Confidence: How it Really Works

Confidence is an inner peace that one carries around, “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities” (Webster).


But, this sense of inner piece is NOT related to acquired physical skills.

You can’t practice a skill to “gain” confidence.


Doubt is the Enemy

Fully understanding the true nature of confidence is not easy because we have been trained to think of it in a certain way. We have been taught that it is linked to our ability to successfully execute something. Let's take a slightly different perspective on it.

The best way to understand confidence is to look at the nature of actions that are produced by someone who is executing them “with confidence”. These actions are fluid, uninhibited and free. They are actions where the person is focused and where he is not questioning the movement while doing it.


In essence, they are actions that are free of doubts.


Whereas these actions very often result in success, failure can still happen. Success is NOT guaranteed even if an action is executed with 100% confidence. The outcome is certainly an integral part of the action, but the outcome itself is never guaranteed (especially in golf). The Ki (pronounced "key") is that while acting with confidence, the result of the action is never in question. Ultimately, when someone displays confidence in an action, the “expected” outcome in no way influences the nature of the action itself.


Contrary to what we have been taught, confidence is NOT “knowing that the outcome will be good”. Confidence is NOT “an assurance that the result will be positive”.


Confidence IS knowing that whatever the outcome, the action was executed free of doubt.


It is the questioning mind shifting focus from the action itself to the outcome (very often at the wrong moment) that is one of the most common origins of doubt. For this reason, doubts are fundamentally at the origin of “lack of confidence” and create the confusion as to the true nature of confidence. Confidence is NOT a state of certainty of the result but rather a total lack of doubt during execution. AND, certainty of the result is not needed in order to eliminate doubts.


Focus and Confidence

A closer look at the nature of action reveals that when one is completely focused on the action at hand, the mind is calm and free of excess thought. When one is in 2nd order awareness (singularly focused on the action) or maybe in 1st order (a state of complete absorption in the action--often called 'the zone"--in which doubts can not arise), the nature of focus does not leave “space” for doubts to come into the mind.


On the other hand, a “lazy” and “wandering” mind (3rd order) is the ideal medium in which doubts can flourish. Once the mind is set loose (not focused on the task at hand), doubts are free to enter and wreak havoc. This is the reason that focus training ultimately leads to expressions of confidence. More clearly, being focused allows one to create actions that are free of doubt and that are executed with confidence.


In sports, these doubts are very often directly related to goals and expectations that arise from goal setting. An athlete spends so much time practicing in an effort to achieve goals that it becomes very difficult to dissociate the actions performed from the desired result: success. In this respect, it is important to understand that one should never practice with the intent of gaining confidence. An athlete (a performer of any kind) should practice to gain skill. Practice is designed to become more adept at the skills required to compete, not to gain confidence.


Special note: skill does not lead to confidence! We all know extremely skillful people that are riddled with doubt. These people often try to "practice until they have confidence". Of course, to no avail.


Above all, one should practice executing a skill without doubt. Not only will the skill be acquired more quickly but one will be practicing confidence itself. Skills executed without doubt is what is identified as confidence.


Confidence is a Constant- Confidence is an Adverb

It is seeing confidence in this different light that helps one gain a better understanding of it and allows one to master it. In a sense, confidence is not a thing to possess. One cannot gain or lose confidence. What one experiences as a “loss” or “gain” of confidence is more appropriately understood as a state of mind with more or less doubt. Seen as such, confidence should be considered to be a constant. Doubt is what we experience as the variable.


In this respect, I am apt to say that confidence is not a noun but rather it is an adverb: it is not something that we possess but rather it describes the very nature of an action. Ultimately confidence can’t be seen. It can’t be touched. It can only be identified by the actions that it produces.


Sometimes these actions can be very simple: standing and walking are good examples. Have you ever seen somebody standing somewhere and thought to yourself, “he/she sure looks confident”? We have all seen someone walking with confidence. In golf, Tiger Woods is by far the greatest example of this. It is not that he is confident in his ability to walk. He simply walks with purpose. He walks with focus. He walks with confidence.


The good news is that it (acting with confidence) feeds upon itself. The bad news is that the system of doubts also feeds upon itself.


That is why it is so important to practice your skills with deep focus. As Tohei Sensei would say: “Practice is not a matter of years and months. It is a matter of concentration.”


When one trains to produce actions through deep focus, one experiences confidence. Through focus, one can act without doubt and one experiences confidence first-hand. Confidence can finally be understood not as something that we possess but rather as a certain way of acting, a certain way of being. Confidence becomes an adverb.


Reminder: it is the flux of the mind through a lack of focus that allows the variable of doubt to interfere with actions being executed with confidence.


Breathing and Confidence

Focused breathing exercises are one of the simplest ways to train your focus. Breathing exercises train one to focus and to relax. The aforementioned confidence will continue to express itself the more that you practice your breathing and relaxing. Nothing can help one tap into a sense of confidence more than knowing that one can relax and clear the mind of clutter and excess thought, thought that often leads to anxiety and doubts. Nothing can help more in executing actions free of doubt and full of confidence than being able to clearly focus on the task at hand.


Remember that doubt is the enemy of focus and the enemy of confidence in general. It is through breathing that one can start to control one’s thoughts and focus on the One Point and Extend Ki.


The ultimate expression of confidence is when one is in a relaxed, centered posture and extending Ki. This is without question the ultimate benefit of the Four Principles as taught by Tohei Sensei.


More on the Four Principles: Four Principles of Mind-Body Unification



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