I once asked Kenny Florian, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and Ultimate Fighting Championship contender – “How did you get so good? What do you attribute your success to?”
Kenny gave me a thoughtful answer. He had spent sometime himself wondering what his keys to success were. The main key he came up with was confidence. But not just any kind of confidence – an unreasonable confidence.
What is Unreasonable Confidence?
Well, here’s an example. Kenny laughed when he told me this story: when he was taught his very first guard pass he was filled with such enthusiasm and confidence that he thought that with this new move not only could he beat the other white belts but he could even pass the guard of his teacher – or even Rickson Gracie who was considered the greatest black belt of all time.
Does this sound a bit like naiveté or ignorance? Or maybe a touch of arrogance? - I don't think so.
Because as any martial artist knows, a fighter must be completely committed to executing his technique or he won’t perform at his highest level. A competitor can’t win unless he expects to win.
Many athletes are susceptible to hesitation when facing the toughest competition, or when up against a competitor that they perceive as superior to them in ability. This hesitation hinders the performance of the athlete. Unreasonable confidence removes this self-limiting barrier.
Why do I call it “unreasonable” confidence?
Because it’s a confidence that’s not based on any objective, reasonable evidence.
This is important because as we learn a new martial art or face some new challenge, it’s most likely that we will face set backs and losses. If our confidence needs reasonable evidence to support itself, then it’s likely to fail us when we need it most – when we’re facing new challenges.
This “unreasonable confidence” is similar to religious faith in some ways. It’s no coincidence that so many fighters have faith and prayer as a regular part of their training camp.
Confidence Trumps All Other Qualities?
I remember the boxing great Roy Jones, Jr. talking about confidence in one of his interviews.
He said that he first learned about the power of confidence from a fighter from a rival team. This fighter would beat opponents who were stronger than him, faster than him, tougher than him, more skilled than him. He would beat fighters that had more stamina, more determination and more heart than him.
This particular fighter had more confidence than his opponents, though.
I was amazed when I first heard this. Confidence might be able to overcome superior strength and speed, but superior skills too? And confidence can be so powerful that it can trump determination and physical toughness?
I had never held “confidence” in such high regard, but you can’t argue with the success that confidence gave to Roy Jones, Jr., one of the all time greats.
I suppose confidence works so powerfully because it expects to win.
Strength expects to be strong. Toughness expects to endure punishment. Speed expects to be fast. Determination expects to keep trying. Stamina expects to be able to keep going. Superior skills expect to be skillfully superior.
Confidence expects to win.
Winning is the inherent goal of confidence. All other traits have other inherent goals.
Teddy Atlas, the famous boxing trainer and commentator, wrote in his autobiography about a type of fighter he called “the game loser.”
The Game Loser appears to be putting in a Herculean effort against a superior foe but he just can’t win. But “that’s okay” he rationalizes, he did put up a game fight after all. The reality is, of course, that he’s still a loser, game or otherwise. And, in fact, his gameness was all a show to make his losing acceptable. The Game Loser lacks confidence. The Game Loser does not expect to win. He has no intention of winning. He just wants to look good. He wants to avoid criticism. The Game Loser’s inherent goal isn’t to win. It’s not to look bad.
But the Game Loser is reasonable. He considers his own abilities and his opponent’s abilities and makes a calculation to determine if he has a guaranteed win. Of course that calculation almost always adds up to at least some uncertainty to the outcome of the match. Therefore, he can’t be completely confident that he’ll win. But at least he’ll look like he’s put up a fight. That he can be sure of.
The Game Loser never wins though.
The Unreasonably Confident Fighter makes no such calculations. He doesn’t waste any energy in that kind of math. He expects to win. And he wins a lot.
Unreasonably Confident Fighter doesn’t always win, but he always gives himself the best chance to win. Unreasonable Confidence removes all the self-limiting distractions and allows him to focus freely on his goal.
So what’s the downside of Unreasonable Confidence?
Well, you might lose and get really disappointed. But wouldn’t you be disappointed by losing any way?
Well, with all that Unreasonable Confidence won’t you annoy and repel people? Maybe. But maybe you’ll annoy and repel “reasonable” people who lack confidence and be left with other Unreasonably Confident people like your self.
Small price to pay for better performance and a clear path to one’s ultimate potential.