Building the Wall of Confidence

We sat around a table at Panera, slurping soup at munching over-priced lettuce leaves. We had an hour before the next game in a soccer tournament. These things are never scheduled in any kind of convenient way. The girls had dropped the first game of three and were discouraged.

G, my friend and a player on the team blurted out a question that must have been burning her brain for some time.

But where does confidence come from?

Now that’s the kind of question I can tackle. I launched into a long and detailed lecture on the virtues of discipline and mental toughness and building on strengths. I used examples from running marathons and writing books. G alternately stared at me and flipped her ponytail. Her mom said later that it helped, but G got me thinking.

Where does one get confidence?

Summer after my first year at college, I made a bold decision to live with a bunch of strangers in a beach house, working and doing Bible Study and discipleship. This was bold because I was shy and quiet and my voice quavered like some kind of bad American Idol wannabe every time I had to address a group larger than one.

In fact, when it was my turn to introduce myself to these strangers, I cried. Oh, my gosh, I’m still embarrassed. This happened to me a few more times. But I’ve never been that nervous again.

Did I just decide not to be nervous? Did I suddenly become a polished speaker? Did I simply control my emotions and force myself to be an extrovert?

No. I built confidence. Since that summer, I have spent a fair amount of time in front of groups of people. I have been a teacher, speaker, presenter and lecturer over those years. And each time I got better.

If I was weak in eye contact, I practiced. When I played with my papers too much, I removed distractions. If I talked too fast, I taught myself how to slow down. When I waved my arms around much, I trained them to stay still. Ok. That’s a lie. I use my hands when I speak. It’s performance art.

I read this piece that helped me find a way to explain how to grow confidence to my friend G. I text her ideas. She rolls her eyes. And she listens.

I explained that confidence is like a brick wall, it must be built from the bottom up. I can’t just decide I’m an engaging speaker. I have to build my brisks: eye contact, hand control, voice tempo and pitch, taking breaths, and engaging with whatever audience it is. When I have them all in place, I am confident and I feel confident. When I have them in place, it’s okay if one is a little weaker. When I have them in place, I do a good job.

So, G, the soccer play who wanted to, inspired me to research confidence and sports and performance psychology. For G, I’ll be writing each week about what I’ve discovered. Join me?