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Developing a Strong Self-Image

Written by Mike Deegan

Physically, Lenny didn’t belong in the same league with him. He was half Billy’s size and had a fraction of Billy’s promise- which is why the Mets hadn’t drafted him until the 13^th round. Mentally, Lenny was superior, which was odd, considering Lenny wasn’t what you’d call a student of the game. Billy remembers sitting with Lenny in a Mets dugout watching the opposing pitcher warm-up. ‘Lenny says, “So who’s that big dumb ass out there on the hill?” And I say, “Lenny, you’re kidding me right? That’s Steve Carlton. He’s maybe the greatest left-hander in the history of the game.” Lenny says, Oh yea! I knew that!” He sits there for a minute and says, “So what’s he got?” And I say, “Lenny, come on. Steve Carlton. He’s got the heat and also maybe the nastiest slider ever.” And Lenny sits there for a while longer as if he’s taking that in. Finally, he just says, “Shit, I’ll stick him.” I’m sitting there thinking, that’s a magazine cover out there o

n the hill and all Lenny can think is that he’ll stick him.”- Excerpt from MoneyballThe Lenny Dykstra story in Moneyball is a classic example of mental skills trumping physical ability. Today’s article focuses on the importance of confidence and self-image. While I don’t have experience in pro baseball, I have seen the importance of a strong self-worth in the college game. When a collegiate athlete struggles, they often point to a lack of confidence. The story typically sounds like this, “For whatever reason, I can’t relax and play like I did in high school. I’m just not having fun.”

This is a common response to moving out of a comfort zone. It is important to first look at why they have such fond memories. In most cases, the athlete was one of, if not the best, players on the field. Their talent level was high enough that their mental game was never tested. Their back-up was likely younger and much weaker. If they failed, they knew that another opportunity was right around the corner. This allowed them to play free and easy.

When you enter college you are surrounded by other talented and competitive people. For the most part, everyone believes they are the best. Physical skills are no longer the difference makers. This is when you discover the importance of confidence and having a strong self-image.

Developing confidence and a positive self-image is a life-long quest. The athletes that we often use as examples (Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Derek Jeter) are outliers. It is possible that they were born with an extremely confident disposition. For the majority of us, creating this powerful trait takes time and practice.

A lot of people believe they will get better results if they just, “stop thinking and play.” While this may be true, demanding your mind to shut down is rarely effective. Plus, to play at the highest levels thinking is necessary. Another attempt to gain confidence is by perfecting mechanics: the swing, pitching motion, shot, route, or serve. While repetitions are critical, perfection is unattainable. This pursuit of the “perfect swing” is often a frustrating endeavor that won’t lead to real results.

The good news is we can create a positive self-image. Like any other desirable trait, building confidence is hard work and requires persistence. Here are three ways to improve self-image:

1. Visualization- Everything happens twice in life, first in the mind then it will manifest itself in real life. Spend the time rehearsing exactly how you want to be in any situation. It is important to practice both positive and negative encounters. Visualizing provides a dress rehearsal that allows you to be in control and not at affect. Visualizing is a skill that takes practice. It is silly to think we can try it one or two times and be proficient.
2. Positive Affirmations- “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.” Muhammad Ali. Positive affirmations seem hokey to some. We often think it’s a gimmick like the old Saturday Night Live Character Stewart Smalley, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like me.” In actuality, we all need a reminder that we have the strength and skill to succeed. Most people rely on an outside source for affirmation. The challenge is to be a coach of ourselves and feed our mind with positive words of encouragement.
3. Do the Work and Develop Competency- Self-Image is earned by putting in the work. It comes from working extremely hard and fighting the urge to take short-cuts. Every time the choice is made to take the easy way out we lessen the chance of being confident. We have to earn the right to possess a strong self-image.

While today’s article spoke a lot about baseball, a positive self-image is necessary in all of our life endeavors. Are you struggling with confidence at work or in your personal life? If so, you are not alone. Most of us, me included, have issues with our self-image. Instead of looking at confidence as something that cannot be controlled, we must DECIDE that we will take ownership. This week, I resolve to treat confidence as a skill that needs to be trained. I will visualize, use positive self-talk, and work hard to earn competency. Instead of having negative thoughts, I am choosing confidence. I won’t over think; instead, I will keep it simple like Lenny Dykstra and just “stick him.”

Make it a great week,

Mike