How to feed your confidence, not your fears

Today we are going to talk about spoon-feeding your confidence on the regular!

Especially for swimmers who…

  • Struggle with fear of failure when the pressure is on
  • Don’t have the confidence they **should** when they go into competition
  • Just generally wish they felt more confident about their swimming on a regular basis

And so on.

Let’s go.

What happens when we feed fears

A mental habit you can start working on today is getting into the routine of feeding your confidence and not your fears.

What do I mean by that?

Well, when our fears go Hungry-Hungry Hippo, we:

  • Deliberately set expectations low so that people won’t think we suck if we don’t perform well.
  • Dwell on past mistakes. Missed practices, a disappointing race, getting out-touched at the wall.
  • Assume failure, which essentially guarantees failure.
  • Worry what will happen and how we will feel about ourselves if we give a total effort and still fail. If I don’t swim well, I am not a good person.
  • Get wrapped up in the expectations (imagined or otherwise) of others. I will disappoint the people in my life if I don’t swim well.

I think you get the picture.

The ways we use to self-sabotage is only limited by your creativity.

(And if you are like me, you have found some absurd ways to use fear of failure to crater your own swimming.)

And while a bit of fear here and there is healthy and can be a motivator, when it takes the wheel in to high-pressure situations, whether it is a big race, a mega hard practice, or an exam, the way we perform kinda stinks.

But for swimmers who experience this type of thought pattern—What if I don’t succeed? What if all my hard work for nothing? What if I come up short and people laugh at me?—the issue becomes doubly infuriating…

Because the first response is to try and suppress our feelings.

The equivalent at yelling at a train to slow down.

But all you are doing in reality is cheering it on.

Which can feel real, real frustrating.

So what do you do?

Shift focus.

And that starts by regularly feeding your confidence.

Here are two ways you can go full Cookie Monster with feeding your confidence.

1.. Recognize moments of excellence.

Our brains are hard-wired to remember moments of misery.

The DQ. The failed main sets. The complete beating you took at the hands of the competition at your last swim meet.

Looking back at the past month of training, it’s likely the missed opportunities that float to the front of your mind first.

Which is why sitting down each day and recognizing where you are doing well is so essential.

Confidence—the real, true kind, not the chest-thumping “look at me I am confident ’cause I say so” kind—is built on the back of your experiences in the water and your perception of them.

That last part is real important and I would like you to take :05 rest and hear it again…

Confidence depends on the perception of your experiences.

In other words…

Working hard and consistently dropping moments of brilliance in practice isn’t enough. You need to record, recognize, and consistently keep them at the forefront of your mindset.

If you are sweeping all of your experiences of excellence under the rug, whether it’s because you are a perfectionist or because you believe those small wins are too small to be recognized, it’s no wonder your confidence on race day is more wobbly that your legs after a 1,000m kick for time.

Each day make a point to recognize your little moments of excellence.

Write out the things you did well in your logbook. Keep training goals and make a note of your progress and improvement.

Be honest about the things you focus on.

One of my favorite ways to refocus when that choo-choo train of fear gets rolling is to take a breath and remind myself what I don’t control…

  • I can’t control how fast the competition goes.
  • I can’t control the kind of workout coach gives me today.
  • I can’t control what other people say about me.

And what I do control…

  • I can control how hard I work at practice today.
  • I can control how focused I am during the drill set.
  • I can control the mental approach I take on race day.

Fears love to spiral off into the territory of things we don’t control, because they are mostly overblown and flat-out wrong.

If you spent more than three minutes hashing out your fears, you would be able to rationalize them fairly quickly.

Feed your confidence a pair of footlong Subway meatball subs (no toppings, just meatballs and double cheddar cheese—because I am basic like that) by redirecting your energy and effort to things you control.

Confidence flourishes when we spend our time and effort on the things we control.

Grade yourself each day on the things you control. (I gave 9/10 effort at practice today.)

Make a point to catch yourself, whether in your logbook or journal, about the times where your focus went to a live showing of The Uncontrollables.

The next step

Fear of failure is something we all deal with regularly.

And it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting to not be able to move past it so that you can let loose and swim your best when it matters most.

Remember and record the times you swim well in practice.

Make a point to focus on the things you control.

See you in the water,


About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer and the author of the books YourSwimBook and Conquer the Pool. He writes all things high-performance swimming, and his articles were read over 3 million times last year. His work has appeared on USA Swimming, SwimSwam, ZwemZa, STACK, NBC Universal, and more. He’s also kinda tall and can be found on Twitter.

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