I've been a coach since 2012. And there is one phrase I’ve heard perhaps more than any other.
I’ll feel confident when…
…when I’m faster.
…when I’m fitter.
…when I lose weight.
…when my running feels easier.
…when I finish in the top 10% of my age group.
…when I know I won’t miss the cutoff.
…when I can keep up with my friends.
…when I’ve done the training.
…when I finish that race.
Then I’ll feel more confident.
We’ve all fallen into this trap from time to time.
We’ve bounced from coach to coach, training group to training group, race to race and never feel as confident and capable as we think we “should” or want.
We’ve convinced ourselves the secret to our missing confidence and self-belief is out there somewhere and if we try that, then maybe, just maybe, we'll finally feel confident inside our own skin.
(And let’s face it, most marketing campaigns for clothes, makeup, shoes, cars and homes exploit this desperation too).
And so the cycle repeats itself as we set our next goal, hoping next time will be different and secretly wondering, like I have on occasion, if perhaps there is simply something wrong with me…
But you and I have been down this road before.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that void won’t be filled when we cross that finish line and that we won’t find our missing confidence and self-belief sitting alongside our medal at the finish line.
The mistake we all make…
After 6 years of coaching and 13 years in endurance sports, I've realised the problem is caused by the traditional way we’ve been taught to approach our training and racing.
We focus on our training; how fit you are and how much/far you can swim, ride, run, climb, jump, hike or lift.
But our training is only one piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle.
The other important - and often missing piece of the puzzle - is our mindset.
You can feel confident or even ‘fake it till you make it’ but a lack of fitness shows up very quickly once the gun goes off, the pace picks up or you arrive at the first big hill.
Likewise, you can be physically fit, fast and strong.
But if you don't have the tools and awareness to recognise and challenge your fears, doubts and stories, you’re unlikely to achieve the scary goals you’ve set for yourself — and even if you do achieve them, you still won’t feel satisfied or that you’re quite good enough yet. (After all, the fundamental nature of racing is based on comparing ourselves to others, right?)
Australian swimmer Cate Campbell openly admits* to ‘choking’ during the final of the 100m freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
She had the fitness; she was World Record holder.
But she didn't have the tools and support she needed to cope with the immense pressure she was under and the expectations the Australian public and media placed on her (or that she placed on herself).
Olympic Gold Medalist Natalie Cook is another example of someone who had the fitness to compete with the world’s best but who was missing the critical ingredient; self-belief and confidence.
She and teammate Kerri Pottharst won Bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
But, as she revealed in our conversation on Sparta Chicks Radio, she had the physical and technical ability to win the Gold medal but not the confidence and self-belief.
So Nat went on a 4-year journey of personal development and self-discovery to find the mental toughness, emotional stability and confidence necessary to win Gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
And the rest, as they say, is history…
What got you here won’t get you there
Most of us (myself included) get stuck in this cycle of focusing on our fitness and changing our actions and habits - the programs we use, the training sessions we do, the groups we train with and the goals we set - without also addressing our underlying stories, beliefs, fears, identity and perception we have about who we are (and who we aren’t).
If you don’t see yourself as a “runner” or someone capable of running 5km or 100km, no matter how far or fast you run, there will always be a gap between how you see yourself (your athletic identity) and what you think a “runner” is or how fast you “should” be.
We try to fill that gap with extra sessions and extra races and going longer and faster and harder in our training.
But in fact, it’s a gap that’s only filled when you work on your mental state; on your underlying stories, beliefs, self-identity and thoughts.
True confidence, that quiet self-assured sense you can handle anything training, racing or life throws at you, only comes from working on your mindset.
Training without addressing these underlying beliefs, self-doubt, patterns of self-sabotage and fear is like building a 2-storey home on sand.
It works for a while and you’ll get some results but soon, the elusive confidence we hoped we would appear fails to materialise and the walls start to crumble…
Gandhi (supposedly) said it better than I ever could:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
The link between the beliefs and thoughts you have, the actions you take, the habits you develop and the results you achieve (or your destiny as he called it) is undeniable.
This concept is at the core of all the discussions I’ve had over the course of this year with our guests on Sparta Chicks Radio.
Because I realised that your mindset is just as important as your physical fitness and it’s critical if you’re going to achieve your goals, lead the life you want and, most importantly, feel comfortable and confident inside your own skin.
That’s when you develop the confidence to trust your training and yourself.
That’s when you know you can handle anything training, racing and life throws at you.
That’s when you can say to yourself “I’ve got this” and truly mean it.
Next week, I’ll share a concept and tool I’ve used with clients in the past to help them recognise some of their underlying beliefs, thoughts, stories and fears (you can find it here).
* The Campbell sisters spoke about their experience here.