The Power of Unbreakable Confidence… or Should we Say “Myth”?
How failure, fear, and doubt actually fuel our confidence
How failure, fear, and doubt actually fuel our confidence
There was a man, blessed with the power of unbreakable confidence. Or maybe it was a woman. Er, let’s just say, once upon a time, there was a person with unbreakable confidence. Okay, so…
This “Person” performed amazing feats, including wrestling death, traveling twice to the underworld and never once losing to the house in blackjack.
Confused? Good, you’re paying attention.
Because (in case you hadn’t realized) this story is 100% fictitious. Well, sorta. It’s actually ripped from an excerpt on Hercules, as told in the Ancient History Encyclopedia. I just replaced “Hercules” with “Person.”
I did this to illustrate a point of epic proportion:
There is no such thing as “unbreakable confidence.”
Yep. That concept is as much a myth as Hercules himself. So disregard all the literature explaining “how to build unbreakable confidence.” Because no man, woman, or child on this earth ever has — or ever will — develop it 100 percent.
Heck, even most myths and superheroes have their vulnerabilities — Achilles had his heel, Samson lost his power if his hair was cut, Iron Man struggled with selfishness, Superman has kryptonite, and many a boxer in training have been felled by McDonald’s french fries.
But (and this is where things get good)…
We absolutely can train key mental skills that bolster our mental toughness (with tools I’ll teach you later in this post). We in the science community refer to this as developing a “high-performance mindset.”
And the truth is, having our confidence shaken, rattled, and rolled might just be absolutely essential for that growth. To understand why, let’s take a couple steps back…
Confidence — real, earned, dirt-under-the-fingernails confidence — is the belief that we’ll perform our best when it matters most.
“The belief that we’ll perform our best… at what?” you might ask. Well, that’s up to you!
The way we exude confidence might look different for each of these scenarios. But the mental skills we train to boost our confidence are universal. These include effective goal-setting, focus, self-care, and motivation (among many, many more). But the one I want to focus on today is…
Resilience! Bouncing back. Becoming a human superball if you will. Facing uncertainty, anxiety, and obstacles… and powering on.
Because this skill ties directly to busting the great myth of unshakeable confidence.
Look back at some of the top athletes of history, including Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, and surfer Bethany Hamilton. They all have one thing in common:
They failed. A lot.
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Michael Phelps’ ADHD created attention issues. Heck, Bethany Hamilton had her arm literally eaten by a shark.
These athletes are clearly the best of the best, but they are not people with unbreakable confidence. Rather, they’re incredibly resilient.
“Resiliency” is the reservoir of inner strength we summon to overcome adversity and confront difficult challenges with energy and enthusiasm. It’s a key determinant of confidence and success, and it’s a skill we can grow (which I’ll get to more later).
I’d venture a guess that Bethany’s heart was pounding something fierce when she hit the waves only 26 days after her attack (how amazing is that?!). But fear aside, she got back on the board. And the more she succeeded (shark-free), the more confident she became. Today, she’s considered one of the best in the sport.
See, a high-performance mindset isn’t fearless. It acknowledges, “Yes, I have fear. Yes, I have doubts. But I’m gonna jump in anyway, sharks and all.”
So, what “sharks” have you faced in your life? An angry boss? Failed exam? A rough break-up? These obstacles can be intensely frustrating and emotional experiences. And the key to emotional resilience is NOT to shut these emotions out.
Think of “fear,” “sadness,” and “doubt” like crying children in the back seat of your car. Love them (they’re a part of you, after all), but know that they aren’t always fun to travel with.
Listen to what they’re saying. Give them a name. Heck, peek in the mirror once in a while and flash ‘em a goofy face. But always put your eyes back on the road, and keep driving forward.
Because the more we fail, the more we fear, and the more we doubt — and succeed anyway — the more we believe in our ability to bounce back and persevere. And that boosts our confidence in the long run.
Just hear what MJ has to say on it:
“I know that fear is an obstacle for some people. But for me, it is just an illusion…. Failure always makes me try harder on the next opportunity.”
Michael’s mental strength was developed through the lowlights they don’t show on TV. And then, when he hit his next game-winner, it solidified his fear of failure as a temporary “illusion.”
But hey, if my science and MJ’s clout aren’t enough for you… take it from one of the most profound theories in learning-behavioral science:
Self-efficacy marches in lockstep with confidence, and it’s not to be confused with “self-esteem”…
Whereas self-esteem is the way we feel about ourselves, self-efficacy is tied more closely to our aptitude for success, and is defined as:
“A person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation” (high levels of self-efficacy correlate with a strong ability to overcome obstacles).
Recall that earlier I defined confidence as “the belief that we’ll perform our best when it matters most,” and you can see the relationship.
What Dr. Albert Bandura theorized in 1977, is a model of self-efficacy that’s stood the test of time, which postulates self-efficacy is shaped by four factors:
1.) Personal experience — our personal history of success and failure.
2.) Vicarious experience — others’ success or failure relative to us.
3.) Social persuasion — verbal reinforcement from others.
4.) Emotional and psychological well-being — our personal levels of anxiety or depression.
Of those four factors, he found number one (“personal experience”) to have the greatest influence over self-efficacy.
Translation? Personal success builds self-efficacy. Personal failure reduces it. But continuous practice — where we succeed and fail and succeed, and ultimately grow — creates steadfast confidence that we can learn new things, and achieve tasks we set out to accomplish.
Heck, just think back to a time you overcame something really really hard. I mean, seriously try to visualize it. What was that thing? What made it so tough? And finally, how freaking good did it feel to finally succeed?!
This is the virtuous cycle of self-efficacy and confidence:
When we overcome challenges and perform well, we strengthen our confidence → And when we strengthen our confidence, we perform better.
And there are proven tools we can use to build our resiliency, and throw ourselves into this cycle.
#1) Keep Your Friends Close
Extensive research points to the positive role our communities have on our resilience. When we spend quality time with a friend or family member, our bodies release oxytocin; a powerful hormone that promotes happiness and defends against stress.
In addition, studies have shown that community engagement fosters more robust recovery from illness and trauma. As the American Psychological Association writes:
“Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties. Focus on finding trustworthy and compassionate individuals who validate your feelings, which will support the skill of resilience.”
So keep your friends and family near. Hey, maybe give a shout to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while right after you’re finished reading this!
#2) Focus on Controllables
When we struggle in a performance, we tend to blame ourselves for everything. But the truth is, we aren’t always in control. We gain tremendous resiliency by first, accepting that fact, and second, learning from the things that are in our control, and adjusting them for next time around.
Here’s an exercise worth trying:
First — Think of recent adversity you’ve faced. It could be something like performing poorly at work or a bad date, or something more severe like the loss of a loved one. Got that adversity in your head? Great… er, you know what I mean.
Second — For this event, think about (or better yet, write down) two aspects of this situation that you could not control. Really think about it. When you’re ready, let’s move on.
Finally — For this event, think about (or write) two aspects of this situation that were in your control, and how you would change those things to be more successful next time around. Again, really think about it. What could you do differently, that’s in your control, that would improve the situation if it happened again.
Great work! By doing this exercise, you’ve unburdened yourself from uncontrollables, learned from your past, and are shaping your future.
#3) Give Gratitude for the Good Things in Your Life
I know “giving gratitude” can sound a little corny. But there’s some serious science behind it:
In a 2016 study on the impact of gratitude on mental health, researchers at Berkeley divided 293 students seeking various mental health interventions into three groups:
‣ The first group received standard therapy only.
‣ The second group was also assigned an expressive writing activity to explore their emotions
‣ The third group was asked to write one “letter of gratitude” to someone every week for three weeks
The group that wrote the gratitude letters reported significantly higher mental health than the other two groups for several weeks after the exercise.
PLUS — incredibly — follow up fMRI’s on the participants showed that the gratitude writers displayed beneficial processing in their prefrontal cortexes months after the activity. This suggests that present-day expressions of gratitude can have lasting impacts on our lives.
All of which makes us more resilient in the long run. So, think about the people who have helped you in your life, and make sure to tell how much they mean to you. Heck, write them a letter of gratitude. Or a text. Or a phone call. However you want to deliver the message!
Here’s a wild thought: that letter doesn’t even have to be made out to people. Writing down the things we’re grateful for each day can have a lasting impact on our resiliency as well.
You can see more proven resilience tools here. But now that you’re armed with a new understanding of confidence, and some of the basic tools to support your resiliency, I only have one final question…
Do you know what happened with Hercules’ “gift” of incredible strength? Spoiler: He accidentally dented his music teacher’s skull. With a lyre (basically a small harp).
Now imagine if you were a mythical “hero” who never knew the pangs of fear and doubt. Sure, you wouldn’t feel the lows. But nor would you experience the highs of accomplishment.
And stop praying for calm oceans — for waves are the only way we learn to surf.
Remember: Bethany is a hero at least as much as Hercules. Not to mention she’s real.
And just think about how much we grow through our toughest challenges. These are the moments and experiences that define us. When viewed through that prism, fear and doubt become “Spidey Senses” for growth opportunities.
“Unbreakable confidence” huh?… Sounds more like a curse than a gift to me.
Want to learn techniques to gain resilience and confidence for any of life’s many quests? Download Confidently on your mobile phone — and start empowering your everyday greatness, today.