Confidence: A skill you can learn

Confidence is knowing you are going to succeed before you execute a task, regardless of what others may tell you.

Confidence is knowing you are going to succeed before you execute a task, regardless of what others may tell you.

by James S. Payne — 

Just what is confidence? Confidence is knowing you are going to succeed before you execute a task, regardless of what others may tell you.

Mark McGwire, homerun champion, was asked during a national television interview: “What are you doing differently now that has made you so great?”

His matter-of-fact response: “Two years ago, I learned the importance of the mental part of the game.” McGwire learned how to control his focus and his thought processes. You could see it each time he got ready to bat. In the on-deck circle, rather than physically practice swinging, he used the time to prepare himself mentally. That is right — at the height of his career, while in the on-deck circle, McGwire did not physically practice swinging the bat; rather, he used the time to mentally psych himself up.

Jim Thorpe, great all-time athlete, finished a race and immediately reported to the long jump area. He walked to the landing area and placed his warm-up jacket next to the pit. He returned to the approach area, sat in a lotus position with crossed legs, forearms on his knees, thumbs on each hand pressed against his index finger, eyes focused on the jacket. After a short time, an official came to Thorpe and asked if he wanted to take a couple practice jumps. His reply: “I already have, 25 times.” In his head, Thorpe had already successfully jumped 25 times.

Confidence can be taught and, therefore, can be learned. Confidence is simply training your mind’s eye to mentally see your successful outcome before it happens.

Kimberly prepares for an important awards dinner. Weeks of preparation have gone into this event and everything has been double- and triple-checked. Kimberly and her husband are dressed like royalty. Before the first guest arrives, Kimberly retreats to the bedroom and, alone with eyes closed, mentally plays out all the scenarios she will encounter this evening and how she will respond to each. As she programs her mind, she experiences the feeling of being a successful hostess. Needless to say, the evening goes spectacularly, exceeding everyone’s high expectations.

In the employee locker room at a meat-packing plant in Kansas, Maria dons her work clothes and prepares to package meat. Her job is to remove meat from a shoot, put three pieces in an 8” x 12” plastic bag and stack the filled bags in boxes for shipping. Maria sacks significantly more meat than any other employee. She does this nightly, and she enjoys her work as much as any professional athlete enjoys performing their job. Here is the important part, prior to reporting to her work station on the floor each night, she visualizes the moves, kinesthetically feeling the rhythm necessary to perform her task at record speed. She actually gets excited before sacking her first bag.

Extraordinary performance happens in unusual places by ordinary people who are prepared, talented and confident. Once a person with a demonstrated talent for a particular task is prepared, all that remains is mental. For the skilled and talented, the mental part of superior task execution makes up 90 percent of the total effort involved. For the extraordinarily skilled and talented, this 90 percent often separates the great from the very good, a legend from a top professional, a champion from the runner-up.

To realize the importance of one millisecond, talk to the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics. As one approaches world-class status in any skill, the difference might be measured in millimeters and nanoseconds. For most of us, however, we are striving to achieve a personal best.

It is fascinating how the brain works. Instruments that somewhat accurately measure the brain’s activation impulses recently have become available. The information these instruments provide suggests that in most people, most of the time, brain activation activity is somewhat scattered. However, when a person begins to concentrate or focus intensely on something, brain activation becomes more localized to a specific section of the brain. When the concentration of focus intensifies so much that the individual enters a state of consciousness known as the “zone” or “flow,” the activation becomes pinpointed in a relatively small area.

It is important to understand, the higher a person’s level of concentration, the more localized the firing of the brain becomes. But it is breathtaking to learn that people actually can control the firing of their own brain waves. People can lean how to control their brain activation, by learning to improve their concentration and focus. People can learn how to be confident.


Dr. James S. Payne is president of Management and Motivation, Inc., and author of PeopleWise® Brain to Brain.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 3, June/July 2005.

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