The Confidence Game

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

It seems like some people have it and others don’t. Some may even lose it along the way. Is it the foundation that holds you up through the tough times and lets you believe in yourself? Or is it the elusive slippery substance that you can’t grab? You spy it in those around you, questioning it origin. Maybe it’s like the Justice Potter Stewart quote, “I know it when I see it.”

Confidence can come naturally but it can also be struggle. Lincoln said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” I think confidence falls in similar strokes, it isn’t something that someone has all the time for all situations.

Maybe this has something to do with how confidence is created. It isn’t a windfall or an inheritance, like something gained in a lump sum. True confidence is something that is grown, piece by piece it gains ground. Don’t confuse it with bravado, which can help pave the way for confidence, but they are only cousins. Confidence is created in those small steps, not the big leaps. Sometimes a confidence step is simply getting back on, or just going out to the barn. Confidence is a good day or hard work paying off. Surely, Confidence can be damaged, but fear not, it is not irreparable. It just gets harder and more complicated.

Google conjures the definition to be:

  • the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust
  • the state of feeling certain about the truth of something
  • a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’ appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities

If confidence is the belief that you can trust yourself, your abilities, you must begin somewhere. It makes me extremely sad to hear people berate their own riding. I understand playing small. I understand the nature to be mean to yourself, or tough, because you think that is how one gets stronger. I distinctly remember an older girl telling me I was too hard on myself when I was younger. I knew she was right, but I also knew no other way to be. Now I do. I got stronger not by setting a bar too high I couldn’t reach, then yelling at myself that I didn’t reach it. You know what happens when you do grab that too high bar even in the midst of a self-induced tornado of angst and drive? You just continue set it even higher.

No, I got stronger by stopping the fight within myself. My way with the mental drill sergeant hadn’t produced the desired results after how many years, why should I continue to listen? The cerebral dictator, the editor, the punisher, the judge had done so very little for me but to give me the mental hang-ups I was trying to overcome. I am about as self-deprecating as they come, but you know how it has served me? Just about as well as yours has served you. Self-deprecation never bought anyone a cup of coffee. Self-depreciation doesn’t pay the electricity, you do. I’m not inclined to “woo”, overly touchy feely spiritualism, but the negative thoughts have never done anyone any favors. Negative thoughts, while masquerading as amusing or realistic, do not help.

Perhaps the steps of confidence can be a game in a better kind of way. Rather than think, I am the worst rider, why doesn’t my trainer kick me out already? Try, I am a rider LEARNING to ride, this is all part of the process. A neutral thought is the in-betweeny step from trash-meh-mediocre-OK-good-better-best-GOAT (AKA Michael Jung) rather than the giant leap from flea to Fox-Pitt. You don’t expect your horse to come out and warmup on piaffe or hopping around Prelim level jumps cold. It’s just not fair on them, is it? And so it isn’t fair to yourself to expect flawless performances, or even emergency mental u-turns and gymnastics. I do not believe being forgiving and supportive of yourself will cause you to abandon all discipline and work ethic only to spend the days eating bagels and cookie cake, swigging prosecco. You can be both compassionate and demanding of yourself without being cruel or mentally destructive.

Confidence is built and nourished in the small steps of success. Success is earned from the planning and completion of appropriate challenges. Let confidence come from experience. Let it come from the successes. Let it come from preparation. But let it come. If nothing else, how can confidence, the belief in yourself and your abilities, come from a place wherein you are unkind or overly harsh to said self and abilities? Think on that. If you really struggle with confidence, I urge you to listen to how you talk to yourself, that inner dialogue, and then look at what you expect the self-talk to produce. “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson.

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