In the build-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a little-known British athlete named Jessica Ennis-Hill suffered three fractures in her right foot in training. The injury was so severe that not only did she miss the Beijing Games, but she was also told she might not be able to compete again as a professional athlete.
She was forced to change her take-off foot for the long jump. For a professional athlete, this was like changing the hand you write with, and then also having to quickly become the best in the world at writing with that ‘new’ hand.
Fundamentally, Ennis-Hill was undertaking a brand-new event: the left-footed (or legged) long jump. If she didn’t master it quickly, her funding would be cut– and she would not fulfil her dream of becoming the world’s best heptathlete. It was a confidence-shattering period that resulted in major stress and anxiety about her future.
But she didn’t give in. She persisted and found the mental strength to refocus. Jessica worked hard to manage her stress and rebuild her confidence. It wasn’t easy, but she dug deep and persevered.
The result? In August 2009, she won heptathlon gold at the World Championships in Berlin. She went on to win two more World Championship golds in 2011 and 2015, and an Olympic gold at London 2012. Jessica Ennis-Hill is now recognized as one of the all-time great athletes in Track and Field.
As amazing as this story is, what’s even more amazing is that Ennis-Hill isn’t unique in her ability to rebuild her confidence. In fact, anyone can build robust confidence in every area of their life. The key is to utilize a powerful four-step process.
Introducing KOSY Confidence
Building (or rebuilding) your confidence starts with the four-step process I call “KOSY Confidence.” KOSY Confidence is a planning tool that can help us identify what we need to do to improve. It also helps us reflect on personal strengths and relationships we already have that can help us with our confidence building.
K stands for Knowledge. We can build confidence by acquiring more knowledge. O stands for Others. Other people (for example, a family member, a mentor, a senior colleague, a close friend) can help us build confidence by sharing helpful knowledge and skills, listening to us, and giving us emotional support.
S stands for Skill. Knowing something is different from being able to do it. Skill is the application of knowledge. Y stands for You. You have transferable skills, for example, self-control, optimism, your ability to learn (reading and writing skills), etc. You can use these to help build confidence in any situation or area of your life.
The overall idea with KOSY Confidence is to use it as a helpful framework to build confidence in any part of our lives. To see how you can do that, let me walk you through an example.
Using KOSY to build your confidence
We can apply the KOSY Confidence framework to Jessica Ennis-Hill when she needed to develop some confidence in using her left leg to take-off for the long jump.
Her aim was to improve left leg take-off. To do this, she could start by gaining knowledge about the best way to approach the long jump using her left leg. Next, she could ask others for technical knowledge (her coach) and emotional support (family and friends).
Third, she could improve her skill by putting the knowledge she had gained about left leg take-off technique into focused practice. Finally, she could draw on her persistence (one of her ‘you‘ qualities) when things got difficult.
Stabilizing Our Confidence After a Setback
Of course, as the Ennis-Hill example shows, none of our lives are straightforward. We all experience events that dent and damage our confidence. So, we invariably need to stabilize our confidence as well as build it.
For example, our confidence gets damaged when something we think we are good at gets questioned (e.g., I gave a presentation I thought was very good, but someone told me they did not think it was). In other words, what I expected to happen (get praise for my presentation) didn’t happen, and my confidence took a hit.
Stabilising our confidence requires us to directly address the stress response. The good news is there are techniques to do this, such as doing breathing management exercises.
Proactively using stress-management techniques will make it much easier for you to regulate your emotions and get your thinking back on track. Remember, we can’t avoid feeling bad, but we can work on our emotional response so that these feelings do not last as long as they otherwise would have.
Spend more time being at your best
You cannot avoid getting stressed and having your confidence knocked, but you can choose to proactively manage stress, rebuild your confidence, and spend more of your time being at your best.
Once you have stabilized your confidence, and you can think clearly, you will be in a much better place to accurately reflect on the events that dented your confidence. In my example, I could consider whether the feedback I received about my presentation was valid. If it was (or elements of the feedback were valid), I could use the four components of the KOSY Confidence framework to help me become an even better presenter.
Now it’s your turn. What areas or skills do you want to build more confidence in? Once you identify that, think about how you can use the KOSY Confidence model to boost your confidence and overcome your stress.
For more advice on how to develop robust confidence in every area of your life, you can find The Habit Mechanic on Amazon.
Dr Jon Finn founded the award-winning Tougher Minds consultancy and has three psychology-related degrees, including a PhD. He has worked in performance psychology, resilience, and leadership science for over 20 years.
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