I’ve written a lot about the importance of having confidence. I wrote a post about the “confidence circle” last week. I’ve talked about it on my “Mind Over Plastic” segments on the Disc Golf Answer Man podcast. I’ve made motivational memes on Intagram, Facebook, and Twitter directly referencing confidence. What I’ve never done, though, is talk about how to get it.
One of the many flaws of our primitive monkey brains is that they often don’t do what we tell them to. So many times, they have their own thoughts and agendas. What you actually think and what you want to think are often two completely different things. This is one of the major sources of frustration in our lives when we try to go one direction and our brains want to go the other.
Confidence is one of those areas. We can tell ourselves to be confident all we want. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It’s not something that we can put on a mental checklist. We can’t roll up to our Saturday afternoon leagues, sit in the parking lot, and then simply say, “Bag of discs, check. Gatorade, check. Confidence, check.”
The reason for this is that confidence is a result. We can’t control results directly. I wrote a post about that a while back as it applies to lowering your scores. You can’t control whether or not you have confidence, but you can control the things that get you confidence.
In my post last week about the confidence/oh crap circle I referenced that feeling in your gut that you get right as you step up to a putt. Regardless of what you are trying to tell yourself inside, your gut usually has only one of two reactions… “I got this!!!” or “oh crap I don’t got this!”. No matter how hard you try, you can’t override that gut feeling. All you can do is try to impact when it happens.
What is confidence?
To understand this, we have to understand what confidence is. Confidence is nothing more than demonstrated performance. In other words, if you step up to a task (long putt or otherwise) and you’ve done it successfully a ton of times before, your monkey brain assumes that you can do it again. If you step up to that same task and you have either never done it, or have failed at it, your monkey brain assumes the worst. Enter the “Oh crap!!!” feeling in your gut.
First, there is nothing wrong with you for thinking this way. We have genetically evolved to think the worst. It’s what has ensured the survival of our species over time. Always assuming the worst keeps us out of harms way, or at least ready to deal with it. The best example I’ve heard is the one about the cave man walking past a stick…
If a cave man looks down at a stick and assumes it’s a snake (the worst case scenario), he’s always careful and therefore avoids getting bitten when it really is a snake. If he looks down and always assumes it’s a stick (the best case scenario), every once in a while he is wrong, gets bitten, and dies. Natural selection therefore demands that the optimistic caveman is removed from the gene pool by a series of unfortunate cases of stick/snake mistaken identity.
It’s not until those cavemen have picked up thousands of sticks without getting bitten that they develop confidence when picking up a stick. Until then, every time they look at one, their gut screams out, “Oh crap! Og was killed by one of those!”.
The second component to understanding where your confidence comes from is understanding what is called “critics math”. Critics math is something that we all suffer from. It’s the mind’s screwed up way of only remembering the bad things that have happened instead of the good. The term comes from authors, actors, directors, musicians, etc…
Let’s say a band puts out a brilliant album. It can win a ton of awards. It can get thousands of positive reviews on ITunes. But what do they focus on? The negative reviews. They become fixated on the handful of haters in the world. They only focus on the bad at the expense of all the good.
Then, they change their style and start writing to please the critics. What they should do is stay true to themselves, but they don’t. Many a good author, band, director, etc. have gone from great to crap by doing this. Their math is 1 criticism is > 1000’s of pieces of positive feedback. That’s “critics math”. Here’s a disc golf example…
You’ve made thousands of 15 foot putts. When you are out practicing, you couldn’t miss one if you tried. Then, in a freak accident, you miss one during a tournament. Critics math kicks in. You can now only remember that one missed 15 foot putt. From that point forward, you step up to every 15 foot putt with that “Oh crap!!!” feeling in your gut. Your confidence is gone. Every stick now looks like a snake.
If you could only bring back the memories of the several thousand times you’ve made that exact same putt. Like we mentioned earlier, your monkey brain just won’t listen. All it can think of is that one miss. Eliminating this “critics math” is huge for boosting your confidence.
The third component of confidence is being unattached to the outcome. If you were to walk past a disc on the ground that was about 15 feet from the basket, and you wanted it in the basket, you’d pick it up and throw it in 99.9999% of the time.
If I were to give you a disc 15 feet from the basket, and then tell you that you would be tied down and forced to listen to Justin Bieber songs over and over if you missed, your make % would drop significantly. You would be far too attached to the outcome to have the same confidence you would have if nothing was on the line. Your fear of the Biebster would cause you to miss more than if you didn’t care about the outcome at all.
How to gain confidence.
So, what is a disc golfer to do? We know that confidence is critical to great performance. We know that we need it to win. No one ever interviewed Paul McBeth and heard him say, “Yeah, I didn’t think I could win at all. I’m actually shocked any of my discs went into the basket in the first place.” It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Confidence is crucial.
The answer lies in practice. Practice can address all three of the above components of confidence.
If you practice a lot, you will have performed hundreds, even thousands of reps. There is no other way to get quality reps in as effectively as dedicated practice. Ask Paul McBeth how he spends his days. The answer is practicing for hours and hours and hours.
Lot of reps gives you demonstrated performance. Your monkey brain has seen you successfully do something over and over again. Your body knows you can do it, your mind knows you can do it. Why? Because you’ve done it so many times before.
If you practice enough, you start to make critic’s math almost meaningless. You have to repeat something so many times that you don’t even remember the last time you did it wrong. You’ve now done something so many times that doing it wrong isn’t even a possibility any more.
When you have practiced this much, and find yourself in a high pressure situation, you will easily be able to mentally picture what you did in practice. The top pros in the world are not thinking, “I really need to make this putt. It’s really important. I better not miss.” They are thinking, “This is just like practice, I’ve done this a million times before.” That visualization blocks your attachment to the outcome. It’s just another practice putt, no big deal.
In the end, whether or not you have confidence is totally in your hands. It’s just not something you can turn on like a light switch. It’s something that takes work and time. It’s something that takes a lot of practice. It’s something that’s a result of a lot of other things. No matter how hard it is, though, it’s something that is worth investing in. Get out there and get those practice reps in. It will build your skills and it will do great things for your confidence.
There is nothing quite like stepping up to a shot and knowing in the deepest recesses of your soul that you are about to execute. That level of confidence feels amazing. We’ve all been there at one time or another. The goal is to ever increase the number of times your gut screams out “I got this!!!!”.
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