Friday, May 30, 2014

A treatise on confidence

This treatise is a response to James Haycraft's "Sprintitude" post on his blog. I will be honest -and I hope James doesn't kill me- but when you train a lot with the same people you often get a very good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. And if you are paying attention you might even receive some insight into where they are most confidence and where they are not. I often see two very different sides of James. I have seen James attack a sprint hill like a cat stalks his prey. He watches the other cyclists try to position themselves for an easy win - they take off eager to create a breakaway. James stays back pedaling with ease, a slight grin turning up the corners of his mouth. The cyclists are 5 feet away, 10 feet away, 15 feet away, 20 feet away . . . and all I am doing is watching and thinking, he can't do it, there's no way he can bridge that gap, he waited too long, so-and-so is too strong . . . While I am forming this string of negative thoughts, James attacks. He jumps out of his saddle, reels in his prey, and the gap is bridged. Once caught, his prey struggles to grasp the remains of a lead that at one time seemed insurmountable only to become the first loser. I am sorry, sir, but you just got Haycrafted.

And then there is the James that shows up to swim practice. He gets to the pool on time but then dillydallies on deck for another 10-15 minutes before getting in. He swims the 1000+ warm up and starts the "heart-rate" set which is basically another 800-1000 where you are expected to go from warm-up pace to all out sprint pace. [As an aside, this is my favorite part of practice because the whole masters group does this together. Regardless of our abilities, we swim as one. Pretty cool.] Ready or not, it is time for the main set. James starts at the back and steadily moves up the line as the older over-zealous masters swimmers out pace themselves. But then something happens. Instead of making his way to the front and flourishing, James is out of the water and sitting slumped on the bleachers overlooking the rest of us as we struggle to make the interval. He shakes his head slowly when I look at him quizzically and then he is gone. Not every workout is going to be a breakthrough but when this happens more often that not, something is definitely up.

So how does one person oooooze confidence Tuesday night and be completely void of it Wednesday morning? When I asked James this very question the answer came down to what he believes to be true before initiating each action. When sprinting he channels his "sprintitude" but when swimming he enters a downward spiral of doubt and lack of motivation.

Triathlon is a tough sport on the body but it is even a tougher sport on the mind. Everyone looks fit. Everyone trains hard. Everyone has strengths and, believe it or not, everyone has weaknesses. What would happen if everyone approached his/her weaknesses in the same fashion and his/her strengths?

The conversation with James reminded me of a TED talk I watched a long time ago. My short attention span makes watching TED talks an ideal past time. It is a 20 minute talk on the influence of body language on confidence. In a nutshell, when you use body language that portrays confidence you ultimately are more confident.

Let's take athletics out of the equation just because there are too many variables, ie. genetics, coaching, training, time availability, dedication, yada yada yada. Now what if I am preparing to go to a party. Normally I am shy, awkward, and self-conscious of my lack/desire of fashion sense (Why do I drop $80 on a pair of bib shorts but can't bring myself to go shopping real clothes and a decent pair of shoes??) As a consequence I feel intimidated and subsequently less outgoing. What if I take a second and tell myself, "I am going to be the best looking girl at this party." Obviously that is not going to be true - there are some pretty damn good looking people in Charlotte - but what if I tell myself that anyway? I might walk in the door more confident. I might be apt to stand a little taller and make direct eye contact. My body language might just reflect a person who is calm and confident . . . AND approachable so any one of those ridiculously good looking gentlemen I spy over there will come talk to me and not the overly tanned creeper with the gold chain and patchy chest hair.

So I encourage you, all of you, to take a power pose or phrase and "fake it until you make it." Instead of belittling your abilities, embrace them. Go ahead and tell yourself you are unbeatable. Convince yourself you are the prettiest girl at the party, in Charlotte, in NC, in the entire universe. Who cares what you tell yourself but by all means hold your head high and quit beating down everything about you that makes you amazing.

Ahhhhh but there is a caveat! Use your power pose to gain confidence but don't get crushed under its weight. If telling yourself, "I will win this sprint" puts you in a position to perform at your highest potential but you don't actually win, let's not turn to the bottle in defeat.  Don't fill your head with unrealistic expectations and then walk away from your dreams in frustration. Keep perspective of the journey and only be mindful of the destination. Running is my weakness but that does not mean I am a bad runner. You know what it does mean? My potential for improvement is highest in running and this is exactly what I tell myself before every single run.

Which reminds me of a few words I received from a friend last year I keep posted on my wall at work:

Tru. Dat.