The truth about confidence

To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are. -Muhammad Ali

We’ve all been told how important it is to have confidence, yet few of us really understand how to obtain and hold onto it. Perhaps the lack of confidence we all face at one point or another is due to one common misconception: that confidence is circumstantial. But this idea that things have to be going great in order to have confidence couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most of us have been ingrained with a false idea of what true confidence actually means. Thinking back as far as kindergarten, I remember feeling confident when my P.E. teacher told me I was “a good runner” and chose to put me on our field-day relay team. For many of us, the moment we first discovered one of our talents was probably the same moment we received some kind of affirmation. Whether it was making the roster of a sports team, becoming the queen of four-square at recess (yes that was my sole-focus for most of elementary school), getting a major role in the school play, making it to the final round of the spelling-bee, or a simple “great job” from our teacher, we all grew up with this idea that confidence comes from being “good at” something.

No doubt, success is a growth factor for confidence. But to think you can’t have confidence without constant success is one big lie we have to stop believing. Fast-forward to first grade and I remember losing my first race during P.E. Immediately my fragile, juvenile heart was broken and my Olympic dreams seemed crushed all because I was no longer “the best.” Thankfully my elementary logic was keen enough not to give up then and there at the sport I would one day make my career!

This idea that our confidence must come from success, status, or popularity is known as circumstantial confidence. I’ve recently been reading an awesome book titled, Why Not You by Valorie Burton, and in it she explains that circumstantial confidence is actually NOT confidence at all. Real, authentic confidence, on the other hand, is based on who you are rather than what you achieve, or how your life is going in that moment.

Being injured for over a year and not having run a race since 2014 would seem like a good excuse for me to lose confidence. If I wanted, I could revert to my kindergarten-mind and declare myself doomed. But if there’s one valuable lesson I’m learning it’s that there is still hope!

The truth about confidence is that it doesn’t depend on circumstance, it’s a choice only you have the power to make.

I wrote another blog about this two years ago, (Confidence is Key) but at the time I was actually coming off of several lifetime-best performances, so confidence was a little easier to grasp. Now that I’ve been injured for so long and had to start building back up from zero, I’m learning how difficult it can be to remain confident when you have little to show for.confidence is a choice

I recently read an awesome blog by Phoebe Wright, (The Not-So-Cinderella Story) in which she talks about dealing with this exact same thing; learning to be confident even when the circumstances aren’t perfect. As a walk-on at the University of Tennessee she had faith in her coach and with confidence she worked her way to become an NCAA Champion. “In college I had to have faith when I had no proof I should have any,” she said. However, post-collegiately she experienced several poor performances attributed to over-training. So when her new coach told her to back off in workouts she found it hard to believe she could still have as much success. “In Seattle, (post-collegiately) I had to have faith when I had proof I shouldn’t have any. It was a nightmare.”

Indeed, the fight against circumstantial confidence can be just that, a nightmare! I’ve seen it happen with myself having come from a collegiate program where I was ingrained with the idea that every split I hit in a workout was a direct indicator of my fitness and my next race performance. If I wasn’t hitting faster times each workout, then I wasn’t as confident going into the next race.  Thankfully, I know now that this isn’t necessarily the case. There are way too many external factors (ie the weather, how tired you are from previous training, your competition, illness, etc) that come into play when training or racing. I’ve even experienced plenty of PR races that I went into with little expectation, but because I ran with confidence I overcame the odds.

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So now you’re probably wondering what exact steps you can take toward choosing confidence when you have no rhyme or reason to be confident in that particular area of life. I wish I had all of the answers, but the truth is I’m still figuring it out for myself. In future blogs, I plan to dive deeper into all of this, but for now I will leave you with some advice from my good friend, former teammate, and sports psychologist, Hannah Brooks, “Focus on the things you can control instead of the things you cannot.”

I can’t go back and change the fact that I got injured. I can’t fast-forward and skip training phases.  I can, however, choose to be confident in the things I CAN control such as my nutrition, training sessions, doing every single rep of my physical therapy exercises and getting proper rest. When I do line up for a race in the future, I can either choose to dwell on the training I missed, or be confident in the work that I’ve done. Finally, I can choose to put my trust and confidence in the Lord, and focus on His plans and timing.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

-Proverbs 3:5-6

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2 Comments

  1. Amanda, I love the “It’s not about where…” quote. I once ran but got old and fat. I made the decision that 2016 would be my pivotal year where I return to running. Ran a race Saturday and sucked. However, I told my brother that 2016 will be a struggle, but will be a year of yearly PRs. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

    • Jim, great perspective! Sometimes you just have to focus on where you’re at right now! And remember to keep enjoying the journey. Good luck the rest of 2016!

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