One of the questions I’m asked most by players is the following: “How do I keep myself feeling confident?” The purpose of this article is to answer that question. But in doing so, we have to start by understanding what confidence is and where it comes from.
Confidence isn’t genetic. It’s not something a person is born with, or some kind of immutable psychological trait that only the fortunate possess. Confidence is a skill. It’s an acquired attribute that anyone can develop and maintain, given they put enough work into developing and maintaining it. And that’s really the key thing to understand here—confidence is something that you have to intentionally work on fostering and growing. Otherwise, like a muscle, it will wither away from lack of proper “exercise.”
While there are many ways to create and maintain confidence, below are the three ways that, throughout my years working with professional athletes and performers, I’ve found to be great methods to provide a solid foundation for confidence building and sustaining that confidence on a daily basis. Let’s take a look.
1) Focus on Small Victories
Many players, in order to feel confident in themselves, tend to wait until they finally manage to experience some kind of major breakthrough or success. If only they could make a big Top 8 or win a tournament, then they’ll feel confident in themselves and their abilities as a player. While this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does pose a problem—if you’re depending on some kind of huge breakthrough or success in order to finally start feeling confident in yourself as a player, you’re delaying your ability to feel confident now because the fact is that those huge breakthrough successes only come along every once in awhile. They don’t happen regularly.
Where do breakthrough successes and victories come from? How do they happen? Those are the by-product of the small victories you accumulate each day along the way. If you’re playing in the final of a Mythic Championship and you play a smart, tight game that leads to a victory, that’s because, over a long period of time, you played some smart, tight games and accumulated small victories that ended up producing a huge breakthrough victory for you down the road. This means that each day, you have these great, small victories that you can acknowledge, celebrate, feel good about, and use as sources of confidence.
2) Start a “Small Victories Journal”
Each day, if you’re practicing and playing Magic: The Gathering, whether you realize it or not, you’re achieving all kinds of small victories that can and will eventually lead to big victories sometime in the future. If you mulligan really well in a large tournament and that leads to success, that’s because you practiced mulliganing each day while playtesting on Arena or at your local shop. If you win your way into the Top 8 of a tournament for the first time in your career because you sequenced your plays correctly in a vital game, that’s because you practiced sequencing your plays correctly for many games in smaller tournaments.
It’s in these small victories you achieve each day that you find your greatest source of confidence. But many players dismiss them as insignificant or don’t see the value in them. It may not seem like a big deal if you mulligan well or sequence your plays correctly when practicing on Arena or playing in FNM, but the more you do them over time, the more you’re going to reap the benefits of practicing those things when it counts the most. Acknowledging these small daily victories is so important for recognizing what you’re doing well and for incrementally building your confidence.
To do this, you want to start what I call a “small victories journal.” Each day, at the end of the day, write out at least one good thing you did that day you can acknowledge, feel good about, and celebrate, no matter how small it may seem. Did you correctly guess a line of play your opponent would take during a game? Write that out and draw confidence from it. Did you show great patience in not countering something, which allowed you to counter a much more important spell later and win a match? Write that out and draw confidence from it. Did you keep your cool, stay positive, and not tilt off when drawing badly two games in a row? Write that out and draw confidence from it.
I cannot stress to you enough just how important this exercise can be. It gets you to recognize small victories you’d normally waste or not even pay any meaningful attention to. Then, at the end of the week, go back through all of your entries for that week and look at all of the great things you did. It helps to really put into perspective just how well you’re doing and how much you’re actually improving. Do this exercise! You’ll be glad you did!
3) Be More Self-Compassionate
In my view, without any doubt, the most important attribute of a mentally strong athlete or performer is not desire, determination, persistence, motivation, or confidence. It’s self-compassion. I say it’s self-compassion because all of those other attributes tend to be a by-product of how much self-compassion a person has. For example, since we’re talking about confidence, how can you give yourself an opportunity to develop or even maintain confidence if you’re always beating yourself up when you lose or dismissing small victories as luck or not worth celebrating?
Confidence is easier to foster and grow when you aren’t so critical toward yourself when you fail. You’re a human being and being human means being imperfect. You’re going to lose, you’re going to fail, you’re going to make mistakes, and you’re going to play badly sometimes. There’s nothing you can do to prevent those things or stop them from happening permanently. All you can do is recognize what happened, find the learning opportunity from the situation, and then support and encourage yourself so you can move forward in a positive way.
How can you be more self-compassionate? Think of it this way—imagine you have a friend or teammate who failed or experienced something painful. When talking to this friend or teammate, what would you say to them? How would you interact with them? Would you insult them, berate them, beat them up, and make them feel bad about themselves? Of course not. I’m willing to bet you’d put your arm around them, encourage them, inspire them, motivate them, and try your best to lift them up. If you’re willing to treat others that way, then why not treat yourself the same way? You’re not any less worthy of compassion than those you care about, and you shouldn’t think you are. Treat yourself the same way you’d treat a friend or teammate if they failed or experienced hard times.
As I mentioned earlier, confidence is a skill that you have to continually work on if you want it. You have to intentionally create it and take care of it. These methods do a great job of helping you do just that.
Do you have any specific ways you help to create and maintain your own confidence as a player? If so, what are they? Let me know in the comment section. I’d love to see what you do.