Confidence when you’re down (and almost out)

There are many good things about the internet but one of the less good things is that it’s almost impossible to get a definitive version of the quote you want. In this instance, I want to quote a tennis player – but the point of this blog is that no matter how un/confident you feel, long term projects can sap away at you and make you doubt
  • yourself
  • the project
  • the people around you.
So here’s that quote: it’s from Martina Navratilova, who is best known now, perhaps as a rights activist but who was once-upon-a-time a tennis player.
I wasn’t the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen because of how well I played when I was winning. I was the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen because of how I played when I was losing.
Clearly there’s no shortage of self-belief there! But what’s interesting for us is that Navratilova recognises that despite being the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen she won’t always be winning. This will not always go to plan. There will be times when she’s (metaphorically – and literally because this is tennis!) on the back foot. It’s at times like those that world class champions are made, or not.
Personally I find this quote a tremendous help, because it reminds me that sometimes it’s less about the skills I may have, less about the plans I’ve made, less about me in general, but more about the slog, more the grind and more about the trench warfare of execution.
Or to put it another way, as a mentor of mine used to say “Some days you’ve just got to grind it out.” And he was right. Despite him being just about the best trainer I’ve eve seen and despite being famous for being so, some days not everything went right and even he had to grind it out.
Stop pretending it has to be easy.  If it was, everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t be worth doing.  Just recognise it’s about hard work sometimes and you have to find ways to keep fighting even when it’s going badly. The work of Dr Margaret Chesney is fantastic here.  Her acronym BREATH is a fantastic tool for keeping going when the world is out to get you.  Start from just over an hour out! 🙂

So how do you handle that?

For me, the first thing is to simply remind myself that it needs to be done. If Navratilova needed to force herself to JDI then I can too – because let’s face it, having the confidence to go out and make another presentation is less daunting than facing down Match Point in the Championship Final at Wimbledon.
If even my mentor needed to grind out stuff and just concentrate on getting the job done, then dammit, so can I.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve forced myself off the sofa to go to my home office and work by citing Navratilova ?

Other tools

Well, the obvious tool for when it’s not going well is to figure out how ‘not well’ it’s going. In the grand scheme of things are you facing a real disaster?  Or a real setback that feels like a disaster? There’s an old Cognitive Behavioural Therapy trick you can use at this point and give yourself a score from one to ten.  If the project working nicely, the presentation getting a standing ovation (or whatever) is a ten, and you die-ing a horrible death, alone and unloved is a zero, what number would you give your current setback?  Let’s face it, the chances are it’s not going to kill you and you are going to get another chance…
Yes, I know, if you’re slides have a typo and someone points it out in front of everyone it feels pretty bad, but it’s only one typo on one slide. And yes, it will affect your credibility and the impact of your presentation but it doesn’t mean everyone is going to write off everything you say.
I’ve written in other blogs for Confidence Month that sometimes it’s about just knowing what ‘good enough’ looks like, of course and the other posts in the whole Confidence Month project have a slew of other ideas…
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