The confidence trick

Confidence is the lifeblood of every sportsman’s and woman’s life. A surfeit of confidence (in addition to god given talent) is what takes people to the very top of their chosen sport. Where would Ronaldo be without his confidence? Serena Williams? And yet for every story of fireproof confidence, there are half a dozen where it has just drained away.

Let’s take two tall fast bowlers as our example. Steven Finn is the quickest English bowler to 50 test wickets, and has the highest strike rate of any bowler who has bowled over 2,000 deliveries (cricket loves its stats). Mitchell Johnson has just taken 37 wickets in an Ashes series at under 14 runs per wicket. Three years ago, Mitchell Johnson was the butt of every Barmy Army song and couldn’t land it on the cut strip; he didn’t even make last year’s summer Ashes Tour. Yet, perhaps due to maturity, a change in coaching, or maybe even because it was just his time, from the middle of November he relentlessly terrorised English batsmen. Steven Finn, for so long the great white hope of Engliash cricket has gone the other way, and has been sent home from Australia “to clear his head”. Remember Steve Harmison – brilliant one day, awful the next?

As they say, confidence is all between the ears. Somebody, probably Darren Lehmann, told Mitchell Johnson that he was the best thing since Vegemite and allowed him the scope to fail, which in turn gave him the confidence to succeed. All he thought about when running into bowl was how quick he was going to hurl it down. All Steven Finn is thinking about when he runs into bowl is what will go wrong (shoulder position, wrist position, approach to the stumps, length to bowl etc etc). Consequently he now cannot bowl.

Golf invites similar demons. When Rory McIlroy blew his massive lead in the Masters a couple of years back, many commentators thought it would be the end of him as a player. He’s since won two Majors, and most think he will become the most successful European golfer, in terms of Major wins, ever. The naivety of youth probably helped him to bounce back, but what did for him on that afternoon in Augusta was not lack of confidence, it was over-confidence, the belief that he could best the course playing his way. In 1991 Ian Baker-Finch won the Open Championship; two years later he wasn’t even being invited to play in tournaments, so embarrassingly had his game fallen apart. After winning he had examined his game in such minute detail he couldn’t get the demons out of his head every time he addressed the ball. For every Ian Baker-Finch there is a Sandy Lyle, who won two Majors, then watched his game fall apart, but somehow dragged it back to such an extent that even at the age of 55 he is regularly on the leaderboard on the last day of Major championships. How? Because he stopped overthinking what he was doing, and just started walking up to the ball as he had done as a 16 year old.

As it is in sport so it is in business.  Anyone who has been in business for any length of time is good at what they do precisely because they have been doing it for so long.  You learn from both your successes and your failures.  Events outside your control will always have an impact on your business (global financial meltdown, acts of terrorism) but by and large your continued trading is largely down to the fact that you are good at what you do.  A major cause of business failure is a change in strategy – it doesn’t harm to be different from the rest, being able to differentiate your business from the competition is a USP.  Diversification, new markets etc are good expansion plans, but only if well thought out and executed and not to the detriment of the core business.  How many times have you heard a major multinational closing down a site because it “is not a core activity”?

The point nowadays is that you get so many “experts” trying to tell you how to run your business.  How can they know your business, given that they don’t work in it or in your marketplace?  If they are so good at it, why aren’t they running businesses, rather than telling people how to run theirs?  Business consultants can only assist failing or badly run companies, and only then by implementing basic and blindingly obvious systems and controls.  If you’ve made furniture for the last twenty years, you don’t need someone to tell you that you should be making it differently; you might need to market it differently, but your core skills are still the same.  You must have confidence in your ability – your customers will see that you have confidence and therefore have confidence in you.

If you’ve been good enough at something to have made a living from it for twenty years, the likelihood is that you will be good enough at it to make a living for another twenty years.  Trust your instincts, keep doing what you know works, and above all, ignore the demons in your head and your e-mail inbox.  Have confidence in yourself and what you do, and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune will bounce off.

That’s the real confidence trick…………….

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