Build robust confidence like Jessica Ennis-Hill

Confidence, and how to manage it, is the theme of this Tougher Minds podcast. We discuss how Olympic and double World Heptathlon Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill managed her levels of confidence after suffering a major set-back in her career, which many people are unaware of.

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Podcast Transcript
This is the Tougher Minds podcast and once again we’re discussing a concept from our free ebook, the elite business athletes. The book explains how performance secrets from global sporting icons can be beneficial and transformative for everyone. We start this podcast by asking Tougher Minds founder, Dr. Jon finn, to explain exactly what is confidence and how it affects us as people.

We think of confidence as a belief in yourself, but it’s divided into two parts. One is the overall belief in your ability to do something, the second part is the evidence that you’ve got, you can actually do that thing; so you need both an overall belief system in your ability to do something, to be a leader, for example, and you need some evidence to back that up. If you get the two together? You got really robust confidence levels and in the academic literature we call that self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Why is that so important for people to function well and perform well? We’ve talked in previous podcasts about how people are predisposed to perhaps dwell on on threats or concerns and worry, so, so why is confidence important to them?

Because that’s probably the number one way of paying attention to things that are helpful for you. So if you have a belief system and evidence that you can do something particularly well, then it’s much easier not to keep dwelling on the unhelpful thoughts. So really if we think about concepts like emotional regulation, self control, which are at the heart of what we’re interested in, the Tougher Minds then confidence is intrinsically connected to those ideas. The ability to manage what you’re paying attention to is really what confidence is. Good confidence is often described as not going too high, not getting too low and we know from Barbara Fredrickson’s work on flourishing and languishing that humans who are poor at flourishing, seem to be processing on average around three helpful motions for every unhelpful emotion and she calls that grounded positivity.

So you need to keep…to be able to pay attention to things that are helpful for you. But also to be aware of things that you can get better as well. And that’s why the House of Confidence symbol we use looks like it does. It’s got a three to one ratio in there if H.A.C. brain and the A.P.E. brain. So, um, if we, if we unpick all these concepts of resilience, and bounce-back-ability, there are all about being able to not dwell on the unhelpful with emotion and get your attention on, onto what is helpful for you, but as Frederickson points out there’s a ratio going on at least three tour.

I think you’ve certainly talked – away from the podcast to me previously – about the ability to manage confidence, which might be a phrase that takes some people by surprise, but I think you’ve hinted at exactly how people might go about it. We’ll talk more about that in a few moments, but in the elite business athlete, the Free Ebook, the chapter in which you analyse and discuss confidence includes another case study of course from the world of elite sport.

And this particular one is Jessica Ennis-Hill, of course, an Olympic gold medal winner in the heptathlon, double world heptathlon champion, highly decorated athlete, arguably one of Britain’s greatest all time athletes. But there’s a fascinating case study in there about how she had a very much confidence knocking episode in her career.

Yes, So a little known story really because it happened when Jess wasn’t really famous, but she fractured her right foot, which was a dominant tech afoot in the long jump, which meant she had to switch foot feet, so to go to a left foot. And then essentially learn that skill again and that particular injury caused to her to miss the Beijing Olympic Games.
And it was quite interesting that particular journey because it was very well documented, the BBC run a series about the buildup to 2012 and about the young British athletes we might hopefully see winning gold medals in London. Then also Jess Ennis, as her profile was growing, was writing the Daily Telegraph column as well. So it was quite easy to sort of see the processes and the difficulties. But also the coping strategies she was using to manage this big source of stress that we call in psychology literature this disconnect of the meaning systems.

She was using what we would call meaning focused coping, which is a term from Susan Folkman’s work who’s one of the four thing because of how we understand how humans Cook Jessica and issues in these quite sophisticated ways of reframing a very difficult situation but could be very skilled at that was an area that my own phd work look tying a lot of detail. So yeah, Jesse’s is a great case study and then obviously she’s gone on to be double world champion, Olympic champion mother. Then she’ll, there’ll be a big spotlight on her, the Rio Games as well. So yeah, solving trust in how she was able to control our attention and not become overwhelmed by the disconnections that occur when you get a big indirect, not just in your. Because the result of that is interest in your athletic life also bleeds into your social life and everything else as well. It can become overwhelming. They can last a very, very long period of time, but she, she managed that transition very well and managed to write a book and will become the world world champion within about two years of the injury taking place. So it was pretty phenomenal.

Perhaps many people don’t have that insight you’ve just described, but she certainly recognised for her all round excellence and perhaps some people are inadvertently noticing the kind of resilience qualities that you’re describing there. And we will talk in a few moments about how people might go about harnessing this insight to manage their confidence and reappraise bad situations, but the actual experience of undergoing a confidence knocking or a threatening moment or some setback. I understand that, when that happens, it’s important to realise there’s actually a biological process happening in your head and that it’s a hormonal response when you have to these threatening moments.

So your brain is firing off. Your brain gets in a heightened state of fight or flight response, which can ultimately be damaging to stress management mechanisms. Some good data showing that if you don’t get the right balance of chemicals in your brain, then new brain cells will leave April compass the what come out and also good data to show in the new brain cells are absolutely essential for managing stress because it probably helped us to think around problems, more flexibility as opposed to gain a erupt in the way that we think about something. So yeah, we, you know, we are kind of a bugger chemicals to an extent. And um, when something challenging happens, then the week we tend to get an imbalance and that’s often why, you know, the first month, the first management of any new stresses to start to control your breathing, which helps your body to regulate some, some of, some of this imbalance, if you like, by kind of directly managing the, the CEO to oxygen exchange mechanism. Would your brain is very sensitive about.

And aside from that, which, you know, I’m sure it’s very useful in and of itself. And a show people can think of moments when, uh, if they, if they just consider that they might think of moments when that sort of approach might have been useful. But in the elite business athlete, you talk about ways people can actually go about controlling and managing confidence on a regular basis. I know you’ve talked previously about the idea of helpful and unhelpful thoughts, so talk to us a little bit more if you would about that and how everyone, regardless of the endeavor they’re involved in, not just sport but, but business, education, whatever, how they might deploy that to, to, to manage and improve confidence levels to enhance their own performance. First of all, we know that ] the confidence is earned. You build up confidence over a period of time. Fire successes. We also know that the ability to manage stress, although it might seem quite net and some people, it’s a skill, seems like people can learn that skill. The we can. We can see the neurological level where the parts of the prefrontal Cortex, which we use to manage their bread, the limbic regions. If people engage in forcing for very simple language that says stress trailing off, stress management, exercise training, then the site this, the part of the brain responsible for managing their brand, that they get their strengthen, they get bigger. Um, it seems like a very powerful way to manage stress is to, um, is to, is to write things down, is to commit things to perpa because if we just think about these things, a brand has a very limited ability to hold thoughts conscious listed that disappeared very, very quickly. So a short term memory loss, about 30 seconds. So by writing down helpful things, the focus is our brand to pay attention to the helpful things. But if we have some strategies, so we have, um, we have cozy confidence skills, we have fog, confidence skills, these are strategies that allow people to put some structure around what the, what they’re paying attention to. And you know, we’ll have our men vehicles, the performance planner, which is always felt slightly bespoke for different customers, but there’s always a section which is about writing down what was helpful for you on one particular day or what’s going well for you today. Now, what progress are you making? So I think in very simple terms, you’ve got to force your brain to pay attention to what’s helpful to what’s going well for you, because you could leave your brain to its own devices. It just pays attention to the unhelpful stuff. Probably the best way to force your brand to do that, to pay it to it, to pay attention to helpful things, is to write things down, commit things to purple, um, second lien, or tell someone else about, tell someone the story of what’s going well for you. So we can start to reinforce the parts of our brain, which we need to tell to manage the Heparin.

And you’ve spoken before about how you have to firstly acquire knowledge and then the skill and then transform that into a habit. And I believe it’s fair to say that this applies equally to this process of developing confidence. It becomes a virtuous cycle.

Because, you know, confidence skill, is really a thinking skills, it’s how you think and you can learn to reframe, reframe challenges. I spent a whole Phd looking at this stuff, so I’ve got no doubt that after that pitch there was a lot better at reframing things because I was practicing it….kind of subconsciously to an extent. And really, you know, we talked about optimistic and pessimistic people. That’s a continuum ultimately and you can move up the continuum, definitely. So you get better at reframing things. So it’s really something that can be acquired and unfortunately we don’t reach young people that. I was doing some work for a business client, a finance client in Luxembourg only last week. And some of the people were saying, why don’t we teach children at school this? Well, yes exactly. Why don’t we do that…because it’s so essential.

And we’re seeing this explosion of mental health problems or certainly our awareness of it is exploding for teenagers where mental illnesses typically stem from in the teenage years, but yeah, I feel like we’re not really teaching new people simple and practical skills that they can use to manage themselves. We’re doing a lot of talk therapy with them, but I don’t think that the interventions they are getting are necessarily very simple and very practical and kind of skill based.

So I think there’s a lot more we can do with this understanding to actually help more young people to get better at managing themselves. And certainly our clients in the education field, are recognising our ability to do that, because more and more people contact us about this kind of thing. So managing confidence, like everything else we’ve spoken about, is a skill and you can teach people to get better at it. And I think that confidence is probably the most important thing. You can learn how to manage if you want to be copy of healthy high performance in life.

That was the Tougher Minds podcast in which we discussed confidence.

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