This may come as a surprise to you, but self-confidence is wildly important for performance. I recently came across a study about an idea called stereotype threat, which relates the story of how blacks and women score more poorly than white males on a difficult cognitive test like the GRE, unless they are told the super-secret code before the test begins: “This test is not a measure of your intelligence” or “This test is just a drill” or (and this is my layman’s version) “This test is not an important measure of your worth as a human being and will not affect your future – don’t worry!”
As far as I can tell, we think we are not as good. We are told we are not as good. We believe we are not as good. And so we perform “not as good.”
The study goes on to relate how they believe what happens to blacks and women during this test is they get stressed about their performance (because they are told they are not as good!) and the stress causes lack of focus at crucial moments like, say, when the questions get more difficult. The stressed brain will have a moment of self-doubt that will lead to a lack of focus that may lead to missing a crucial step in solving that problem. Hence, missing the question. It is not a problem of ability, but a problem of belief in self. I don’t know if this is true – heck, they don’t know for sure if this is true yet – but my own experience leads me to agree.
Have you ever been right in the middle of some type of performance benchmark – a test, an interview, a race, a review, an audition, etc. – and just choked? OR! Known you were good enough (or great) for the job, but had those little fleeting moments of self-doubt flash through brain and suddenly realized your grip on ‘your best’ was slipping?
I think the key to the issue of self-doubt is somewhere in the strategy of athletes who consistently perform at their peak levels and I just don’t see why we can’t be more like professional athletes in our everyday lives. There are about a zillion articles and studies out there about self-talk and the professional athlete, so I am not going to get crazy linking to them all. But just think about this: if how you talk to yourself affects your attitude, and your attitude affects your behavior, and your behavior IS your performance…. well, just imagine your performance on a day you were in a great mood versus a day you were in a horrible mood. I think it’s fair to assume we can’t control the world around us enough to eradicate bad days, so our attitude is… beyond our control? Really? If you start researching “the greats” in whatever industry you are a part of, you will see that they did not pull the covers back up over their head when the going got tough. I’m sure they also didn’t walk around with a cheesy smile plastered on their face if they were having a crap day, either. They understood the value of facing each moment with a workable attitude.
So now that’s the idea. What is the practice? Well, I have just started looking, but here’s my first worthwhile find (something like hit #2 on a google search for “athlete self-talk” – you don’t have to dig deep to find this stuff, people): “Great self-talk: How elite athletes coach themselves.” I found the list of negative words enlightening. I noticed multiple word categories that I use, but hadn’t thought about as negative, like “need” and “should.”
_____Before competition, I purposely tell myself what to do and how to focus.
_____I am able to focus on what I am doing instead of the outcome.
_____While competing, I am my own best friend (e.g., supportive, encouraging, positive).
_____I know what to say to myself to “get over” a mistake.
_____I have specific things I say to myself to stay focused.
_____I have specific things I say to myself to stay motivated during practice.
_____I know how to talk to myself to perform my best.
_____I focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses, prior to and during competitions
Onward and upward – I’m excited to learn more.
**Amazing love to Radiolab for the podcast that brought this study to my attention. And, if it makes you feel any better, those white guys who were beating the pants off us…. well, they had their own inferiority complex when it came to being measured against Asians. Feel that circle, fellas!
**I have totally paraphrased the results of the stereotype threat study as I understood them. The study itself is open to debate and I have certainly cracked it wide open with interpretation. I recommend you check out the study for yourself!
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