I want to start this post all about gaining confidence through action by telling a quick story. There was once a young man who made his way all the way to California during the 1849 gold rush. This young man dreamed of making his fortune just like many others before him had. When he arrived on his first day of work he was excited, but after 12 long hours he found no gold, not even so much as a flake of gold. At his campsite that night he spoke with an older 49er who had a large sack of gold on his waist. Determined to learn from him he asked him what led to him having so much gold. The old man simply said “Action, work each day, as hard as you can and you will find gold.” With new resolve the young man went back to work the next day. He again after many hours didn’t find any gold, so he determined that if he didn’t find any gold in the next hour he would leave and return home for good. In his next basket of dirt he found the tiniest flake of gold.
He figured he didn’t have to go home, but he wasn’t feeling very confident. So he approached the old 49er again, this time showing his single flake of gold in his bag. He asked the old man “You have so much gold, what is your secret? I haven’t found a single gold nugget, all I have is this tiny fleck!” The old 49er simply reached down to his waist and unhooked his bag, handing it to the young man. “There’s no secret but to take action. Open my bag and see what years of action have led to.” Upon opening the bag the young man was shocked, he expected to see a bag full of nuggets, but what he found instead was a bag filled to the brim with tiny flecks like his own!
The young man couldn’t contain himself! “This is a bag of tiny flakes! How on Earth do you do it? Not a single nugget yet you’re not discouraged?!” The old man took his bag back and patiently sat on a nearby rock. “When I got out here I arrived with 25 other prospectors. I am all that remains. The others quickly became discouraged when they didn’t find any nuggets, they even went so far as to dump their flakes back into the river! They were unwilling to take action, and this led to their confidence being destroyed. They returned home with their tails between their legs. Meanwhile I toiled with my basket and found more and more flecks of gold. Small actions taken over time will add up to big results. Many flakes add up to be more than nuggets. If you want my advice young man, find confidence in your flakes, find pride in your work and you will become wealthy. Hunt nuggets, and you too will head home with your tail between your legs.” The young man thanked the old prospector and grabbed his basket, “I’ve got to go take action, and find my bag full of flakes!”
The key point in this story is that in building confidence you can’t hunt big things, it’s not sustainable. Every action leads to confidence. But you must begin with small wins to achieve bigger success. In any sport, points must be scored to win. Wins must be put together to win a championship. Championships must be put together to become a legend. That’s not to say that winning is everything, but you must do the small things first to get to that win! So now, let’s begin, how do we become confident?
How do you become confident?
As mentioned in the above story there’s no secret to becoming confident. You must take action, try and fail at something and then find your ability to push through failure and try again. When we are babies no one tells us how to walk. Even if parents encourage us with tools to help, we must still do it ourselves. How do we do it? We crawl, then we stand, then we walk. When you become a little older, walking is something you don’t even need to think about. We have a similar term for this in athletics, you often hear it about the highest level athletes all the time, “This guy is automatic!” meaning that they are so elite it almost looks like they’re not trying. Just like walking though, these athletes simply put a lot of work in, they took action and it led to those skills. You must put in effort to become confident, you must try something before you can ever succeed.
In her novel Grit Angela Duckworth talks about the formula to achievement. It is as follows:
Talent x Effort= Skills
Skills x Effort= Achievement.
Effort counts twice, it is in both the formula to build skills, and the formula for achievement. This is because effort is one of the few things we control in our life. Now, previously I agreed that some are born with more talent than others, but upon finishing the best selling book Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin I realized that Talent in that equation also comes from action, albeit slightly different action. So let me explain that in greater detail next!
Talent comes from Action. You are not BORN talented you BECOME talented!
All my life I used to really believe that some were just born talented. That there was this underlying destiny to become great. I remember playing against many “raw natural talents” as a kid. I remember them being bigger, faster, stronger and just generally destined to be great. As I grew older this was a bit cemented through examples. I saw many athletes work harder than some of these “talents” and I saw no matter how hard they worked, they couldn’t surpass them. There’s even a very popular saying about this; “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” I used to believe this to be true. But when I got to Penn State and got to know Division One athletes of all sports I started to understand that it was never about talent. It was ALWAYS about action, about the work. As I explained above, that talent comes from action. So let me pull out the metaphorical chalkboard and rewrite the equation for Achievement a bit.
Guidance x Effort= Talent
Talent x Effort= Skills
Skills x Effort= Achievement.
In my new reworked equation I had to think a bit about what helps to create talent. Obviously Effort is part of that equation but in the many books and articles I’ve read most of “Raw natural talent” comes from a lot of effort and guidance. This goes WAY back to a concept of sociology, the study of human behavior. When his cousin Charles Darwin was pitching the idea of Natural Selection, English Polymath (expert of many subjects) Francis Galton popularized the concept of Nature vs Nurture by way of development. Galton’s concept mainly deals with the difference between Natural development, think genes and biology and the concept of Nurtured development, think your parents, teachers, or overall environment. So let me breakdown how this applies to the first part of my reworked Achievement equation. For a long time scientists and sociologists among many others have argued whether Nature vs. Nurture decide how people will become. Without getting too much into the weeds of this concept I am just going to say that essentially I believe in a little bit of both. If you’d like to learn more about Nature vs. Nurture feel free to read about that here. I believe that both Nature and Nurture play their part in how we develop in life. I’ve believed this since my first Sociology class in high school, and as I progressed through college and got to know so many elite athletes I started to realize how that process works in sports more and more.
Guidance x Effort= Talent This is essentially the one time in your life that it’s not your effort that matters as much. Your effort is important but this is more about the effort of those around you. One thing Geoff Colvin (the author above) talks about in his book is the well known development of Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers of all time. His dad wasn’t a particularly talented golfer, yet he began training Tiger from a young age. Tiger was considered by many to be a “prodigy” a title we often assign to those who seem to have talent from the start. But Tiger’s talent came from his dad’s initial guidance and tremendous levels of effort. For a lack of better terms, the early Guidance and Effort creates a snowball effect. Now, that said let me explain there’s a caveat here. Not all guidance and effort are created equal, but that doesn’t mean there’s an issue in it. Most individuals who ever become elite at something started out with either a parent or a volunteer teaching them. When an athlete shows a “natural affinity” this is typically when they get a higher level coach. A kid smashes the ball in t-ball and a couple years later he’s playing travel baseball instead of little league. A little girl sings along with her parents and they encourage her to keep singing, eventually this yields to vocal lessons and a passion is born! The love of the activity comes from the early Guidance and Effort combined with some early success, which builds confidence. Which brings me to my next point which is perhaps one of the most crucial action steps for developing confidence, having strong support.
Confidence comes from Early Small Wins and Early Support!
This point goes out to the parents who read this more than any athletes, but I can’t understate how important support is to becoming elite at anything, specifically EARLY and OFTEN in the process. In my previous post How do you become Elite at Wrestling? I wrote about how building a support network is crucial to becoming elite. It’s my 6th point in that post if you’d like to go read that to see some of what I said but essentially having a support network of people around you who always have your best interests at heart is crucial to becoming elite.
Now I need to preface that part of building confidence here comes from early success but that DOES NOT mean that you need to make it all about winning and success. It means SUPPORTING and encouraging tiny wins and effort and being supportive through losses and mistakes as well. When a kid makes a mistake that is a teachable moment it should be corrected and taught, but when a kid makes a mistake trying something and fails that is what life is about! “Don’t fear failure. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” When we encourage young kids to take risks, to attempt something grand we are encouraging them to become special. If we want a child to live a life where they are so afraid to take risk that they refuse to try anything new they will never become what they could’ve been.
When you are a kid you learn to ride a bike by falling down. If you gave up the first time you failed you’d never learn. But who is there when you fail the first time on a bike? Your support network; parents, siblings etc. What do they do? They encourage you to get back up and try again! What if we were like that in all endeavors of life? As a coach it’s always my job to do what’s in the best interest of my athletes. I may not succeed with every one of them in achieving their goals but I can guide them to aim higher, to dare and take risks and aspire to be more than they ever dreamed. But I ALWAYS make sure to encourage them to rise each time they fall, I encourage them to adopt a win or learn mentality. If you can overcome adversity each time life throws it at you, you will never fail. There’s no such thing as defeat if you keep trying. The word defeat comes from the Latin word disfacere which means “undo” so in a nutshell, defeat means the opposite of do, which is a synonym for “try” You “do” something, you “do” well, you “do” more than is necessary. You can never fail if you “DO” try again. Which brings me to my final point, in order to become confident we must fall in love with failing. We must make failure our ally in our quest for greatness, and not our enemy. Failure isn’t the enemy, it’s our greatest teacher.
To become confident, accept that failure is your friend.
In life we are often so concerned with failure more than success. Most people will play it safe, doing the things that are less likely to fail. This is because we’re engrained from young ages to believe that mistakes are ONLY a negative. We get a test in school, our teachers mark the wrong answers. Even if you got 19 out of 20 questions correct you tend to focus on that 1 wrong answer because you missed out on being perfect. The correct response would be to analyze that you now have something to work on instead of sulking that you missed out on perfection. This is why in order to become confident you must accept that failure is a GOOD THING! Don’t fear mistakes, failing, or losing. Instead, you should understand that as previously stated, the only way to become confident is to take action. Taking action, making mistakes and learn from them. I wrote a whole post about how to handle this concept which you can read here (Centurion Mindset: There’s no Agony in Defeat.) But I will summarize that a bit more now.
In his novel Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success John C. Maxwell illustrates the concept above perfectly. You must use failure as a stepping stone to get to where you want to go. If you don’t accept that making mistakes is part of the process than you will never grow to what you could be. The best way to stay where you are in life is to play it safe and only do the things you know you won’t mess up on. But if you want to achieve success in wrestling, school or life in general you must be willing to take big risks and push through failure. If you fail you must get up and go after it again. We learn the most from failure. When we learn to walk, we learn by falling until we don’t fall as much, then until we don’t fall at all. Once you learn to walk you can run, as you learn to run you learn that running fast can lead to falling. Some will avoid going as fast as they can so that they won’t fall. Others will push themselves to the boundaries of their physical capabilities and find a way to use their speed in their life. As we fail we can grow and learn, make more mistakes and learn more! We don’t need to fear failure, we need to embrace it!
The walking to running example was a simple example but one that illustrates that we are BORN learners, we never fear failure as a baby, it’s only once we get a little older and get told that failing isn’t an option, or that losing isn’t great. Winning and losing, success and failure, are all two sides to the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Successful athletes in all sports, CEOs, presidents, have all been FAILURES. Abe Lincoln was a huge failure in almost every aspect of his life but that is what molded him into arguably the greatest president in US History. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavs was fired from his job and had to work as a bar tender while he built his business. Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Cristiano Ronaldo, and many other of the greatest athletes of all time have all lost, failed to do what they are paid large amounts of money to do. What separates them from those in their sport who are simply good, they don’t care if they fail! When you fail you find what you need to work on! When you fail you can become greater than you were before. When you fail you can track your progress when you do finally succeed at what you failed at. Failure is not the end all be all if you accept that it’s your greatest teacher. I hated losing as a kid, I still don’t prefer making mistakes but I understand better now that in order to find the way to success I must fall flat on my face sometimes. Now, I must say that’s not always easy as an athlete, parent, or coach to teach and accept that failure is our friend. So let me explain how to put it in practice.
Learning to accept failure as your friend is really just a return to how you once thought. When you’re a kid you have a childish innocence and willingness to try anything regardless of the result. One of my favorite parts of coaching is seeing little guys be willing to try anything. They have no fear, but then with high school guys they over think the exact same thing much more. When someone feels like they MIGHT fail they are often more concerned with that idea than the fact that they MIGHT succeed! If you could bet $5 and win $200 but you had a 90% chance of failure, most people would be more concerned with the risk of losing $5 than the opportunity to win $200! It’s called being Risk Averse. Your tolerance for risk is lower so you’re less likely to take big risks that offer big rewards. As the saying goes “Scared money don’t make no money” If you can’t take risks you can’t succeed. A big emphasis of mine as a coach is for athletes to go take risk and not worry about the results. If you win, great, if you lose, even better! Learn from that loss and we’re not better off thanks to it! To accept failure as your friend is to understand that you don’t need to succeed all the time, you just need to succeed enough to push yourself to the next failure. A good way to think about this is that the only way to get stronger at the gym is to fail. If you don’t fail you don’t grow, if you don’t grow you don’t get stronger. Failure is how our bodies learn, how they adapt. Failure is our friend!
Conclusion: There’s no secret to confidence!
If you want to become confident you must simply take action to build confidence. You must accept that failure is your friend and not your enemy and that all you do when you fail is learn a lesson for your next attempt. The only way to learn how to do a backflip is to try and do a backflip, you can get coached, you can watch videos but ultimately you still have to do it. The early wins in an athlete or student’s life will dictate how they will continue to grow. If you compound on prior success, you will build confidence and skills, but you need to leverage support and push through this. I have really reshaped my view on confidence over the years, especially as I was around so many high-level achievers at Penn State. Confidence was key to their success, but I understood where it came from much more as I saw how they lived their life. I want to impart this on my athletes and all those who I help guide. You build confidence with action, you build it over time, and most of all you don’t need to be a super human to achieve anything!
Thank you for reading! If you made it this far please consider sharing this with others who might find value in it and would enjoy it! I love writing these posts as it is an outlet for a lot of my thoughts but also an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others! Thank you for your support, it means so much to me! All the Best, Patrick Higgins, Head Coach of Centurion Wrestling Club!