Athletes and Confidence: How to Create a Natural High

Confidence in both the coach and athletes is a hot topic, something associated with both our success and our downfalls. Our confidence is something that needs to be managed just as pragmatically as we manage our physical fitness and diet.

Some coaches and athletes however view the psychology of confidence as a taboo subject, thinking if they don’t talk about it, mention the word ‘confidence’ let alone prepare and nurture it then it won’t break!

Confidence is not a fragile entity to be tip-toed around – it is a system, a replicable system of specific neurological triggers and chemical stimulants in our bodies. It deserves our full attention!

Confidence

In most cases, I have found confidence issues are a lack of  — or a stalling of — positive forward momentum.

What I mean by this is – our confidence and motivation is fuelled by consistent injections of success, each and every time we succeed at something – no matter how small – we are neurologically rewarded for our trouble.

We are rewarded with generous doses of serotonin and dopamine – this concoction of naturally derived happy drugs are supplied by our own bodies as a recognition of achievement.

Serotonin and Dopamine (like many other natural chemicals) are highly stimulating and exceptionally addictive. Our brain likes this reward system and wants more and more of it, so urges us forward to the next success and reward point – eagerly waiting for the next big hit.

Whilst it is our subconscious brains that have a higher understanding of what we are actually capable of – it is our conscious filtration system that normally ‘plays safe’ and pulls us back into a conservative line.

This natural high feeds our confidence, and sometimes fools our conscious mind into thinking we could, and should, take on more and more challenging tasks to gain the higher reward.

Many top athletes speak of being caught up in the moment, feeling un-stoppable and almost superhuman when at their peak. The reward driven highs becoming ‘the norm’ and a constant flooding of neural stimulants keeps them there.

(This is also part of the reason why retiring athletes struggle to maintain the stimulation in their after sport life – but that is a whole other topic  we will cover in another post!)

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” ~ Vince Lombardi

Where the wheels fall off this gravy train is if we STOP or lose this positive forward momentum of natural rewards.

If we stop acknowledging our successes, we begin to suffer withdrawal from our happy drugs – like a drug addict without the next fix this begins to reinforce our subconscious doubts over our ability to ever again ‘score’ or succeed and be rewarded. The next logical steps elude us, we lose direction, focus and perspective.

The longer the period of time where our reward cravings are not met the bigger the desire is to have that ‘hit’ and the more important that next success becomes. All this does is increase our anxiety levels and feeds the emotional monster.

These gorged emotions cloud our skill-set, our cognitive clarity and our perception on our ability to succeed.

And so a perpetual cycle of failure is born.

Breaking this slippery downward cycle and restoring forward upward momentum is just as systematic a process as the creation of the problem in the first place.

After all, our confidence is fuelled by our success, acknowledgment and our neural-reward!

And as this feeds the motivation engine, the strategy is simple:

1. Start setting small achievable goals, acknowledging them along the way.

2. Reward yourself again and again – it gains traction in the motivation game, like stoking the fire of a steam engine the more fuel you put in the better the results that come out.

And so, instead of feeding a perpetual cycle of failure, we are maintaining a perpetual cycle of success.

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