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Are Confidence and Mental Toughness the Same?

Updated: Apr 13, 2019

Mental toughness produces nerves of steel.

WINNING STATE is the first to ask the question.

Are confidence and mental toughness the same?

Knowing the answer to this fundamental mental game question will change how you mentally prepare for competition.

The answer is NO! Confidence and mental toughness are not the same.

Let me explain. Confidence is a feeling. A feeling that comes and goes. Mental toughness is an attitude. A gritty attitude that athletes command by using practical tactics to achieve a doubt-free, highly focused, LOCKED-IN mental state.

In 2002, WINNING STATE was the first to make the distinction that mental toughness drives confidence. Mental toughness is what’s needed to handle pressure and succeed in competition, not hoping to be confident.

The Confidence Myth

The idea of increasing confidence to handle pressure can be thought of as “the confidence myth.” The confidence myth goes something like this: if competitors can crank up their confidence a couple of notches, they’ll be more successful at keeping their wits and not fall victim to pressure and nerves. The idea suggests that increasing one’s confidence eradicates doubt.

I see it differently. No matter how confident competitors are, self-doubt is always knocking on their mental door. Doubt and its cousins: indecision and hesitation are the villains in every competitor’s story. The heroes are self-belief and its cousins: decisiveness and conviction.

The Proof Test

The idea of increasing confidence to handle pressure does not pass the proof test. More confidence does not eradicate doubt. Here’s why. Since confidence is a feeling, confidence is easily shaken. One minute competitors are confident, but then add a new element of pressure and they doubt themselves.

Every competitor flip-flops back and forth from doubting to believing and then back to doubting.

This primal flip-flopping battle is won with a skillset that produces mental toughness, not a momentary uptick in one's self-esteem.

Picture Everyday Workouts

Picturing everyday workouts is a good way to illustrate this point. Everyday workouts are mostly void of pressure, doubt is hardly a factor, and distractions are minimal. Nothing holds us back. But change the scene to performing in front of a crowd and we hiccup. We blink. We hesitate. We second-guess ourselves. We have “too many minds,” as noted in the movie The Last Samurai. And it’s completely natural.

Thinking that more confidence eliminates hiccupping or narrows one’s focus to having “one mind,” is not the right strategy. The right strategy is to command mental toughness tactics that produce the mental control to deal with flashes of potential failure, lapses of concentration, and run-a-way emotions. Elite-level mental toughness tactics are what crush doubt and strengthen self-belief.

Once Competitors Are on Stage

This is one of the big-picture ideas that competitors and coaches need to wrap their mind around: confidence and mental toughness are not the same. Confidence is still a factor to performing well, but once competitors are on stage mental toughness is what they rely on to stay positive, battle adversity, and to stay LOCKED IN on nailing the objective.

This simple shift in perspective opens the door building a mental game loaded with mental toughness tactics to conquer nerves and win. For now, buy in to that fact that mental toughness is what competitors draw on to fight the fear of blowing it and instead believe they have what it takes to succeed, not more confidence.

▪ Point: Confidence is important, but it’s overrated when compared to mental toughness. Mental toughness kicks confidences’ butt.

"Are Confidence and Mental Toughness the Same?"


By Steve Knight

April 5, 2019


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