Self Confidence is Hard Work

One of the main messages from “The Kings Confidence” is that George VI became confident at public speaking through hard work.

In my post “Are affirmations useless?” I discussed one of the founders of personal development, Samuel Smiles. In the 19th century his “Self Help” was only out sold by the bible! The underlying message from Smiles was that success came through dedication and hard work.

self confidence hockey

if at first you don't succeed....

He didn’t appear to believe in the concept of “genius”, all those he portrayed in his case studies got there by hard graft and application.

In that post I made a reference to Malcom Gladwell, who has published 3 excellent books. His “Outliers” makes reference to and develops the “10,000” hours theory; successful people – such as The Beatles – get there through many hours of toil rather than innate ability.

Bounce – How Champions are Made

This is carried to another level by Matthew Syed in his book “Bounce” His argument is that for any significantly complex human activity natural talent is not particularly important. Top achievement is the consequence of huge amounts of what he calls “purposeful” or “disciplined” practice.

The desire to work hard is what most high achievers have in common. This is usually sparked by an early enthusiasm (although this may be brought on by parental enthusiasm as well!) and opportunity.

In Syed’s case his parents happened to buy a full size table tennis (ping-pong) table, he had an older brother to practice with and there happened to be both a local club and an inspiring coach available. On these latter two points he lists numerous other players who emerged from his club to become international players:-

“for a period in the 1980’s, this one street, and the surrounding vicinity, produced more outstanding table tennis players than the rest of the nation combined.”

There are a number of compelling and inspiring case studies in the book, some of the most interesting away from the sporting arena. This includes a fireman of many years experience instinctively knowing something “was not quite right” when evacuating his men minutes before a building collapses.

But its in sports like tennis and cricket (which you don’t have to know about to enjoy the book!) that Syed is best at demonstrating that the skills of champions are not innate, but learned. This includes the ideas of perceptual compression and domain specific knowledge, where a top player apprehends and understands a situation so much more quickly.

self confident federer

Roger Federer US Open

Whilst a fireman interprets patterns to indicate danger in a building, Roger Federer anticipates where the ball is going to go from accurate inferences via the movement patterns of his opponent. This is not something he was born with, but learnt through hours of practice.

Syed uses his own expedience at the Sydney Olympics to illustrate how choking occurs. The hours of practice leads to a competitor using their “unconscious competence” to win their matches. But in the pressure of a big event they may try to move back to doing the task more consciously. However, this disrupts their flow, and they start analysing, rather than letting their body react “automatically”.

Self Confidence and the Power of Belief

As well as hard work, Bounce takes in other factors such as motivation..

“..clocking up thousands of hours of purposeful practice ultimately determines how far we make it along the path to excellence: but its only those who care about the destination, whose motivation is “internalised” who are ever going to get there.”

And the book also takes in the effect of coaches in harnessing effort. Of tennis coach Nick Bollettieri…

“he praises effort, never talent; he eulogizes about the transformational power of practice at every opportunity; he preaches the vital importance of hard work during every interruption in play.”

But I must mention discussions he has on the power of belief – as often performers go into events with irrational beliefs they will win (for example when there is clear evidence their opponents can run faster, etc.). This “performance placebo” has been tested to work…

“the ‘positive thinking‘ group completed their task significantly more quickly than the ‘negative thinking‘ group, even though there was no difference in ability between the two groups…. irrational beliefs can boost performance, provided they are held with sufficient conviction.”

So positive thinking, believing we can, does help us if we hold that belief with conviction. Which I think we all would see as making sense and an essential component of self confidence.

But as my last post was “self confidence in 15 minutes” its important to reflect that becoming good at something does take effort. And if you want self confidence, being good, having ability, certainly help!

Photos by laverrue and toga on Flickr

moreconfidence September 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm

So true, anything worth having is not easy to obtain. And as you say, whether it be sport, healthy eating habits, self confidence ot anything else we want, it takes work. Yet the more we practise, he more it becomes ingrained into our subconscious and the easier tit becomes.

raymond8 September 13, 2011 at 7:57 am

As the old saying goes, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. How true is that.

miraclady September 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Dear Raymond –

This was the most important part of the post for me –

“So positive thinking, believing we can, does help us if we hold that belief with conviction. Which I think we all would see as making sense and an essential component of self confidence.”

Wonderful uplifting ideas here. Thank you.

BlogTechGuy September 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Very interesting. I think often people struggle with working hard on the right things. It takes work and practice to achieve, but if they are misplaced then it can be wasted time and effort don’t you think?

miraclady September 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

My comment was for you, David. Sorry.
Yes, I am a little crazy today!

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 7:52 am

@moreconfidence Kate, thanks for commenting (just realised never replied to your email in June – sorry!). So much of what we do everyday is habit or unconscious – we don’t think about how we walk or drive our car. So it does follow logically that to improve our performance and confidence it requires a bit of elbow grease 🙂 David

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 7:57 am

@raymond8 we do everything we can to avoid perspiring at all!

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 7:57 am

@raymond8 we do everything we can to avoid perspiring at all!

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 8:02 am

C @miraclady Corinne, I think the “holding with conviction” bit does get left off with much positive thinking writing. If you don’t genuinely believe, its a waste of time” Thanks for your comment, David

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

@BlogTechGuy Joel, people just struggle to work hard a lot of the time! And its really hard to know what the right things to work on are. In Syeds case it he never understands why his parents bought a table tennis table in the first place. Thanks for commenting, David

DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 8:08 am

@miraclady I totally understand!!!!

moreconfidence September 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

@DavidRogers Hi David,

Don’t apologise about the email, can’t reply to everything! I am currently working on a new project which may be of interest to you though, drop me an email if you would like more info:)


andrewrondeau September 14, 2011 at 2:45 pm


Bang goes the theory of ‘overnight success’ then!

People look at Federer winning the latest gram-slam and think, “not bad for a few hours work” … not taking into consideration the thousands of unpaid hours practising.

Those who are successful know it takes hard work…just like making a living on-line!


DavidRogers September 14, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Andrew, Thanks for commenting. He didn’t win this years US Open (?or any come to think of it)! It would be interesting to know if people knew this (and believed it) from an early age, how many would put the hours in? David

happymakernowco September 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Hi David,

Hard work is the key to success. This is big key.

So positive thinking, believing we can, does help us if we hold that belief with conviction. Which I think we all would see as making sense and an essential component of self confidence.

We have to have the confidence and that can start with the mind. I have hear of stories where men where POW’s and played a gaime of golf in the head over and over again. When they were able to be free and play golf the were great at it.

We can gain confidence by working hard and also smart.

Thanks David.


DavidRogers September 19, 2011 at 7:47 am

@happymakernowco Debbie – I like your phrase “working hard and smart”. Its amazing how we can use our brain to improve our performance, but equally we need to use our “brawn as well”. Thanks for commenting, David

MichelleVandepas September 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Focusing on the RIGHT part of your business (or life) and then working hard at it is the important piece. .. Working hard all over the place just means your are busy… and possible distracted with a bunch of busy work. Focus on the perfect place to ‘work hard’… Great post!

DavidRogers September 19, 2011 at 7:49 am

@MichelleVandepas Michelle – thanks for mentioning focus, which I neglected. There is no point in working hard if you disperse your energy in all directions. david

Amy LeForge September 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm

It’s good to know that my hard work is likely to pay off!

thatgirlisfunny October 7, 2011 at 4:40 am

Hello David,

Just stumbled on this post and am delighted to see that I can catch up with you and the rest of the gang. I’m a firm believer in constant repetition in my martial arts practice. Without performing the same move consistently and with deliberate discipline, the moves won’t live in body memory. Things happen fast and pattern recognition (the same as with the firemen in your post) is key to allowing my body to provide the correct next move. That helps me feel confident. When I try to think about it, the moment is lost because I move too slowly.

TyroneShum November 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm

True, self confidence is gained through hard work because if you haven’t made an effort then how would you test your confidence through life’s challenges? I’m glad too that after all, I can see my hard work is gradually paying me back the benefits.


Previous post:

Next post: