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Bob Mathias On How To Master The Art Of Self-Confidence

Bob Mathias On How To Master The Art Of Self-Confidence

By the time his senior year in high school rolled around, Bob Mathias had become a talented track athlete. He could run fast, jump high, and throw far. Given his wide-ranging talents, his high school coach suggested that Mathias try decathlon—a grueling combination of 10 track and field events.

Mathias succeeded immediately, winning his first competition. Just a few months later, he qualified to compete at the 1948 Olympics in London.

Completely off the radar heading into the competition, Mathias stormed the Olympics. He placed first in four of the ten events and ran away with the gold medal. Just 17 years old and fresh out of high school, Mathias became the youngest gold medalist to ever win a track and field event. When news of his victory reached his hometown of Tulare, California, the local factory blew the whistles for 45 minutes straight. He had entered the Olympics as an unknown kid and returned to America as a national hero.

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How did a teenage underdog develop the self-confidence required to win a gold medal on the world’s biggest stage? What type of mindset did Mathias bring to his competitions? What can we learn from it?

The Art of Self-Confidence

Years later, after his own athletic career was finished, Mathias was coaching a young pole vaulter who was struggling to reach a new height on the crossbar. As the story goes, the young athlete failed to clear the bar over and over again. Aware of his deteriorating performance, the athlete looked up at the bar and was filled with fear and frustration. He began to doubt himself and froze up completely.

After pondering the situation for a moment, Mathias looked at the young man and simply said, “Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.”*

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bob-mathias
    Bob Mathias attempting a 4-meter pole vault (13.1 feet) at 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. He would win gold for a second time. (Image Source: Mark Kauffman – The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

    The Empty Space

    There is a moment in each pole vault where the athlete must let go of the pole (their only anchor to the ground and the only thing they control) and commit to floating through empty space without fully knowing if they will clear the crossbar.

    In my experience, life is pretty similar. If you want, you can hold on to what you know and stay anchored to where you are. However, if you want to rise to a higher level and find out where your ceiling is, then you need to throw your heart over the bar and step into the empty space.

    Here’s the thing: we often think that the empty space is just a stage to pass through. We think it’s a transition state, a moment of uncertainty on the way to something else. But it can be much more than that. The empty space is where we grow. The empty space is where we develop self-confidence. The empty space is where we reveal who we really are. In many ways, the empty space is where we come alive.

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    Going through the moment of uncertainty. Facing the period of doubt. That’s when we discover ourselves.

    In many ways, self-confidence is just persevering through the empty space. Self-confidence is grit. Self-confidence is Sisu. Self-confidence is mental toughness. Mostly, self-confidence is just a willingness to let go of what is comfortable, slide into uncertain air, and trust that you’ll be ok.

    “Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.”

    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    FOOTNOTE

    * It took me a long time to track down the original source of the quote. As best I can tell, Mathias used the phrase first, but Norman Vincent Peale popularized the quote by using it for a similar story about a “famous trapeze artist” who gives his students the same advice.

    Featured photo credit: Martin Bingisser via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on June 19, 2019

    6 Ways to Be a Successful Risk Taker and Take More Chances

    6 Ways to Be a Successful Risk Taker and Take More Chances

    I’ve stood on the edge of my own personal cliffs many times. Each time I jumped, something different happened. There were risks that started off great, but eventually faded. There were risks that left me falling until I hit the ground. There were risks that started slow, but built into massive successes.

    Every risk is different, but every risk is the same. You need to have some fundamentals ready before you jump, but not too many.

    It wouldn’t be a risk if you knew everything that was about to happen, would it? Here’re 6 ways to be a successful risk taker.

    1. Understand That Failure Is Going to Happen a Lot

    It’s part of life. Everything we do has failure attached to it. All successful people have stories of massive failure attached to them. Thinking that your risk is going to be pain free and run as smooth as silk is insane.

    Expect some pain and failure. Actually, expect a lot of it. Expect the sleepless nights with crazy thoughts of insecurity that leave you trembling under the covers. It’s going to happen, no matter how positive you are about the risk you are about to take.

    When failure hits, the only options are to keep going or quit. If you expect falling into a meadow of flowers and frolicking unicorns, then you’re going to immediately quit once you realize that getting to that meadow requires you to go through a rock filled cave filled with hungry bats.

    2. Trust the Muse

    Writing a story isn’t a big risk. It’s really just a risk on my time. So when I start writing a story, I’m scared it will be time wasted. Of course, it never really is. Even if the story doesn’t turn out fabulous, I still practiced.

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    When I’ve taken risks in my life, the successful ones always seemed to happen when I followed the muse. Steven Pressfield describes the muse,

    “The Muse demands depth. Shallow does not work for her. If we’re seeking her help, we can’t stay in the kiddie end. When we work, we have to go hard and go deep.”

    The muse is a goddess who wants our attention and wants us to work on our passion.

    If you’re taking a risk in anything, it’s assumed that there is some passion built up behind that risk. That passion, deep inside you, is the muse. Trust it, focus on it, listen to it.

    The most successful articles and stories I write are the ones I’ve focused all my attention on. There were no interruptions during their creative development. I didn’t check my phone or go watch my Twitter feed. I was fully engaged in my work.

    Trust the muse, focus your attention on your risk, let the ideas and path develop themselves, and leave the distractions at the side of the road.

    3. Remember to Be Authentic

    Taking a risk and then turning into something you’re not, is only going to lead to disaster. Whether you are risking a new relationship or new opportunity, you must be yourself throughout the entire process.

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    How many times have you acted like you loved something just because the men or woman you just started going out with loved it?

    For example, I’m not an office worker. I have an incredibly hard time working in a confined timeline (ie. 9-5). That’s why I write. I can do it whenever the mood strikes, I don’t have somebody breathing down my neck, telling me that I’m five minutes late, or missed a comma somewhere. I don’t have to walk on eggshells wondering if what I’m writing will get me fired or make me lose a promotion. I can just be myself, period.

    One girlfriend didn’t understand that. She believed solely in the 9-5 motto, specifically something in human resources because that was a very stable job. I was scared for my future, but I stuck with the relationship because of my own insecurities and acted like I would do it to make her happy.

    Here’s a tip: NEVER take away from your happiness to make somebody else satisfied (note I didn’t say happy).

    Making somebody else happy will make you happy. Doing something to satisfy somebody is murder on your soul.

    4. Don’t Take Any Risks While You’re Not Clearheaded

    I’d been considering the risk for a couple weeks. It all sounded good. I was 22 and I could be rich in a couple of years. That’s what they were selling me, anyways.

    One night, while at a house party with some friends, I found myself at a computer. A couple of my friends were standing nearby and asked me what I was doing. I told them I was considering starting my own business and it was only going to cost me $1,500.

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    Of course, when a bunch of drunk people are surrounded by more drunk people, things get enthusiastic. It sounded like the best business venture in the world to everybody, including me. So I signed up and gave them my credit card number.

    A few painful months and close to $4,000 dollars lost later, I quit the business. I was young and fell into the pyramid scheme trap. It was an expensive drunk decision.

    Drinking heavily and making decisions has a proven track record of failure. So when you have something important to decide, don’t let your emotions take over your brain.

    5. Fully Understand What You’re Risking

    It was the start of my baseball comeback. I got a tryout with a professional scout and killed it. After the tryout, he talked to my girlfriend and myself, making sure we understood I would be gone for up to 6 months at a time. That strain on the relationship could be tough.

    We understood. I left to play ball, chose to stay in the city I played in, and a year later we broke up. Not because of baseball, see point 3 above. Taking big risks can have massive impacts on everything in your life from relationships to money. Know what you’re risking before you take the risk.

    If you believe the risk will be worth it or you have the support you need from your family, then go ahead and make the leap.

    You can get more guidance on how to take calculated risks from this article: How to Take Calculated Risk to Achieve More and Become Successful

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    6. Remember This Is Your One Shot Only

    As far as we know officially, this is our one shot at life, so why not take some risks?

    The top thing people are saddened by on their deathbeds are these regrets. They wish they did more, asked that girl in the coffee shop out, spoke out when they should have, or did what they were passionate about.

    Don’t regret. Learn and experience. Live. Take the risks you believe in. Be yourself and make the world a better place.

    Now go ahead, take that risk and be successful at it!

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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