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#138: Creating True Confidence; Why the Little Engine that Could Got It Wrong

The Little Engine That Could was just plain lucky. If you remember that children’s book, when the little engine had to take over for the bigger engines to pull the train loaded with toys over the mountain, he kept telling himself, “I think I can,” even though it seemed clear he was much too small to succeed. While the “I think I can” strategy worked for the little engine, in the real world that mindset is responsible for more failure, frustration and disappointment than we are led to believe. Thinking positively is not what is necessary for a positive result. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the only thing, and if it’s not grounded in reality it can be damaging.

You don’t achieve confidence by trying to build confidence itself. True confidence is a natural result of properly directed actions along with a positive mindset. Without the actions and the experience that comes with following through on those actions, a confident attitude will let you down nearly every time. You need the proper ingredients to build confidence. Confidence is the cake that comes out of the oven, but it isn’t what goes into the oven. What goes into the oven doesn’t look like cake at all, but if you’ve followed the recipe, the batter miraculously becomes a cake. That’s the kind of confidence you can count on and it’s much more powerful than just a “can do” attitude.

Think back to the last time you started a new piece feeling confident that you could meet the challenges it would present. Of course, you knew there would be difficulties in the piece that you would need to work on and conquer, but you were secure in your belief that you would be able to finish the piece and play it with assurance. That’s the kind of confidence that comes from positive past experiences, the habit of success. A habit of success allows you to meet challenges and obstacles with the inner certainty that you already have the skills and strategies you need in order to overcome them.  Your certainty is built on your track record of growth and achievement; you know you will be able to succeed because you have proof. Obviously the trick is creating those positive experiences that create that inner feeling of confidence. That’s part of what we will talk about today. 

We’ll also talk about what sabotages our confidence and how to break a cycle of disappointment, if you ever find yourself losing your confidence. Plus, I’ll share the most important habits I believe you need to make sure that your confidence is baked into all your playing.

By the way, confidence isn't just for performing. We play with more flow, more musicality, and fewer mistakes when we play with conviction and confidence. So whether you want to perform for others or just enjoy your playing at home - my hope is that you’ll do both! - you’ll find today’s ideas invaluable. Just like the Little Engine That Could, you’ll soon be saying, “I knew I could!”

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions and suggestions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 


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