“Where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.” Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire (1981)
Ask any sports psychologist worth their salt and they will tell you that a competitive athlete can have all the physical skills in the world and yet, without self-confidence, they will never realize (or never fully realize) their potential. In fact, often in sports, a player of decidedly lesser physical skill, but an overabundance of self-confidence, will outperform and prevail against a more talented rival. Importantly, this psychological phenomenon is not unique to sports. It applies to all of our lives (and all aspects of them) whether we are teachers, public speakers, authors, artists, students, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, business owners, mothers, fathers etc. Simply put: Our ability to succeed at the tasks we choose to undertake and, ultimately, our ability to find happiness are inextricably intertwined with our belief that we have the talent and the commitment required to make those achievements a reality.
Why then, given its criticality, do most of us tend to be so reliant on external forces to supply us with this key ingredient in the “recipe” for personal fulfillment? Why are we always looking outside ourselves to validate our worth as human beings? Why do we allow others’ assessment of us (or, even more troublingly, our perceptions about what others think) to carry so much weight? Why, rather than focus on the times we meet our expectations, are we so quick to give disproportionate weight to the times (however isolated though they may be) when we fall short of them? Why do we search for evidence in our pasts to reinforce, rather than refute, what others are saying about us and our prospects for success in the future? Do we really think those in whose opinions we place so much stock in defining us and our potential truly know, let alone are focused on, what is best for us? I think not.
To the contrary, I believe there’s a reason this precious, but admittedly fragile commodity is called self-confidence, namely that its well-spring comes from within – a spring that is within each one of us. That being the case, we simply must be more diligent in safeguarding and nurturing it at all times. We must shield it from outside agents and voices that, at every turn and for various reasons (most of which are tied to selfishness), seek to diminish its abundance in us. As importantly, we must refrain from our own equally destructive, hyper-critical self-talk – talk which left unabated ultimately will permanently disrupt the flow of our internal well-spring’s life-affirming waters. Instead, we must actively look for opportunities to replenish and renew it by affirming ourselves, acknowledging our good works and better appreciating our gifts and our potential to be difference-makers in a world that desperately needs us.
If you’re like most, yours truly included, making the transition from a “what others may be thinking/saying about me” to a “what I believe/know to be true about me” mindset in building our self-confidence will not happen overnight. It will take time (though, it need not take 40+ years – just sayin’!?!). It also likely will take conscious effort, beginning with our taking an objective, but fair “inventory” not only of ourselves, our talents, our attributes and what is fundamentally good about us, but of those who add to and support us – and those who do not. Inevitably, it also will necessitate chipping away at and, ultimately, prying loose the crusty self and other-imposed barnacles that we have allowed to collect around the well-spring spout over the years, reducing what was once its geyser-like output to a mere trickle. But trust me on this one – it can be done!
And when you’re finished, when you’ve fully made the transition, I would highly recommend that you take a few steps back, lest you get caught in the “splash zone.” Come to think of it, don’t step back. A little “water” never hurt anyone!