem, which is in no way tied to performance, fear of failure can be removed.  Even if I fail, I can theoretically still feel deeply good about who I am.  If this is the case, what is there to fear?  With the removal of this fear, pressure lifts and confidence can improve.  When I feel good about who I am, no matter what is going on around me, I am not worried about what people think or say, and I don’t depend on others to make me feel good.  Perhaps the cycle isn’t very tough to break, after all.

I must believe that self-worth is a choice too, then.  Just as with confidence, I must commit to improving my self-worth with positive self-talk and with the refusal to believe that it’s something that I cannot change.

This will be very hard, very uncomfortable work for me.  Just as with confidence, my mind does not automatically go to feeling good about myself.  Instead, I more easily hear the voices that say I’m not good enough, that I do not deserve success and that I will never measure up.  I’ve surrendered to these thoughts for a very long time.  I don’t suspect I will be able to quickly turn them around. 

Fortunately, I have never shied away from hard work.  I guess then, that it’s time to put my head down, or rather, learn to hold it up high.


  1. I read this last night when I got up to get a drink of milk. (Chug out of the bottle).

    First thing it is a proven FACT that quoting a Chicago sports star is 985% more effective than quoting one from Detroit. You may want to find someone else to quote. No one likes people from Detroit. ;)

    What I think of confidence is Saddam Hussein at his end. He once enjoyed all the security the State provided, and when it was gone he was a scared man.

    I always thought of you as a pretty confident person, and I realize your life has been clothed in racing and triathlon for most of your life. If you took that security away would you still be confident??

    Obviously you wouldn't have a bounty on your head like Saddam, but I think that is what confidence is.

    On our final day we take no worldly achievements with us, so confidence to me is being strong enough to stand on your own 2 feet.

    It is a strength given, and probably not something to work toward.

    In my life I find this to be true.

    Anyway sorry for the long comment.

    Have a good day. :)

  2. Beth I think you are right on with your goal of working to achieve more confidence. I think some confidence is head knowledge and some is from the heart. The head knowledge of knowing the long term effort you've put into your training, and the subsequent results, becomes more internal and somewhat of a self fulfilling prophesy as you think through where you were in the past compared to now. I remember my cross country coach telling our team how we were so much better prepared than our results and times were showing. It wasn't until I experienced the results that I truly believed him. I think confidence is earned but it is not without peaks and valleys along the way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You are an inspiration.

  3. Bravo!!!! Well written Beth! I enjoyed reading this - its something each and everyone of us need to consider and work on daily. I always admire your tenacity, hard work and ability to take things into perspective. Looking forward to updates. Oh, and please write more blog posts, I enjoy reading them!!!

  4. Thank you for writing this, I really needed to read this, especially from someone I look up to as a triathlete! I have been 'keeping my head down' my whole life. I too, have always thought confidence was just something you were born with, where some people have it and some don't. I have never really thought of it as a choice until recently... luckily, racing my Ironman helped me gain confidence I never thought I had! Now if this could apply this confidence to my everyday life, that would be fantastic:) Thanks for inspiring me!