And why it’s so important
In 2003, a high school basketball player was sat across from the then-CEO of Reebok, who had made him a sponsorship offer for $10 million providing he didn’t talk with Nike or Adidas.
Most people — teenager or not — would jump at the chance for such a life-changing amount of money. This young man did not. He rejected the offer and took a meeting with Nike instead. Nike proceeded to offer him a seven-year deal worth $90 million instead.
Fast forward 16 years, LeBron James has collected over $300 million from Nike in his career and has signed a lifelong contract with the company worth over a billion dollars. On the other hand, Nike makes roughly $750 million per year from basketball, with LeBron being the face of the brand.
A good deal for both parties.
But, what created such an enormous partnership to begin with?
Confidence from LeBron believing that he could walk away from the initial offer for a better one and perhaps even greater confidence from Nike in betting $90 million on an 18-year old that went back to class the day after the meeting.
The Importance of Confidence
Confidence is perfectly walking the dangerous tightrope between self-doubt and arrogance. It’s extremely attractive. A truly confident person can produce a feeling that radiates and makes people around them feel confident too — even if it’s just for a moment.
They’re the people that can walk into a room full of strangers and come out twenty minutes later like best friends. They’re the ones that always find relationships easily. They’re the ones that seem to lead a ridiculously busy life yet somehow stay in shape — like the kid in school that was good at everything. It’s annoying yet endearing.
You hear successful people talking up the importance of confidence all the time, and it’s not surprising.
Studies have shown that increased self-belief leads to better performance. This could be in business, sports, cultivating relationships and cognitive processes, including positive impacts on mental health.
It’s an alluring trait that allows people to feel more comfortable with their life. Research has also shown that we find ourselves trusting those that clearly trust themselves.
The best salespeople in the world aren’t good because they believe in the product so much. They’re good because they believe their own bullshit, so making others believe it is easy.
Confidence has allowed people to pull off some unbelievable things.
It — alongside enormous bravery — was at the core of outspoken leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela that fuelled social progress in a time where it was forbidden.
It was also a defining factor in people that did some not-so-great things.
I’ve been reading The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova, a book that highlights the psychology of the con and why we always fall for it. The idea is that confidence charms us and makes us feel special, which — in this case — can be detrimental.
A classic example is Bernie Madoff. A confident Wall Streeter that convinced people to invest their money in return for regular, steady profits. He did it in such a way that he would often reject people’s funds at first until they proved they were fully confident in him.
Then, he would act as though he was making an exception to allow the investment. The investor was thankful, thinking that they were very special and fortunate to be allowed to work with such a great investor.
Rinse and repeat. Then, a few years later, he’s arrested for running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme and everyone has lost their money.
In either example, confidence is convincing and the power of it can’t be understated. Its also something a lot of us could use more of.
Crises of Confidence
The majority of people aren’t confident. It’s not surprising, we grow up being compared by grades or sporting ability in the school system itself and often by harsher measures by the kids in school.
Nowadays, social media makes it unavoidable. We’re constantly connected to the lives of other people, comparing our bodies, lifestyles and income and feeling like it can’t be matched. It can beat you down and form enormous insecurities.
People tell others all the time that they should be more confident in themselves and the immediate response — on their face at least — is an overly sarcastic ‘wow thanks, I hadn’t thought of that.’
These comments, although well-intentioned, aren’t helpful. Understanding where the lack of confidence comes from is far more important. More often than not, it’s a fear of failure. Failure in an exam, failure in a relationship, failure in business.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”
J.K. Rowling said that. Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before it was finally published, the rest is history.
We fail at lots of things every day, whether it’s missing the bus, forgetting our wallet or turning up to work late, but we don’t let those things stop us from trying again. Yet, as soon as it comes to something we actually want to pursue, we try once or twice before giving up entirely.
Susan Jeffers — author of Feel the fear and do it anyway — explains that if we wait until we feel in the mood or less fearful, we’ll be waiting forever.
As kids, we’re told we can be anything we want to be but we seem to lose that thinking along the way.
Confident people take forward action even in unfavourable situations. Confidence doesn’t come from being right all the time but rather from not fearing to be wrong.
Practice, practice, practice
Confidence is a skill. People seem to think it’s ingrained in people from birth and if you don’t have it then, you never will. But that’s not true. Just like any skill, it can be learned.
The key is to practice, over and over again. That’s how we get better at driving or cooking or learning a language. It’s impossible to be amazing at something the first time you do it, so if we use that as a metric it’s no wonder we don’t feel confident.
Dr Ivan Joseph — sports coach and public speaker — highlights the need for repetition. He says that by continually facing and overcoming reasonable challenges, it reinforces self-belief. This also formulates good habits that become easier with time.
Then, when something feels easy, increase the challenge. As confidence in one area grows, Joseph explains that we can transfer that belief into other areas and contexts. Over a period of a year or two the skill — and therefore confidence — increases significantly.
It’s impossible to do something regularly for two years and not make progress.
We can see the importance of repetition in our examples. Thousands of hours of practice for LeBron by the time he was 18 gave him the confidence that he could be one of the greatest. Confidence in his basketball ability spilt over into his business decision-making.
Countless hours of studying current and past basketball players, reading scouting reports and watching game tapes gave Nike the confidence in taking the gamble.
Hundreds of sales pitches and thousands of phone calls have transformed salespeople from the stuttering script-reader on the first day to the person that entirely makes up the script.
You get the picture.
Confidence can — and should — be practiced. By focusing on one area that you’re passionate about and working on it, it will lead to an air of confidence that will positively benefit the other aspects of your life.
No one feels fully confident all the time and that’s okay.
It’s about progress, not perfection.