10 simple phrases to boost your confidence

Positive self-talk is a key ingredient to building confidence. These simple effort-based phrases can be used to help boost your confidence.

I have a small confession to share. I'm not the most confident person in the world. If you're a little like me, you probably find yourself wishing you felt a little more confident a little more often, too.

My lack of confidence tends to come from two defaults I constantly struggle to overcome, one rational and one emotional. I have a brutal sense of objectivity that compels me to balance two sides of any argument. When that argument is about my ability to achieve something, my brain just picks apart all my best arguments for success. 

This isn't all bad. It also helps me identify weak points in my plans and encourages me to think in terms of probabilities over absolutes. If everything makes sense, it will even boost my confidence. But it creates more doubts than anything.

The second is a tendency to overweight talent as the reason people succeed or fail. It's been a lifelong challenge for me. When you look at someone who is successful and attribute their success to talents you aren't sure you have, it affects your emotional confidence.

I don't rationally believe this any longer, and have come up with numerous ways to reinforce a more productive belief: that talent is an unknowable factor and that effort is controllable and equally determinant of success. I even coined what I call Green's Razor, which I use to keep me focused on what's controllable. 

Green's Razor: Never attribute to talent or luck that which can adequately be explained by effort.

This reorientation toward effort happened in college. It was tied to my being exposed to a concept called self-efficacy. 

A brief overview of self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief that you can accomplish something based on the effort you put into it. My 5th Optimal Training Principle is, "Self-efficacy is a fundamental ingredient to overcoming obstacles and achieving success." I dedicate most of chapter 6 to understanding what it is and how we can improve it.

If you don't believe anything you do can change an outcome, then you have low self-efficacy. If you believe you can work hard, prepare well and accomplish a goal, then you have high self-efficacy. It's possible to have high self-efficacy for some things and low self-efficacy for others. (We all know artists who "aren't math people.")

Self-efficacy is effort-based confidence. Because it's effort-based, we can change it.

I also outline in the book the four (plus two) ways we can improve self-efficacy: personal experience, vicarious experience, social persuasion, and physiological factors, plus visualization and faith. I use this chart to categorize them based on whether they are internal or external and their relative strength.

The four (plus two) factors that affect self-efficacy

Rather than explain each factor again here, let's flip it around and focus on how we express these factors when we talk about them. The words we use define what we believe, and they are the first tool in our toolbox for improving our confidence.

Here are 10 phrases that we can systematically use to boost our confidence. Take them and tweak them to fit your circumstances. 

1. "I've done it before so I can do it again."

The most powerful way to boost self-efficacy is to do something the first time. Until we've actually done something there's always that little bit of doubt. But after we've accomplished it, that doubt is erased. We know it's possible.

We see this with runners all the time. They will struggle to break a time barrier, but after they do it the first time it's as if the barrier no longer exists. The same applies to most situations. The first time is the hardest. 

If you've done something before then you know you can do it again. Remind yourself!

“[In preparing for the Olympic Trials] I got a lot of confidence in where I ran my 10k PR, the conditions were a bit warm and I knew that I was well in shape to run the standard.”
-- Olympian Joe Klecker, Fueling the Pursuit episode #16

2. "I've done something similar. I'm sure I can do this."

There are tons of things that are similar enough to draw on when we want to be more confident. If you've run a half-marathon, you can surely run a marathon. If you recently ran a fast 5k, you're probably ready to run a fast 10k. A really hard workout should give you confidence before your race.

Just because you don't have direct experience doing something doesn't mean you don't have enough experience to do it well. Lean on the similar things you've done before. It's a perfectly valid way to boost confidence.

“So it's really cool to be able to see how a workout or how a session could be modified and changed in many different ways. So that no matter what, you're starting strong, you're finishing stronger, you're always walking away, challenged.”
-- Crossfit Star Fee Saghafi, Fueling the Pursuit episode #13

3. "I've done harder things than this. I can handle this, too."

This phrase moves a little more down the "indirect" spectrum of experience. Instead of focusing on the actual task, this phrase focuses on the other qualities it took to be successful.

I was reminded of this in my interview with Tommie Bailey on Fueling the Pursuit. He spent years as an alcoholic before getting sober five years ago. Since he took up running, he's repeatedly reminded himself that being an alcoholic was harder than doing lots of mileage. 

Abusing your body through addiction and training for marathons have little in common except that they stress your mind and body. Yet that's enough! If you've been through challenging situations that pushed you to your limits, you can use those experiences to give you confidence that the next challenge will be manageable as well.

“I think that we don’t give ourselves enough credit in many areas for the strength we have because it doesn’t seem like the connection should be made to something else. But if you can be strong in one area, you can translate that to almost any other area of your life.”
-- Marathoner Tommie Bailey, Fueling the Pursuit episode #29

4. "If he can do it, I can, too."

This is the classic phrase for what I call Vicarious Experience in Make the Leap. When you see someone else accomplish a task, it can boost your confidence as well. Think Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute barrier. Or Brian Sell making the Olympic team.

The key is that you relate to the person doing it. The more relatable the other person is, the better. Find someone who looks like you, thinks like you, shares your background or aligns with how you identify yourself. For me it was Peter Gilmore, a runner at Cal who was better than me despite having similar personal bests to mine in high school.

Don't just focus on the best performers, like Eliud Kipchoge or Sifan Hassan. They probably aren't the most relatable. Find the best performer who's most like you. Find your Peter Gilmore.

“So all of a sudden, something that seemed impossible is now the benchmark. And all the guys are setting their eyes on that benchmark, and they're stepping up. The bar gets raised, and the competition goes with it.”
-- Ironman Triathlete Tim O'Donnell, Fueling the Pursuit podcast #6

5. "He said I can do it, and I believe him."

A great way to boost confidence is to have people you trust tell you they believe in you. Coaches, teachers, parents, mentors...all of them have tremendous ability to boost confidence precisely because of the trust they've built.

If you're looking to maximize your confidence, you want to find experts who can speak knowledgeably of your experience and potential. The more you believe in their authority, the more confidence you will draw from them when they say they believe in you.

And if they do say it, believe them! They know what they're talking about. They're right. You can do it.

“When I meet people, I want them to be like, ‘Man, I met this brother and he had me wanting to conquer the world!’”
-- Triathlete Sgt. Michael Smith, Fueling the Pursuit episode #10

6. "I've prepared really well. I'm ready to do this."

You don't have to focus on past results to boost confidence. Another effective way is to focus on the hard work you've done to get where you are. 

Self-efficacy is preparation-based confidence. When you've put a lot of effort into preparation, you should be drawing on it for confidence. The time you've put into workouts, strategic planning and even getting your logistics right are all critically important.

If you've done the work, leverage it to help you feel good about what you're doing. 

"It wasn't necessarily about confidence from the success I've had from it, because I hadn't really had success in that play. It was almost confidence from the repetition and preparation I had done with our team in general, prior to that moment."
-- Water Polo Olympian Maggie Steffens, Fueling the Pursuit podcast #8

7. "I've visualized myself in this situation and know what I need to do."

Mental training is a critical part of success. Visualizing your performance can boost your ability to perform well. If you've spent time imagining your splits, creating word cues for specific points of a race, or simply replaying how you're going to feel as you cross the line, you're going to be better prepared. 

If you've spent that time and energy on your mental preparation, remind yourself! It's going to make a difference. You have every right to feel more confident as a result. 

"What I've been very successful with is mental practice. Every night before I go to bed, for weeks before I go to the race track, I'm doing laps in my head of the track that I'm going to."
-- Veteran Race Car Driver Matt Plumb, Fueling the Pursuit episode #20

8. "I feel good."

This is a really simple one, but it's so easy to overlook. Feeling good is a sign that something is working for you. When your body feels good we tend to feel less stress, be more bold, and get better results.

So what about if you don't feel good. That doesn't mean you can't perform well, but you may need to figure out why and have a plan to handle it.

One note on this, though. Be aware that the signals your body sends you in a major competition will be different from your practice sessions. Adrenaline, pressure, and the environment you are in can cause you to misread your body's signals and lead you to go out too hard. I talked about this with 4-time Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross, who experienced this directly.

If you feel good, it should give you confidence. But it doesn't mean you should change your plan! Anticipate how you will feel and build it into your preparation if you can.

“How many times have you stepped inside the cage and said to yourself, ‘I feel 100% physically ready to go’?”
-- UFC Director of Strength & Conditioning Bo Sandoval, Fueling the Pursuit episode #2

9. "I was born to do this."

Do you feel like the thing you are doing is perfectly aligned to your personality, skills, or personal interests? I often feel this way when I'm running, teasing out complicated business logic, or playing Wordle. Something about these activities just works for me.

You may also feel like what you are doing is part of your personal destiny, or your mission in life. If you're religious, you may feel you were put here on Earth to do this thing. If so, lean into that. Draw confidence from it. The more you believe your effort will lead to success, the more success you're likely to have.

Just don't trust that anyone's going to do it for you. You weren't just meant to do it. You were meant to earn it.

"You know, it's the weirdest thing because sometimes I step back and try to think of how I do it. And it's just a real natural love for running. Like when you hear those things about, you know, this person was born to do this sport or this thing, like I really feel I was born to run."
-- Masters Sprinter Maurelhena Walles, Fueling the Pursuit episode #28

10. "Why not me?"

I'm finishing with this one because it's probably the most overlooked. We can come up with countless reasons why we're not ready, why the other guys are better, why something unexpected is going to come up, or why we simply don't deserve success. Our brains are designed to dwell on the negatives.

Just because there are reasons doesn't mean there are good reasons. You have as much right to success as anyone else, especially if you've put in the work. So why not you? Of course it could happen to you. In fact, it's overdue. 

The main part of owning your success is getting yourself in position. It's creating the opportunity. But the other part is letting it happen when it's time. Don't make up reasons that hold you back. Why not you?

“I call it an explorative mindset for racing… ‘Let's see what I can do,’ rather than, ‘This is what I need to do.’”
- Olympic Triathlete Katie Zaferes, Fueling the Pursuit episode #14

Using these phrases to boost confidence in others

I framed all of these as phrases we can say to boost our own confidence. But you can (and should) remind people of these phrases when it will help them. The best mentors are great cultivators of confidence. 

By all means, tell your athletes or your teammates that you believe in them. It makes a huge difference. But even more importantly, get them to recognize that they have numerous ways to frame their past experiences, their feelings, and their environment to help them increase their own confidence. 


You can learn more about self-efficacy and how to systematically build your confidence in Chapter 6 of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster. And don't miss the Coach's Guide and Athlete's Workbook to help integrate the ideas into your team's training program. Team discounts are available here.

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