Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fantasy, Confidence and Success

Photo by traceyp3031 .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Most successful people conduct themselves confidently.  I think they do so based on a foundation of past successes that they recall.  They establish a pattern of success in their lives, and then they expect to continue in that pattern when new experiences arise.  But what happens when people are confronted by a setback?  They begin to question themselves and re-evaluate their approach.  They become more tentative.

Some of this evaluation after a failure is constructive.  Strategies and approaches need to be continuously adapted to meet the challenges of new circumstances.  The challenge comes when the re-evaluation is over and it is time to act again.  A person must try to act decisively even though they may feel much less confident given their recent experiences.  How do people maintain their confidence during these moments of change and adaptation?

Athletes are taught to visualise themselves being successful.  And this practice can be used in other endeavors, as well.  But even without this technique, some internal process has to occur inside a person to make them confident that a refactored approach will be successful.  They have to conduct themselves confidently even though there may not be an empirical basis for that confidence, given the lack of past success under the new approach.

So what is this process that people use to navigate these periods of uncertainty?  I believe it comes down to an application of will, which I would further describe as a surety rooted in faith (not necessarily a religious faith).  And if the chance of success is improbable, then I will further assert that the surety can be rooted in fantasy.

I think fantasy, in this context, is somewhat akin to creativity in the sense that a person trying to succeed against difficult odds uses their will to imagine themselves succeeding, and then they try to make it a reality.  This is often a very courageous act because of the tendency to be tentative in the face of prior failure that I mentioned above.

In the (American) National Football League they often talk about the need for players to have short memories.  If a player makes a bad play, they need to block it out and focus their minds on being successful on subsequent plays.  So maybe this application of will that I'm talking about is really the act of focusing the mind on the potential for a positive outcome, and the rejection of the potential for negative outcomes.

I have had one shining moment of atheletic achievement in my life.  I was playing for a recreational softball team, and we reached the playoffs.  In the late innings of the first playoff game, our team had winning runners on base, and I came to bat.  An uncanny feeling of confidence came over me as I stood at the plate.  I felt certain I was going to hit that ball.  It was like in a video game where a ball of energy forms around a character before they unleash a powerful strike.  I hit the ball, the runners scored and we won the game.  What I remember about being at bat was I lost myself in the moment.  I don't remember seeing the ball, I don't remember swinging the bat.  I just remember making contact and running.

What caused this mental condition?  I couldn't tell you, exactly.  I think some of it was caused by the dynamic of our team mentality in that game.  We were hot as a team, and I think I fed off of that.  I do take some individual credit, as well.  I remember being very determined to succeed in that game.

Unfortunately, we were not able to repeat our success in the next playoff game.  Our team was cold, and I don't think I was even able to get on base.  I remember being frustrated in that game because that magical feeling from the prior game was still fresh in my mind.  But I couldn't re-ignite the magic.  I remember standing at the plate and trying to swing for the fences.  I think my error was in trying to seek that confidence in the physical realm when it was clearly mental in origin.

Success is something everyone has fantasized about.  As the years have passed, I've developed an ever-increasing appreciation for the mental component of success.  When I read thrilling fantasy it fills my heart with a feeling that I liken to that feeling of potential energy I felt during that softball game.  Fantasy is mythological food for the soul.  It fills my heart with inspiration, and then the challenge is to focus that energy with a disciplined mind.

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