Vicarious confidence – taking inspiration from those around you

I write and talk a lot about confidence – it is one of the main reasons athletes come to see me. I will often explain that from my reading of the sport psychology literature in confidence I’ve identified 12 main sources:

  1. Previous performances and skills mastered
  2. Extensive preparation
  3. Vicarious experiences
  4. Verbal persuasion
  5. Trust in advisors
  6. Environment comfort and familiarity
  7. Social support
  8. Innate factors (feeling naturally talented)
  9. Athlete’s view (it is all going well)
  10. Physiological traits (interpreting nerves as excitement not anxiety)
  11. Self-presentation (Feeling they have the right body, arm span, kit, equipment etc)
  12. Competitive advantage (having played and beaten opponents before)

The first two are really robust. These are the ones we can focus upon to give ourselves the best chance of success; Mastery of Skills and Experience and Preparation. I’ve written a piece on each recently for Performance Kitchen: Mastery (coming soon) & Preparation.

So, what of the other 10 sources. Are there any we can proactively work on?  One to focus on today – and something that is lovely to do over holidays when we reflect on our year – is looking at where you can gain confidence from others – the Vicarious experiences. This is where we gain our confidence from watching others perform successfully, especially if they are people we have some affinity or similarity with.

I’ve been reflecting recently on the people in my life who (without having any idea) prompted me over the years to go for what I waned when I was really scared to do it. Each of these people accidentally taught me a real lesson in bravery and seeing their achievements helped me make really difficult choices which have more than paid off.

10 years ago just before Christmas I cycled to meet a friend (and my triathlon coach) Annie Emmerson. We had lunch. She was pregnant with her now nine year old daughter. We chatted about work and she told me all about her long term career goal. I was amazed that someone who was about to have a baby would have an ambitious goal like that and would take a leap into going for it. But she did. Her goal has been hit many times. It meant when I got pregnant I could see that it was ok to have a baby and still go for my career goals at the same time.

Even longer ago I worked in a government agency as a communications manager. It was a small office (fewer than ten of us) and we were a mix of marketing and communications people. One of the marketing girls, Steph, was just a huge bundle of fun in the office and always really creative. We all gradually moved on to different roles and lost touch, until I saw her on Facebook launching a business. She’d had her first baby and received tonnes of flowers she didn’t have enough vases for or the energy to look after and had a genius idea to create a box of goodies for new mums. I followed her progress and she was instrumental in making me think that if someone who is not that different to me (although she pulls off an ace fringe in a way I could never even hope to) and had a similar job could set up and run her own business that maybe it was within my capabilities too. Her business: Don’t buy her flowers is doing amazingly and has expanded to cover every occasion you could imagine. She showed all of us around her if you have a fab idea and take a risk it can pay off.

Then, finally, when I was unhappy in my last grown up job I had an idea that I would love to understand more about behaviour and our brains and particularly how they work in sport. I loved triathlon but knew I only did ok from hard work – there is not a sporting gene in my body! I was curious about how mindset and attitude could influence sporting success. I really wanted to go and study it but I already had three degrees and a mortgage and who on earth goes back to uni at 37? Randomly and separately two people I followed on twitter Helen Russell and Michelle Gywnn were both vocal about how, as adults, they were going back to university, to take an MSc. Again, it felt that if they could do it, so could I. I wouldn’t be the only one taking a massive risk, I’d have others around me doing the same. I started an MSc. Then did another for good measure!

As a result of seeing the efforts and bravery of four people a little bit like me, I now have a business I adore running. While none of them set out to inspire or bring anyone else confidence – they were just getting on with their own lives – inspire and bring confidence they did.

So, if you feel you need a boost, or to gain some confidence don’t look to Instagram or in the magazines for celebs to follow. Look at those around you, who are similar to you, and take your confidence from them.

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