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*
This is the second 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. The first post can be found HERE. 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. In the first post, we dealt with a few misconceptions about confidence, from where it originates, and how to build and maintain it. In this post, let’s dig into the topic of the first chapter in Dr. Zinnser’s book: Accepting What You Cannot Change.
As we all know, there are those moments in life in which circumstances change. Perhaps you’ve been injured in some way that keeps you from training for a while. Maybe you lost your job and are scrambling to find another. In these moments, it’s easy to freak out or go into a tailspin of doubt. To prepare for these moments, you’ve got to build your mental fortress. To do so, Zinnser describes the four “Foundational Pillars” of your mental fortress.
Pillar #1 – The mind-body connection is real – use it or be used by it
Zinnser states, “…your conscious thoughts have a huge influence on your performance by the way they shape your mood and turn it into a physical state.” Essentially, your thoughts impact your unconscious emotions which impact your physical processes which affect your execution.
Zinsser refers to what he calls the “Sewer Cycle” as the process by which worrisome thoughts can lead to poor execution.
Three points regarding these cycles
First, we all switch back and forth between these cycles everyday. The main question is in which cycle are you in when it’s time to perform? Secondly, there is a decision point within each cycle. On which type of thoughts will you choose to linger, worrisome or constructive? Finally, no constructive thought process will absolutely guarantee victory, though it certainly helps more than the Sewer Cycle.
Foundational Pillar #2 – The inevitable human imperfection
It’s important to follow two primary guidelines when making friends with the fact of imperfection:
First, one should strive for perfection without demanding it. Attack each task with a “let’s see how great I can do this” type of attitude. Regardless of the outcome, work to look at the performance of the task objectively and see what could be done differently to get closer to the ideal and tell yourself you’ll do that next time. “Those athletes who strive for perfection while successfully controlling their negative reactions to imperfection experience less anxiety and more self-confidence during competitions.
Secondly, you should be curious about your imperfections as they’re valuable sources of information. “What is this mistake telling me? What will I do differently next time to make it turn out better?” Mistakes can be turned into helpful stepping stones to success.
Foundational Pillar #3 – Your helpful, but mostly misunderstood autonomic nervous system
“Fall in love with your butterflies.”
Getting nervous is your body’s way of preparing for action. Your neurons, spinal cord, and cardiovascular system are all on high alert. Your unconscious mind sends signals to your body that something important is about to happen and adrenaline is pumped through your system. This results in, “a stronger, faster, more alert, more perceptive, more fully prepared to take on the world human being.”
The moment of truth – what do you think when this rocket fuel kicks in? Remember, your thoughts will drive everything. Do you engage constructive thoughts and enter the Success Cycle or worrisome thoughts and enter the Sewer Cycle? Don’t forget, what you think about what happened or is happening has a far greater impact than what actually happens.
Foundational Pillar #4 – The inconsistent and delayed returns of practice
There are two realities of practice:
First, the “return on investment” of practice will always be uneven and inconsistent at best. There will always be dry spells, plateaus, and those experiences of being the nail rather than the hammer. Even the bursts of achievement that interrupt the plateaus will inevitably be followed by more plateaus. There are scientifically proven reasons behind these plateaus and bursts of achievement involving neurons, their connections, and a substance called myelin, though they’re far too involved for this context. Feel free to look it up if you’re so inclined.
Secondly, it’s a reality that the longer you pursue achievement and the more advanced you become, plateaus last longer and those bursts of achievement become smaller. It only makes sense that as you get closer and closer to fulfilling your potential, there’s less room to improve. This can become fertile ground for frustration and self-doubt. But, every minute of quality practice creates beneficial changes in the nervous system that will, ultimately, bring about improvements.
That’s all for this installment of Weekend Wisdom’s series on developing and maintaining confidence. Be on the lookout for the next post dealing with how to mine your memories to find valuable deposits for your mental bank account.
*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.