A dive into Dr. Nate Zinsser’s book The Confident Mind. Follow this series to learn from where confidence stems, how to cultivate confidence in your life, and how this translates as a student of Jiu Jitsu.
Contributed by Matt Smith*
What is confidence? Merriam-Webster defines confidence as, “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, confidence is “a feeling of having little doubt about yourself and your abilities.” Of course, neither of these definitions are incorrect. However, Dr. Nate Zinsser, Director of the Performance Psychology Department at the United States Military Academy at West Point offers a definition that might actually be helpful in building and maintaining one’s confidence: “A sense of certainty about my ability which allows me to bypass conscious thought and execute unconsciously.”
This is the first in a series of posts on the concept of confidence based on Dr. Zinsser’s book, The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance. In this book, Dr. Zinsser discusses what confidence is & isn’t, how to build up your “mental bank account,” protecting your confidence, executing with confidence, and how to maintain your progress. For this post, let’s dig into a few misconceptions regarding confidence.
Confidence is a fixed, inherited trait. You were born with a certain amount of it and there’s not much you can do beyond that.
This is a self-defeating and wholly incorrect idea. No one is born confident any more than they’re born as a black belt. Confidence is learned and comes from a consistently constructive thought process that allows for two things: retention & benefit from successful experiences and the release or restructuring of less successful experiences. “…confidence is a quality that you can develop the same way you develop any other skill, ability, or competency – through practice.”
Confidence is all-encompassing and you’re either confident across the board in all aspects of life or you’re not confident at all.
Dr. Zinsser asserts that confidence is very situation specific. Even within the same “game,” different areas may bring different levels of confidence. Maybe you’ve got a killer guard game but you know your takedowns could use some work so you’re less confident on the feet. Fortunately, you can develop your confidence in every different area with the appropriate work.
Once you become confident, you’ll stay that way forever.
How great life would be if this were true. Unfortunately, confidence is a fragile thing and requires constant attention and effort to maintain. Maybe you were a fairly confident blue belt that found yourself promoted to purple way earlier than expected. You might have found all that blue belt confidence to be in short supply and may be in need of some effort to rebuild and maintain.
Once you’ve achieved some success and once you’ve gotten some positive feedback, your confidence is guaranteed to grow.
Current or previous success doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success. Maybe your previous success becomes too much pressure to succeed. Maybe, to stick with a theme, you find yourself newly promoted and imposter syndrome hits. Either can lead to drop in confidence. Regardless, what’s important is what you do with the thoughts related to your previous successes. You can choose to discount or ignore them as many tend to do. Or, you can choose to use them constructively and build upon those successes to continue building and maintaining your confidence.
Mistakes, failures, and negative feedback inevitably destroy, erode, or weaken your confidence.
We saw under Misconception #4 that success will only build your confidence if you let it. This also applies to mistakes or failures; they’ll only erode your confidence if you let them. The key is to selectively reinterpret mistakes or failures as momentary, isolated incidents. Ok, so maybe someone sliced through your guard with ease in class this week. That certainly doesn’t happen every time, right? An excellent example of reinterpretation of failure comes from Conor McGregor after his loss to Nate Diaz in 2016, which can be found here.
Dr. Zinsser states, “…confidence has relatively little to do with what actually happens to you, and pretty much everything to do with how you think about what happens to you.” Human confidence can be likened to a psychological or mental bank account. Fixate on failures or even possible failures and your balance will shrink. Fill your bank account with memories of past successes, progress, or improvement, of thoughts of future improvements or accomplishments, and that balance will grow.
Dr. Zinsser’s book, The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance, can be found on Amazon (link here: https://a.co/d/5SIRAa4)
*Matt Smith is a sergeant first class in the US Army, a professional musician, and purple belt under Mike Palladino. As a musician, Matt has performed with the symphony orchestras of Cincinnati, Louisville, Albany, Virginia, and is a member of the West Point Band at the United States Military Academy. In addition, Matt has a masters degree in education and human development in the field of organizational leadership & learning and has extensive experience building and leading teams. Matt is husband to Nickie (blue belt under Palladino), and father to Jonathan, Josiah, Caleb, and Sadie.