What's in a phrase? (You've got this!)

Improbability and confidence

Scene: One of those big college gyms, set up with fencing strips from wall to wall. People everywhere, fencers shouting and scoring machines buzzing, referees struggling to be heard above the din. I'm about to start my next 5-point bout. "You've got this!" my teammate says. An optimistic pat on my shoulder accompanies the words.

Stop right there.

I don't "got this." I won't have "got this" until the score is 5-something in my favor. Sure, it may be improbable that I would lose the bout, given my opponent. My teammate was merely expressing confidence in my abilities (and I appreciate that). But the way the encouraging statement was phrased expressed an assured certainty that I personally cannot associate with future events. The outcome of a bout--the outcome of anything, really--is in no way fixed until it's over.

Maybe that's just semantics and a personal irritant. Expectations can, and do, go a long way toward fixing an outcome.

No harm in faking it

During a lesson with a coach last year, I was having a lot of trouble executing a particular action. He stopped the lesson. He looked me in the eye, and said, "Repeat after me: 'Hells yeah I can do this action!'"

His intent: Increased confidence. If you expect to succeed, your chances of success improve dramatically.

I repeated the phrase, as directed. I then had to repeat it several more times before I achieved the desired level of confidence in my tone. The action I was practicing worked better after that, though. I was a little more convinced I could do it.

Of course, just being more confident won't win a bout. Expecting to win--not doubting that you can win--still needs to be paired with good performance. If you think you'll beat your opponents because your opponents just isn't good enough to beat you, well, you still have to do your part and be good enough to beat them. Over-confidence sets you up for disappointment. The reverse is true, too: If you're convinced you'll fail, guess what, you probably will.

Another sports analogy Presentations!

We're not all athletes here, so I have another example! Have you ever had to stand up in front of a roomful of people and talk coherently and engagingly? Presentations: the bane of our existence.

One class, three folks and I were going to give a half hour presentation. The morning of, our professor asked us if we were ready. I told him, of course! It'll be great. "What if you stuff up?" he asked us. "What if your voice squeaks?" No, I said, it'd be fine. If my voice squeaks, my voice squeaks. I didn't let the possibility of anything other than "this will go fine" enter my mind. "Can't faze you, can I," he said.

Truth was, I could be fazed. Like many people, if I stopped to think about it, I'd forget what I was saying, talk too fast, stumble over words--I have experience with that. But in this case, I was remembering all those little bits of good advice I'd been given. Hells yeah, I could do this. Or my dad's advice: "Act like you're supposed to be there, and no one will question you." Act like you know what you're doing and everyone will think you do--including yourself.


Confidence is good. Over-confidence is bad. Go figure.

Sunday, March 21, 2010 - tags: advice expectations fencing presentations


  • said: Reply

    I agree. Before my interview yesterday, I was consciously trying to imagine myself doing really well and impressing all my interviewers.

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