How to separate belief from confidence?

belief confidence Apr 29, 2022

 What is the difference between self-belief and self-confidence?

“I think luck falls on not just the brave but also the one to believe they belong there. "

Novak Djokovic


Separate confidence and belief

In the many years of working in high-performance environments with both aspiring pros and established pros, I realised the default position with most people is to link belief and confidence. This is actually counter-productive. Knowing it is essential to separate belief from confidence in life and especially high-level sport is the first step to performing with better consistency. 

To separate them will speed up your success

If the intention is to become as good as you can be in any career, then learning how to separate belief from confidence will not only help but also speed up the process of improvement. 



As an example, in working with a senior year high school class, I posed a question, whether anyone in the class did not believe that they belonged there as a sixth former? 

The answer was a resounding “no”. They all believed they belonged in the class and when asked why, the stock answer was that they had passed the previous year and therefore belonged in the senior year. 

The next question I asked was whether they felt it would be right to return to a junior form if they did badly in one exam or in one project? Also, if that happened, would they no longer believe they were good enough to remain in the sixth form? Naturally, they were confident that remaining in the class was the correct thing and was not their belief of where they belonged impacted adversely because of one poor exam or project. A poor result did not affect their belief. 


Poor Results

Contrast them with tennis players. Often, a couple of poor results can lead to a massive confidence crisis and losing the belief that they belong and can cope with the level that they had previously achieved. A poor result or two would lead to a sudden loss of belief in line with the loss of confidence. However, as school kids, they had a different perspective to their tennis!


Like Sand and Stone

It is important to realise that belief is the foundation and whatever level achieved needs to be set in stone. Confidence is like sand on top of stonewalls.


Belief needs a solid foundation. 

The analogy is that confidence, like sand, will blow in and out. During periods of confidence, there is a lot of sand on top of the wall. When the wind blows much of the sand away, this signifies a loss of confidence. If we understand that confidence sits on top of a solid foundation and comes and goes rather than having our belief built from sand as well, then when things are going wrong, belief will not blow away with the confidence. 

When there is no foundation, then the drop in the level of performance can hit the floor, leaving both belief and confidence shattered. If belief is a solid wall, then only confidence needs to be rebuilt. This is the reason top performers can lose several matches in a row, then bounce back with a big match or tournament win.




Graph 1 

Working hard to improve level and belief (the foundation), but achieving poor results 

Building Belief: Foundation – Results: lagging 

It is important to practice and play matches with a belief that you can win and never know when results will turn positive. 

Cultivate a feeling that progress is being made in your game, even if results are poor. 

  • Anxiety is high: Anxiety and stresses are higher during this period because of poor results. In order to manage this stress, a person needs to believe that the process will bring results. 

  • Confidence is low: It’s hard to be confident when losing. My theory is that practice and hard work can account for 20% of confidence and winning the other 80%.

  • Expectation is low: Players find it hard to picture a winning result. Power posing for two minutes can help confidence during preparation. 

(The Mindset College Programme has a full module on the Power Pose.)


Graph 2

The player gets on a roll and confidence is so high that the player overshoots their foundation - results are achieved at a level higher than expected. 

Confidence is high

Things click into place, and luck runs with you. 

  • Expectation is high: Winning is a habit. You feel you can’t lose. 
  • Anxiety is low: Belief is part of the foundation. If a player does not get complacent or begin to over expect, this is the perfect time to close the gap between the base and the results, as it is easy to learn when confident. 

This is the time to work harder because sport is most fun when flying with momentum. 

(The Mindset College Programme has a full module on gaining more confidence in match situations.)


Graph 3 

Due to increased quality of opposition or self-induced complacency or unrealistic expectations;

A couple of losses suddenly drain confidence. 

The player can quickly bypass the foundation in a negative direction. Losing a few matches has no logical basis for losing belief.

  • Confidence is Low: Players will often bluff, blame, and make excuses for this terrible spell. This is the time for calm reflection because a higher level has been achieved, and this is fact.
  • Expectation is high: The player is sulky and asks questions like ‘How can I lose to this guy’? 

  • Anxiety is high: High stress detracts from good practice, further damaging game recovery. 


Graph 4  

The model for separating belief from confidence and therefore ensuring the fastest progress is the attitude to the work and the understanding that long-term success results from a constant belief in your processes. Players and coaches need a spirit of continued respect for building a foundation of belief. 

Separate confidence from belief


Once you understand that confidence will always fluctuate and that your job is purely to build your “rock of belief”, then it is possible to avoid over excitement when results are excellent and despair when results are poor. Equality between the foundation and results is rarely found. The ideal is steady improvement to the foundation. Results fluctuate either way depending on confidence levels. 


  • Basic belief is high: Dips are less dramatic - The work ethic remains constant the process remains more important than results.

  • Expectation is relative to the situation: The player and those around him have a good grip on where a player is and what can be achieved if things go right on the day. 

  • Positive but not predictive: Expectations of what might or might not happen is replaced with a constant attitude of doing your best on the day.

  • Anxiety is under control: High stress detracts from excellent performances in practice and matches and although no player is ever without stress, the belief in their level and program keeps a more laid back attitude to challenges. 


Belief is a reality. 

It is a proven level of achievement, not a dream or goal of the future. Therefore, it is a solid foundation. We need confidence to achieve additional levels of success and gain the wins that prove we belong at a new level. 

Immediately, our minds need to lock in a different level of results with rock-solid belief : 

“I can now compete or operate at this new level. I realise it may take me a while to get comfortable at this level, but I will not confuse comfort with belief. If I have a few setbacks, that is all they are — setbacks — not a reflection of where I belong. Setbacks can affect confidence, so during a low period it is difficult to succeed, but through hard work and persistence at some point confidence will return and when it does, I will again operate at the level of my belief!”


Not a formula

There is no formula, rhyme or reason when the results turn positive and confidence flows again, but my experience tells me that if you work hard, good things happen. We just don’t know when. Keeping your belief certainly shortens the cycle.


Answer: How to separate confidence from belief

  1. Believe in your processes and work, which, with results, helps increase your belief as a player
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Focus on the task at hand, not the result
  4. Question your game and your tactics but never your self-belief
  5. Think positively. – consider your glass to be half-full, not half-empty