Episode #77 – How to Build Your Confidence

Episode #77 – How to Build Your Confidence

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Confidence is the gateway to peak performance. Learning how the mind works is a big part of the puzzle, controlling is another story. It a skill that can be learned though. This episode will arm you through solid ideas and exercises to build to confidence to the next level.

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It’s the morning of the race, maybe 4 hours before the start. The atmosphere is restless, agitated – wanting to get it over with. A couple of deep breaths. Count backwards from 10. It’s gone for second, but it’s still there. The word focus is mumbled under determined but hollow tone, but it’s enough to remind that under the surface there is belief.

Belief in what’s possible, belief in the ability to win.

It’s not unwavering – but it’s been such a long road leading up to this point. Just keep it together – don’t make it all for nothing. All the hard work – it’s done now, the signs are there. The practice races all went well. No big results yet, but always creeping forward. Each result building on the next – honing each race preparation until it’s routine.

Amongst all these thoughts and feelings, there’s a knock on the hotel rooms door. A coach hands the athlete a letter – a letter of self belief. To confirm to the facts, to build the right emotion at the right time – to build confidence from the hard work, ability, determination, and focus – to take quietly confident – and turn it into unwavering confidence. “Let’s do this!”.

This is me. The morning of a big race that I went on to win. I’ve only felt this, one or two times in my entire cycling career. But the most important thing is that both of these days were big races, and I won both of them.

My confidence comes with working hard consistently. But even at its best I still have to fight off the doubt – the poisonous thoughts and emotions. I’d say that every win I’ve ever had correlated with high confidence. On those days my confidence enabled me to stay positive, motivated, intense, focused, and emotionally in control when I needed it most.

Your turn: I want you to take a moment now and think about the last race or ride that you reached your goal in. Doesn’t have to be winning, just significant enough that it was planned before you achieved it. What was your confidence on that day? Before, during and after?

Here’s some made up levels to help you anchor them to.


The Semi-Pro Levels of confidence:

Cocky – “I’m going crush everyone”

Unwavering – “Let’s do this”

Quietly – “I’ll go alright”

Somewhat – “I’ll survive”

A little – “This is going to hurt”

Not at all – “What am I doing here”

So your peak confidence. Put a name to it. Is it unwavering? If it is, then all you have to do is retrace your steps, look for patterns and repeat the steps. I don’t say that lightly by the way. I know it’s a bitch, and an artform.

If you can’t definitely say your confidence was unwavering, or you haven’t achieved a goal you’ve set yourself. Then it makes it a little harder to retrace, but the good news is that you have room to improve – lots of room to improve – booyah!

How about where you are now…what would you say your confidence on achieving your goals is right now? If there’s a difference that’s what we’re here for, to shift gears.

Confidence can come from many places, you can be born with it (the lucky few), working on it, having a support network – greater than just your mum –  that helped foster it. Speaking of support networks, it’s tough to be really successful on your own. Having a constant force to back you up when your confidence needs bolstering can really turn things around.

The other side of confidence is actively working on it, but before I get into the building blocks of confidence I want to plainly state that I believe confidence is the gateway to peak performance. What do I mean by that? Performance relies on your confidence. So if your confidence is where it not where it needs to be for you to perform, your performance will suffer. Especially during the race.

Staying confident even when you’re not riding well is another skill. Because confidence is a state of mind that comes from knowing you have the resources and abilities to be successful. even if you get into trouble during the ride, you can call on your resources to get you through.

Another part of confidence is the belief that if don’t have the resources you need to succeed, that you can develop them along with the abilities needed to reach your goals. Confidence overrides doubt to create a deep and resilient belief in your ability to ride at your best. I think of it like an unwavering belief in your ability to do what you want.

Closely related to confidence is an idea that psychologist Albert Bandura of Stanford University defined self-efficacy. Which he stated as your belief that you can achieve your goals. Self-efficacy was taken a step further by Weinberg and Gould, and expanded to identify nine sources of self-confidence specific to sport.

1. Mastery: Developing and improving skills in training and competition.

2. Demonstrating ability: Having success in competition.

3. Getting the breaks: Seeing things going your way.

4. Seeing others perform successfully.

5. Physical and mental preparation.

6. Social support: Encouragement from family and friends.

7. Belief/trust in your coach(es).

8. Body image: Feelings about body, strength, appearance, weight.

9. Environmental comfort: Feeling comfortable where you’re performing.

A lot of things to consider. But when you break down the list a little further, you can see that you’re probably already doing most of these implicitly.

The part I am going to deal with on this post is the confidence is that it lies in your head. Nice pun! It’s true it’s lies in your head. So the obvious question here is what’s going on in your head? Understanding how your brain works, and knowing what you can and can’t do with it are the most important factors here.

Let’s start by talking about what’s happening in your head. The mind is always busy, and full or action. Racing from topic to topic, emotion to emotion. All while you’re sitting still. No one would know the difference if you weren’t thinking a thing.

The idea here is that you’re not alone. That there are two of you. More specifically two parts of the brain. There’s actually more but let’s keep it simple. The first, and original part (pre modern day evolution) it what Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain, Steven Pressfield describes it as the resistance, and Dr Steve Peters has personified it as ‘The Chimp’.

It’s in control of:

  • Fight, Flight or Freeze

  • Food – Is it edible? Is it ripe? Is it poisonous?

  • Reproduction – I guess we all know what that is.

  • Overall Survival – Breathing, heart beat, body growth and maintenance etc.

Then there’s the frontal cortex, the thinking brain. The logical and rational part of the brain that has made us what we are today. The trouble is ‘The Chimp’s’ emotional and catastrophic thinking gets mixed with our logical and rational thoughts.

So now that we have a basic model to work with – how do we control each part of the brain to optimise performance?

Managing The Chimp is the only long term strategy I see working. Ignoring? Short term maybe, but long term no way. Overpowering? It might be possible, but it’s rare to overpower emotion with logic. When was the last time you talked yourself out of a fight with an angry person? Maybe never at all.

So managing it by working on your belief system and self talk.

Let’s start with beliefs, but first let’s find what level of confidence you’ve performed at in the past.

The beliefs that we have about our cycling ability and potential can be detrimental to our performance. Most of the time this is “The Chimp”. To find out what your limiting beliefs are write down a list of beliefs related to your cycling. Either start the sentence with “I can”, “I am good at” “I can’t”, “I’m not good at” “I find it impossible to”. When you finish your list split the page up with a line down the centre. Put the “I will” and “I can” on one side of the page and the other sentences on the opposite side.

Now that you have a list of disempowering beliefs, take each one and examine where it came from. Did it come from remarks from a coach, friend or parent? Is it a general belief? Just because a lot of people believe something to be true doesn’t make it fact.


For each of these beliefs ask yourself:

  • Where did this belief come from?

  • What way does it affect my performance?

  • If I don’t change it how will it affect me in the future?

  • What benefits will I get from changing it?

  • How can I change it?

Writing your beliefs down might give you a bit of a shock. But stay focussed and use this time to address them properly rather than running for the hills. I’d pick the biggest one, and start there. Don’t get overwhelmed – it’s a process not a prize.

Part of your solution is self-talk, and something interesting that was pointed out to me was – if you said all the negative self-talk out loud as you raced, directly to your other competitors – imagine how pissed they would get. So go easy on yourself.

I’ve covered affirmations, or self talk before – but I’ll give you a new tip. The human mind cannot process negative instruction. So when you’re riding down a hill remind yourself to look where you want to go rather than don’t go off the road, or when you’re in a breakaway instead of reminding yourself not to look back, think, look forward!

If you want to try something straight away. You might be able to bypass digging this deep by using a heuristic from Dr Steven Peters in the form of a simple question. To help you decide which brain you want to control or listen to, ask yourself is this question: Do I want…?

If you ask yourself…do I want to train today, and the frontal cortex answer is yes…try this…

Every time you train, create a little victory so that when you’re done for the day you can build on these and link them together to form a consistent chain of success. This will give you a micro boost. but also keep your confidence in the right direction.




Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca on Flickr


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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

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