Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Quiet Confidence


I want to share with you two of my favorite inspirational pieces:

This first one was sent to me by a friend right before I went to Kona in 2011.  It's a video called Quiet Confidence by the TCU baseball team.  I don’t play baseball but everything in it connected to me and all the hard work I did to get to where I was going.   You can view it here.

The second one is a post consisting of two videos (and some text).  The first video is about the quietness of success.  In the words of Owen Cook, success is like a quiet set of daily tasks.  The second video is the speech given by legendary soccer coach Anson Dorrance at Mia Hamm’s induction into the hall of fame.  In it, he talks about the origin of his famous quote:

The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching. 

You can view the post and videos here.

(and if you are looking for a great read relevant to an athlete in any sport, Dorrance's book Vision of a Champion is well worth it)

I’ve thought a lot about quiet confidence.  Years ago, an athlete was talking to me about an upcoming race I was going to do.  It was an important one.  She was trying to impart a little last minute inspiration when she shared with me something her coach had said to her.  He said that the athlete you need to worry about isn’t the one talking or acting big about themselves.  It’s the girl in the porta potty before the race psyching herself up. 

Be that girl, she said. 

Quiet confidence is just that.  But in today’s world oversaturated with social media, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts – we’ve lost the art and even the value of quiet confidence.  It begs the question – if you don’t write about it, does it count?  If you don’t capture the workout on your Garmin, did that personal best happen?  If you’re out there racing not in a sponsored kit, do you matter?  Honestly, none of these questions matter.  All that matters is what’s in your head, heart and soul at the end of the workout or race.  That’s the stuff that confidence (and champion performance) is made of.

Quiet confidence or the quietness of success is something that has been happening for many years, before any social media existed, before any records existed.  Besides sports, the one area where I know this to be true is: parenting.  In no other endeavor in life will you experience less validation and gratitude than parenting.  On a daily basis, you bust your ass.  You sacrifice.  You give up everything for the good of this little person who does not so much as say thank you – not until they are well into their adult years, if that.  Parenting is just not one of those extrinsically rewarding jobs.  Rare is acknowledgement of the good work we’ve done.   

Yet you wouldn’t think twice about giving it your best effort.  The long hours, the pain of childbirth, the repetition of answering the question that never quits (why?) – you do it, again and again.  Without getting any “thing” in return.  Parenting truly is a quiet (though at times very, very noisy) set of daily tasks that you do to get success – raising a meaningful, responsible, engaged, curious and intelligent person ready to take on the adult world. And what you learn about yourself through the parenting process is just as valuable as that success. 

Sports are very much the same.  The work that you need to be doing over and over again is the quiet stuff.  The boring stuff.  The stuff that no one else wants to do because it’s hard, it’s repetitious, it’s cold, it’s dark or you just plain don’t want to.  I’ll go so far to say that probably 99 percent of the “stuff” Mia Hamm did to become one of the best female soccer players of all time was quite boring.  Drills, skills, strength, strategy, visualization, attention to detail, recovery – the boring, “small” details that are not sexy.  That you don’t necessarily brag about.  You would never tweet about it on Twitter.  Could you imagine?  Just finished a killer set of agility drills & cones.  Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!

Since when?

We live in a world where you have to go hard, go all out, go big.  Do what’s fun, sexy and challenging.  We want it social, we want everyone to notice.  Look at what I did.  What we want is validation.  To live a life recognized.  For what value is life when it goes unnoticed? 

Plenty.  The same value that has existed in the lives of parents who have raised children quietly for thousands of years.  Or the athletes who have worked when no one else was looking.  This is the work that counts.  Even if no one is there to validate it – it matters. In fact, it matters more.  It’s the voice in your head pushing you.  It’s the other voice saying you can’t.  And then talking back at it with you can because you just did.  Going through that dialogue over and over again until you’ve proven – to the most important person, yourself, that indeed you can do anything.  That’s how you win races.  That how you set personal bests.  It comes from a place of quiet, inside of yourself.

I enjoy social media, at times.  These days, I’m mostly interested in Twitter, following researchers, top coaches, business leaders to read the articles they share or find priceless gems like the pieces I mentioned above.  I share photos and experiences of my child on Facebook, more like an interactive baby book for my family to enjoy.  Yet for all the good I find on social media, I have to be careful about filling my mind with too much junk.  It has a way of making us doubt ourselves, doubt our plan by comparison of what everyone else is doing.  We get annoyed by what we read, we overinterpret, we compare.  What it comes down to is that we engage in a lot of mental processing that is totally unnecessary.  Social media makes us live out loud and fills our heads with a lot of noise.  This is not the noise you find in the mind of a champion.

As I get older in the sport, I find what I’m doing less interesting to talk about.  Rare are the days I’ll blog about a bike ride or a swim set.  I’ve sat down and I’ve tried.  Maybe one day I’ll reignite that passion but for now, it’s not there.  I’ve tried to recall the breakthrough sessions on the track or the sets in the pool where I’ve chased Timmy’s feet for 4000 yards but recalling it is never as exciting as being present.  What happens between my two ears to make all of those sessions happen is a private conversation, one that I’ve learned that sets me apart from everyone else.  It’s the stuff that gets me through races.  It’s the stuff that makes me gritty and determined.  It’s the reason I don’t listen to music.  I want to hear the thoughts.  I want to feel the pain.  I don’t want to distract myself.  I want to go to that quiet place in my mind where I just get the work done.  There are no great stories to tell about this work.  It is work.  It is mostly “boring.”  I do it.  That is the stuff that gets me far ahead of everyone else.  It’s fairly simple.  And that simplicity is my secret.  It’s not very convincing, I know that.  There must be magical things you do to be confident, to believe in yourself, to know you can achieve what you set out to achieve.  Not really.  I just get the work done and stay focused on myself.

That’s not to say that there isn’t value in sharing our experiences.  And some athletes have an inspiring and entertaining way of describing their adventures - which I enjoy.  But never let your experience be governed by what you’re going to say or what you need to say.  Success isn’t about writing stories.  It’s about experiencing things, the good, the bad.  From these things you build confidence.  Quiet confidence doesn’t worry about what anyone else will think.  Doesn’t spin something on their blog to make themselves look better.  Doesn’t feel like if they don’t share it, it didn’t happen.  Is never embarrassed by what they’ve done.  Doesn’t make excuses for themselves.

This season, build confidence from the quiet moments where it’s just you out there.  Where no one else hears about what happened.  Write your own story in your head.  Or, make space for more quiet in your head – then enjoy it.  When the work is done, file that work or that feeling away in the folder labeled “confidence.”  Get in the habit of accessing that folder when you need it.  That’s what you need to learn.  Look less to be motivated by the reaction or feedback of everyone else.  Turn inward instead.

I fear that social media is making us less independent.  Less capable of pulling ourselves together, getting ourselves going when we need to.  Do we rely too much on the feedback of others? On the assurance that others give us that we’re doing a good job or that our work matters?  Imagine the world before we were so connected.  Everyone lived on their own path.  People still accomplished amazing things.  You did your workout, you took a shower and moved on in your day.  You didn’t scrutinize data.  You didn’t post stats on Facebook.  The only tweet was from … a bird.  Believe me, this world once existed.  Our lives were just as exciting just much less recognized.  There’s still value in that. 

We can all go back to this place – less connected, more quiet.  Remind ourselves how to build confidence up from within.  Go through a week of not sharing anything about your workouts or yourself and see what happens.  Learn to motivate yourself, reward yourself, praise yourself.  This is empowering.  Every morning you wake up before 5 am.  Every time the wind bites your face this winter during a run.  Every session when you ride yet another mile that takes you nowhere on your indoor trainer.  These are the quiet times.  The most important times that will build you up to becoming a raging success in your mind.  Confidence – unshakable.  Mental intensity – unbeatable.  It’s the person who’s doing that, who’s been doing that – that I’d be most afraid of next year. 

What would you do if no one else was watching?  Imagine a season with no blogs, no tweets and no awards afterwards.  No results.  No scale.  It’s all about you, your feeling and the voice in your head.  Would you still give it your best?  Would the pursuit still be worthwhile?  It’s that internal drive of doing it because you want to, because you crave top performance and want to see just how much you can eke out of yourself – that’s  what matters.  If we could all tap into that, with no fear of what others think, with no cares about what we’re going to say after it all happens, embracing the small and often boring steps leading to success day to day.  If we could tap into that, we’d achieve quiet confidence.  We’d all know what it’s like to be a champion.