From No Trust or Faith in Yourself to Breakthrough Confidence in Less Than 30 Days
To become a consistent, winning, peak performer, you must believe in yourself.
If you do not believe in yourself, you are experiencing self-doubt. There is no in between.
It goes without saying that self-doubt is the true enemy of human achievement. Once self-doubt is activated, the following happens:
On the other hand, when you believe in yourself, the following happens:
You persist through setbacks and adversity, making you consistent under pressure and more likely to prevail in the end.
To get the most out of this Execution Plan, go through it and do all of the ACTION Steps. Then, listen to the visualization audio at the end every day for 30 days.
What does it mean, exactly, to believe in yourself?
Believing in yourself is actually an experience of yourself – a very special one. There are two parts: confidence and self-esteem. Together, they form this magical experience.
Confidence is a feeling of certainty about your abilities. As an athlete, you feel certain you can pull off a peak performance and win. It is a genuinely wonderful feeling. You know you’re the goods, and you cannot wait to get out there and demonstrate it.
However, confidence is not the whole story. Believing in yourself does not automatically happen because you have confidence in your abilities.
I’ve personally worked with over 4,200 athletes in the past nineteen years and I can tell you that there are hundreds of thousands of highly skilled athletes who do not believe in themselves.
This brings us to the second half of believing in yourself: self-esteem.
Self-esteem is more global. It is not tied to any particular skill or talent, nor is it related to your past achievements. Even without skills or experience, when you have high self-esteem, you believe you can learn what you need to learn to succeed. You also believe you are worthy of success and happiness.
To re-cap, believing in yourself is a combination of the following three experiences:
To become a star athlete, believe in yourself, and win consistently, you start by understanding why most athletes struggle to believe in themselves.
There is one main reason athletes do not believe in themselves, and it’s this:
Athletes do not believe in themselves because
they are (unknowingly) creating self-doubt every day.
The Epidemic of Self-Doubt
The harsh truth is that most athletes create self-doubt inside themselves on a regular basis.
As the great psychologist Abraham Maslow said, the story of the human race is the story of people selling themselves short.
Tim Gallwey said it best in his book Inner Tennis:
“A tennis player first confronts the Inner Game when he discovers there is an opponent inside his own head more formidable than the one across the net.
He then realizes that the greatest difficulty in returning a deep backhand lies not in the speed and placement of the ball itself, but in his mind’s reaction to that ball: his own thinking makes the shot more difficult than it really is.
…if, for example, your mind is screaming, “You’re probably going to miss this one…You’d better get your racket back earlier and make sure to meet the ball out front…If I miss…I’ll be down 5-3 on his serve…
If thoughts like this are occupying the mind, the ball will appear to approach much faster than it is and will not be seen clearly, and your stroke will be too tight and too contrived to be either effective or fun.”
If you are good at creating doubt in yourself, please do not feel shame or guilt about it.
A lot of athletes and coaches promote the idea that athletes CHOOSE to doubt and not believe in themselves. I’ve found that nothing could be further from the truth. Athletes no more choose to doubt themselves than alcoholics choose to become alcoholics.
While it is true that an alcoholic did choose to take his first few drinks, he did not choose to have his life destroyed by alcohol. He fell into a prison – a prison that is very difficult to escape. The same is true when it comes to blocks to success.
Think about this for a moment. Was it a conscious decision to start wondering if you could beat your opponent? Did you make a choice to lose your confidence and lose? Did you decide to feel overwhelmed by nerves in your last big event?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t imply that as athletes we are not accountable for the actions we take or the attitudes we buy into. We are. I am merely pointing out that when it comes to self-doubt, we do not consciously choose to create it in ourselves. Like every other athlete, you fell into a prison – a prison of the mind that I call the Cycle of Self-Doubt. To break free of this prison, you simply need to understand this cycle and how to reverse it.
Consider any part of yourself as an athlete you dislike – such as your speed, agility, conditioning, relationships, or technique. Describe this flaw and how you feel about it in as much detail as you can. Don’t leave anything out! Write down your worst thoughts about it (and yourself).
These thoughts are the BELIEFS you have created in your mind about yourself. To you, they are 100% true.
Next, describe how they affect your decision-making in competition. Example: You believe you have a weak serve in tennis. How does this affect your strategy when serving?
Let me now take a moment to re-cap the Cycle of Self-Doubt.
When you have a failure, hurt, or setback, you will have a negative thought about yourself. “My gplf swing sucks.”
This thought is painful, so you (unconsciously) search for a way to get back in control and avoid future pain.
The quickest and easiest way is to accept the worst outcome so you cannot be hurt again. “My swing really does suck.”
The moment you accept the belief, “My golf swing sucks,” you start embracing evidence that it’s true and dismissing evidence that contradicts this idea. If you have a bad round, you blame your swing, even if you just had a great round with many excellent drives.
Of course, you are completely unaware that you are doing this. All you know is that you’ve lost confidence and belief in your swing.
Let’s imagine that as an athlete you have a poor performance and your Dad criticizes you for it, leading you to think, “I’m not good enough.”
Part of you knows this is not true, but since you are afraid it MIGHT be, you self-preserve by agreeing with him in your mind.
Every time you perform poorly, make mistakes, or lose, this is now ‘evidence’ in your mind that your belief is true. You are not good enough.
It doesn’t matter what skills or talent you have…it doesn‘t matter what the circumstances of your competition were…it doesn’t matter how well your opponent performed. You will tend to filter out any evidence that is not compatible with that belief that you are not good enough.
So even if you perform well, win, and get extra playing time, you will still not feel that you are “good enough.”
You want proof?
I’ve worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of elite athletes who have won national, international, and Olympic medals, yet still feel they are not “good enough.”
At this point I feel compelled to point out that athletes who got very little validation from their caregivers growing up find it difficult to accept the idea that they are not seeing reality…that they are filtering out all evidence that does not confirm to their negative beliefs about themselves.
By ‘little validation’, I mean that these athletes were told repeatedly by caregivers that their thoughts and emotions were “inappropriate” or “wrong.”
Therefore, when you suggest to them that many of their beliefs and emotions are actually self-created through their filters, they resist this suggestion violently. It makes them feel invalidated all over again.
I get it. We all like to think that every thought and emotion we have is The Truth – especially if no one ever validated us. For the record, I am not trying to invalidate you or suggest you are an insecure nut job. I am merely pointing out that if you can step back, “zoom out” a bit and be a little more objective about the ideas you’ve accepted about yourself, the payoff can be huge.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “But Lisa, how do I know this negative belief about myself is false? What if I’m really not a very good badminton player? You don’t know me; you don’t know that I have a terrible overhead smash.”
No, I don’t know you, but in working with over 7,200 people in the past few years, not one of them has ever asked me whether he is “right” to believe something negative about himself.
Why is it that when the belief is negative, we don’t require proof to believe it? Yet when the belief is positive, we require an army of proof? It’s lunacy.
I am not asking you to ignore your weaknesses or mistakes. All I am asking you to do is let go of the brainwashing that you are not as fast, smart, agile, and coordinated as you know deep inside you really are.
Your objections are your fears talking. They are “push back” from the person inside you who is afraid to believe. The technical name for this push back is called FRICTION. Now that you know about it, you can be prepared for it. Simply note that are you are afraid, and do the Action Steps in this module and you will be able to reverse the Cycle of Doubt.
The Chicken or the Egg?
Or, you might be thinking, “Lisa, let’s face it. What if all my fears are true? What if I really can’t score? Or I’m not agile enough on defense? Or clumsy when I jump? You are just encouraging people to exaggerate their abilities and live in la-la land.”
No. Please don’t misinterpret my message. I’m not saying that you should ignore past realities or live in a fantasy world. Denial never works.
I’m pointing out that in sport, we have TWO athletes inside us: an effective one and an ineffective one. Even the clumsiest golfer will hit a ball up on the green from time to time. Therefore, our job is to EXPAND our awareness of the effective athlete inside us so we can grow in the right direction.
As Dr. Deepak Chopra says, “What you pay attention to grows.” The more we touch base with our positive self-image, the more we live out of it.
Take the most damaging belief you’ve identified about yourself today, such as, “I can’t score goals consistently,” “My backhand sucks,” “I’m too old,” etc.
What evidence is there that this belief is FALSE? For example, if your belief is that you cannot find draw weight in curling, you could write down the last five times that you were able to throw draw weight in a big competition.
As I said earlier, if you want to become a star athlete and win gold medals, you need to believe in yourself. This will require you to develop a positive athletic self-image.
A Positive Athletic Self-Image
To do this, you will need a very positive athletic self-image. This is a self-image in which you are able to set aside self-doubt and refuse to accept limitations others try to impose upon you. When you have a positive self-image, you do not accept the limitations you commonly impose upon yourself. You do not question your ability or your worthiness. In your own eyes, you are perfect.
Your athlete self-image is the athletic vision of yourself deep in your unconscious mind. It is a complete blueprint of the kind of athlete you consider yourself to be.
Whether you see yourself as mentally tough, quick and agile, smart, or talented all depends on your self-image.
The level of detail in your athletic self-image is astonishing. It includes every dimension or trait in sport you can imagine. Why is this important?
As I’ve already explained, all of you decisions and actions are consistent with your self-image.
Convinced you can’t beat a certain opponent?
You’ll find a way to lose in the end.
Consider yourself unlikely to win those 50-50 battles?
You’ll hang back and play cautious.
Not sure you can ascend to the top of your sport?
You won’t set worthy goals.
The good news is that you don’t have to be controlled by an outdated or negative self-image. You can take control of it.
That’s exactly what the Spanish football team did in 2010. A classic underdog team, Spain won the 2010 World Cup against all odds. Spain (called the Red Fury) was considered the world’s greatest underachiever in the sport of football.
In spite of having a wonderful history in football and possessing magnificent talent, the Spanish team had only 3 major victories to its credit before this victory.
The team literally shook off decades of disappointment under intense pressure.
It was a victory not only in soccer, but in self-image.
Spain found a way to BELIEVE. So can you.
Here is the roadmap to cultivating a positive self-image.
No matter how much self-doubt you may have about yourself right now, the truth is that you do have successes. The problem is that your progress is inconsistent. You take one step forward and then two steps back.
You do not just have one sport self-image. We have two – a positive one and a negative, self-doubting one. Let me demonstrate this by having you go through the following Action Step.
Please describe in writing what it feels like when you see and experience yourself as a genius in your sport. What do you think like? Feel like? Act like? How is this communicated to your coach, parents, and teammates? How does the confidence from this self-image translate into action steps that cause you to win?
Please describe in writing what it feels like when you see and experience yourself as mediocre at your sport. What do you think like? Feel like? Act like? How is this communicated to your coach, parents, and teammates? How is it translated into action steps (or non-action) that cripples your performance?
In all these situations, you were the same athlete – with the same talent, the same skills, the same experience, and the same personality. Yet your performance and results were radically different.
What was the difference between these two experiences? The difference was whether you believed in yourself – whether your positive self-image was in charge or your doubting self-image was in charge.
When your self-image is positive, you believe and trust in your skills. You also know you are worthy of success.
It’s not that you refuse to see your weaknesses or mistakes; you are more than willing to acknowledge them and improve. It’s simply that on an energetic level, you trust that you will figure it out.
Your reality is that you are a genius, and you communicate it to everyone. “You’re in my reality now.” You also see your inherent worth as a person and believe you deserve all good things.
As I explained earlier, when your strong self-image is in charge, you make decisions that cause success to come running into your arms. When this happens, nothing and no one can deny you the success you deserve.
Flipping the Self-Image Switch
To be a peak performing, winning champion, you will want to become skilled at Flipping the Switch from your doubting self-image to your positive one. Here are three Action Steps you can use to deliberately Flip the Switch back to a strong, powerful self-image and BELIEVE in yourself again.
Remember when I said that the REASON you created self-doubt in the first place was to escape the risk of emotional pain?
Rather than BELIEVE in yourself, it feels emotionally safer to prepare for the worst.
There is a better way. Rather than dealing with the fear of failure or hurt by buying into self-doubting ideas, you can face your fears directly using unconditional self-acceptance.
With unconditional self-acceptance, you accept yourself, warts and all.
You may be wondering, “What if I despise something about myself? How can I accept it? And IF I accept it, am I stuck with my bad technique, my poor fitness, or my weight problem?”
I am not asking you to accept an unsatisfactory situation. I am merely asking you to open to the truth about yourself without shame so you can start dealing with it.
This means accepting three things:
I want you to accept your situation.
Any situation in sport you’re stressed out about right now. Perhaps you’ve been cut from a team. Maybe your coach is down on you. Perhaps you really stunk up the joint in your last performance.
When I say ‘accept’, I’m not asking you to like or approve of it. I’m simply asking you to acknowledge and face it.
Of course, the reason we find it so hard to accept a situation is that it reminds us that we are not the athlete we would like to be…yet. When we dislike something, we resist it–and the fears that come with it
Consider any skills, technique, fitness or strategic problem you’re facing. Is your attitude towards it one of acceptance or resistance?
Again, I am not asking you to accept an unsatisfactory situation. I am merely asking you to acknowledge it. Denial is not going to get you anywhere. The sooner you acknowledge the reality of your situation, the faster you’ll be able to change it.
The courage to accept your situation–and yourself–always paves the way for change.
Here is a simple yet powerful exercise to help you. Every day for the next 7 days, I want you to write down the following sentence:
“I acknowledge I am [your situation] right now.”
“I acknowledge I am ranked second last in my league right now.”
“I acknowledge I am 7 pounds overweight right now.”
“My coach prefers to play other players and I acknowledge that right now.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Lisa this is supposed to HELP my confidence. I get upset just looking at my situation on paper!”
The more upsetting it is for you to write down your sentence, the more you need to do this exercise. You will be surprised how much less fear you have in 7 days.
Total time spent? 30 seconds per day.
Record your sentence below:
2. Your Failures and Flaws
It’s time to face the truth about your past failures and flaws – the ones you’ve been beating up on yourself for. You are going to do this with an attitude of curiosity, not shame. You will be shocked how easy and painless it is to ‘fix’ your shortcomings using this method.
Please answer the following seven questions:
3. Your Emotions
To Flip the Switch and believe in yourself, you must be able to heal feelings of loss, disappointment, or sadness when things don’t work out – without falling back into self-doubt.
The most profound way to accept yourself unconditionally is to experience your fears and frustrations without resistance.
When it comes to healing emotional pain, the crying IS the healing.
Most of us are quite pitiful at this. We put ourselves down any time we aren’t 100% confident and happy. We tell ourselves to ‘get over it,’ not let others ‘get to us,’ and that fear is a sign of weakness.
The main thing we are taught in Western culture about feelings is that they are shameful. Basically, our culture believes fear is a weakness. The Nike t-shirt “No Fear” pretty much sums up our attitude towards fear.
So we take a stiff upper lip attitude towards our feeling and ignore them. In the name of mental toughness, we pretend our fear isn’t there. We tell ourselves to ‘get over’ our fears, not let other people ‘get to us’, and that we’re calm, confident and cheerful even when we’re shaking in our boots.
We even take pride in our ability to ignore fear, believing that mental toughness means never being scared.
Tremendous relief comes from self-acceptance, because you do not have to pretend, cover up, or suppress your feelings about your problems in sport.
I am continually surprised how ignorant we are as a culture on emotional healing. You can spend twenty-five years in school and not get even one hour’s education on how to heal yourself emotionally after a loss or failure.
How do we heal ourselves emotionally? It’s actually quite simple. Picture a five year old child who has dropped her ice cream cone on the ground. Her immediate reaction is to wail – to experience her disappointment without resistance. Before long, she is ready to let it go.
A caveat: To experience your feelings and let them go, it’s not necessary to weep. Everyone is different. Some people experience their feelings by talking about them…still others by journaling. What’s important is that you experience your feelings, nurture yourself through them, and then let them go.
A Personal Example
Late in my athletic career, my team had the misfortune of having to play a powerhouse team…and we lost for four years straight.
In the fifth year, we entered the finals optimistically: “It’s going to be our year!” we proclaimed. But, our hopes were dashed when we lost to them two games straight despite a valiant effort.
There was, however, an important wrinkle to this competition: if we won our next game–against a different team–we could still earn a berth into the National Championships.
We had exactly 45 minutes to re-group for this all-important game. It was at this moment that my body took over and instinctively prepared me for this next challenge.
Upon entering our dressing room, all the wretched disappointment inside me over losing for four years came bursting forth. I sobbed bitterly, and couldn’t stop. Images of old losses flashed before my eyes, and I sobbed some more. At one point, I was crying so hard I went to the bathroom and put my head under the dryer (I didn’t want to traumatize the first year players, who had no idea that a mature adult could cry so whole-heartedly).
Three minutes before our next game, our goaltender (who knows me really well), calmly handed me my helmet. “You have three minutes,” she announced.
I put my helmet on. Suddenly, I was completely focused, hopeful, and filled with energy. We won, and to this day, my team insists it was one of the best games of my career. The opposing coach even invited me to play at the National Championships as a special ‘pick up’ addition to his team.
It is easy to activate the healing power of self-acceptance when we have the right tool. Sentence completions are an easy way to unleash the power of self-acceptance. Please write down five different endings for the following sentence every day for 7 days:
If I were 5% more self-accepting of my fears and frustrations today:
Now that you have your negative thoughts and feelings out of the way, it’s time to Flip the Switch over to your positive self-image.
You start the process by realizing that you are a work in progress. Then you focus and build on your strengths, imagining your perfect self.
You Are Not A “Fixed Entity”
Years ago when I was on the National team, I stumbled across a teammate sobbing in the hallway.
The coaches had just announced the team’s taxi squad, and she was on it. The taxi squad is five players who attend games but do not play. They only play in case of injury or poor performance.
“I’m never trying out for this team again,” she said, her jaw set.
I knew she was disappointed…but the idea of giving up at the tender age of 18 made no sense to me.
Most athletes hit their prime between 25-28 years of age, some even later. The average age on the National Team was 26.
I told her this. Between sobs, she said, “But Shelley made it.”
Shelley was 16, a phenom who became a star right out of the gate.
At 18, my teammate wasn’t as good as Shelley (yet). So she made the fatal error of concluding: “I’m not good enough.”
A lot of athletes make the same mistake as Michelle – the mistake of seeing themselves as “fixed” entities. In their mind, their skills (and therefore their self-image) are frozen in time.
They don’t see themselves as a ‘work in progress.’
If they are young and move up to a better team, most of them start playing sub-par (because shining doesn’t fit with being one of the ‘lesser’ players).
If they are not young, they just accept a mediocre career with fewer wins, because they weren’t a superstar right out of the gate.
We are all so conditioned for instant success these days that when we don’t get overnight success, we gradually start stepping back from the Dream.
We don’t invest long enough or hard enough. Maybe we don’t do quality training, or maybe we don’t do mental toughness training. “What’s the point?” we think unconsciously. “I’m not good enough to be the best.”
Ready for a dose of reality?
Most champions are made, not born. They create success by taking the long view.
Sometimes, it’s a VERY long view.
Canada’s Olympic curling champ, Kevin Martin, is a textbook example.
After losing the Salt Lake Olympic final in 2002 and only winning one out of four World Championships, Martin toiled for eight years to finally be declared the best.
He was deliberate and determined.
In 2007 he put together his special Olympic rink, telling everyone that his only goal was to get in as many finals as possible so they were 100% prepared for their “do-over” at the Olympics.
“It took a long time. But the hard work was worth it,” he said after winning gold.
And what about Novak Djokovic? Until about five years ago, most people would have picked Rafael Nadal to win Wimbledon without a second thought.
And it would have been hard to argue with them.
Djokovic used to fall apart regularly. He’d just find a way to lose.
Those days are gone.
Djokovic rose to No. 1 in the world a few years ago. He even had a 43 match unbeaten streak and won three Grand Slams in 2011.
The mental toughness lesson here?
Djokovic is a triumph of self-image.
He learned how to live out of his imagination rather than surrendering to ‘reality.’
You see, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s domination of men’s tennis was really intimidating. Most athletes in Djokovic’s place would have just treaded water, hoping for an injury.
Not Djokovic. He realized the power of taking the long view and using his imagination. He plugged away on his game, improving his self-image all the while.
His most notable areas of improvement?
His forehand and his movement. They’ve gone from great to stupendous.
This is no small feat when you’re already one of the best in the world…because you only get better in very small doses.
Again, most athletes have a negative self-image because they see themselves as fixed entities. They don’t realize they are always a work in progress.
They’re so busy living out of the past, they forget to use their imagination and dream. And by “dream”, I mean genuinely see yourself differently.
Write down everything you’ve learned in the past year as an athlete. Include any technical improvements in your skills, knowledge about fitness, conditioning, equipment, and new strategy insights you’ve made.
After you’ve done so, note the amazing progress you’ve made in just a short time. Then rinse and repeat this exercise for the previous year and the year after that. You will quickly see how much you have learned and grown in the past three years.
As you do this exercise, realize how astonishingly detailed your athletic self-image is. For example, I’m working with a rugby player right now (we’ll call him Randy). Randy has a pretty good athletic self-image.
But his self-image about getting to the ball FIRST was not good. When I asked him to describe his self-image in winning 50-50 balls, he got stressed out.
In Randy’s mind, he’s a bit slow – not an aggressive, take-no-prisoners kind of player. This is only one small aspect of his self-image, but Randy needs to be aware of it, or he is in danger of letting this one small area of improvement influence his entire self-image. Therefore, in doing this exercise, no detail about yourself as an athlete is too small to note.
The next way to develop a positive self-image and see yourself as perfect in your own eyes is to visualize. By this, I mean you need to visualize all of your past successes and your future successes too.
This is challenging, because of the friction your old self-image will create in your mind.
Mark Tewksbury, one of the greatest swimmers of all time, scared himself the first time he visualized winning.
That’s because he had to imagine beating his HERO, legend Matt Biondi.
Quite a shock.
Below is a visualization sequence I created for you to develop a positive, winning self-image. Please listen to it every day for the next 30 days.
1. To become a consistent, winning, peak performer, you must believe in yourself.
2. This is because if you do not believe in yourself, you are experiencing self-doubt. There is no in between.
3. Believing in yourself is actually an experience of yourself – a very special one. There are two parts: confidence and self-esteem. Together, they form this magical experience of the following three points:You are highly confident in your skills and abilities.
If you lack skill or talent, you still believe you can learn what you need to learn to succeed in your sport.
You believe you are worthy of and deserve massive success and happiness as an athlete.
4. There is one main reason athletes do not believe in themselves, and it’s this:
5.There is a simple cycle that causes athletes to unknowingly create doubt in themselves on are regular basis. It is called the Cycle of Self-Doubt.
6.The key to believing in yourself is a positive athletic self-image. You are able to put self-doubt aside. In your own eyes, you are perfect.
7. There are 3 keys to developing a positive self-image: