As I entered downward dog, the NBC commentators talked about the most famous beach volleyball team on the planet. It was Sunday night and I decided to do my daily 15 minutes of yoga while watching the packaged replay of that day’s Olympic events, including a quarterfinal match for the American team Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings. The duo have won gold in the last two Olympics, but according to the TV folk, there was some thought the team was vulnerable coming into the London Olympics. They apparently had struggled a bit in their preparation for their last international competition together. And so they did what all athletes learn to do. They found a way to get better.
Misty and Kerri spent time working with a sports psychologist. Turns out both of them were concentrating so hard on not letting the other down that they were playing from a spot of fear instead of from confidence. And what about that elusive confidence? It was defined for them this way:
Confidence is that little voice in the back of your head that tells you, ‘You belong.’
I nearly fell out of my downward dog.
Because that, right there, is the definition of confidence I had been searching for.
Confidence is an inside job. That’s all you can control. Sure, outside factors can help build you up — a compliment here, recognition there — but outsider factors can turn. They can disappear. They can go negative. Rely too much on other people’s opinions (and the opinions others choose to actually express) and you risk a roller coaster emotional ride of ups, downs and lulls. But developing that inner confidence can be difficult. We don’t learn that in school. We’re told we learn that through things like sports. But spend time around athletics and you discover that it’s not as easy to cultivate as a good crossover dribble.
There’s no secret formula to developing confidence, or sustaining confidence. But I know from experience that when those moments of confidence comes it changes everything, not just about whatever task I’m performing be it in sport, in work or in relationships but about every single thing. I know it comes from what I believe about myself. And I know that it can be an extraordinarily powerful moment of change.
But confidence has been difficult for me to pin down in part because I couldn’t find a definition resonated with me, until I happened to turn on Olympic beach volleyball during my 15 minutes of yoga. Now, it’s about teaching that little that voice in the back of my head to say, “You belong.” How do I get there? By telling myself that I belong. By acting as if I already belong. By faking it until, without warning, it’s no longer faking. It’s belief.