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The Problem With Confidence

Confidence can be a tricky thing: on one hand, you won’t go too far in your sport, or life in general, without a good dose of confidence. On the other hand, too much confidence can land you in some seriously hot water. I will preface this post by stating that it will undoubtedly rub some folks the wrong way, but if you read it to the end, I hope to help you see where I’m coming from.

 

When you are a new athlete, it’s very easy to get caught up in the mentality and lingo of the lifting community: you call yourself a beast or a monster, you go beast mode on the regular, and your delts and quads get destroyed at least once a week. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it makes sense, as you are changing yourself and your environment; you take on the mentality of those you learn from. The problem I see with this, however, is that you are still a beginner. There isn’t anything wrong with being a beginner, but it’s important to remember it, lest you start building up what I like to call “false positivity.” Let me illustrate what that means, using a Roman legion from antiquity as an example.

 

Roman military might was successful because, among many other factors, there was unmatched cohesion, resolve, and fortitude among the soldiers. They weren’t necessarily the best fighters in single combat, they weren’t the strongest or the fastest, but they were the most successful because they knew what their job was, and performed it as a job. Now let’s look at a Gallic tribe and their military, something that many lifters claim to be channeling when they lift.

Some problems that arose when Gallic tribes, and other similar tribes, went up against the Roman forces, is that they were filled with empty bravado and false positivity. Many Gallic soldiers would whip themselves up into a frenzy, drawing their own blood, screaming, and hurling insults at the Roman forces. Sounds scary right? Not so much. The idea of whipping oneself into a frenzy in order to defeat an opponent only works when the opponent is susceptible to a loss of morale in the face of this frenzy. The Romans weren’t. And, when the ranks of Gallic soldiers, full of false positivity, crashed into the Roman lines that did not falter, the Gallic soldiers became full of fear, and routed from the field. False positivity will always fail in the face of resolve and calm determination.

Forgive the long example, sometimes I get carried away; now back to the topic at hand.

 

I see false positivity the most in new athletes, women in particular, usually with no more than one competition under their belt. Now obviously, I don’t have a problem with confident female lifters, I’ve been one of the biggest proponents of it since day one. I do see it the most in women though, perhaps because some get too caught up in the “Strong is the new skinny” movement. It’s very easy to think of yourself as a beast or monster, when you haven’t competed, or put your skills to the test. I have had more than a few female clients in the past, who came on board with the attitude of “I’m a f*ckin monster/ I squat more than you / Get out of my squat rack”, and after workout #1, they changed their tune completely, and self-promotional talk ceased. Again, I think this is because it’s easy to make big claims about yourself when you never test it against something or someone else. This isn’t to say that I don’t see it in men, because I definitely do. I think the difference is that some men are quicker to call someone out on weakness than some women are, because men like to flex their nuts.

Much like the Gallic soldiers, you can watch a beginner athlete take the mentality of false positivity to their first competition, and if something goes wrong, their resolve is shattered, and they “rout from the field”, so to speak. When you fill yourself with fake confidence and are met by a daunting challenge, this fake confidence can turn into panic very quickly, and I have seen my own clients suffer from it.

I speak on these topics like I have first-hand experience, and that’s because I do. When I first started, I would fluctuate between feelings of unmatched confidence when something went right, and crippling terror when something went wrong. Rather than living with this fluctuating mentality, I just told myself a few things to keep me sane:

1. Know what you’re good at, but more importantly, know what you aren’t good at.
2. Never make a claim heading into a competition that you can’t back up.
3. Trash talking sets you up to look like a fool if you lose, and a jackass even if you win.
4. If you are a true beast, you wouldn’t need to tell everyone.
5. Never let your personal aspirations take over the reality of your situation.

 

If you keep some of these things in mind, you may find yourself more content with your situation, and more consistent with your feelings regarding your progress.

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Confidence

  1. I used to be this guy. I’d talk about blasting a 350# squat, even tho I’d never been under that much weight. I just assumed I could do it. So, not only was I full of this false confidence, but I was also a liar. My only major lifting injury came when I failed a 340# squat. I panicked, bailed incorrectly, and the bar grabbed my belt on the way down. I tore ligaments in both of my ankles. I wish I had the video. I’d be Ridiculousness famous.

    About two years later, I’m now squatting almost 400#, and I try to never talk about how much I “can” lift. If I’m asked, I like to say, “more than some but less than others.”

    The point is, you shouldn’t have to tell someone how strong you are, and the iron will always tell the truth.

  2. In a way I think being able to see what people have lifted via YouTube can be very humbling in this regard. Seeing people do more than you with less resources and more stress.

    Great post! And great analogy. It’s amazing to see your passion for training and history meld so well in this article.

  3. I’d like to say I’m a huge fan of the site and I like the overall point of the post. However, I think your analogy works better for team sports than individual sports. The roman legions were great because of their superior training and teamwork. The celts were probably better individual warriors/athletes.

  4. Yes, but the analogy I was using was the legion as a single individual, the same with the Gauls.

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