Confidence at Work: The Tool Athletes and Leaders Have in Common

I married a golf fan.  I used to think golf was this elitist, boring sport until I met my husband.  I call him a golf purist - he’s humble about his own game, is fascinated by the history, pays homage in visits to St. Andrews and adores Nicklaus.  Plus he hates (as now do I) the fawning favoritism coverage Tiger receives, though he acknowledges that it’s ‘good for golf’ when Tiger’s doing well.

Visualizing the Shot


Which brings me to Jason Day.  

I realize he may not be the only golfer to do this, but he’s one of the most memorable to me for the visualization techniques he uses on the course. Jason will choose his club, hold it, and close his eyes, and stand in front of the shot as long as he needs in order to visualize the perfect swing.

He’s not perfect every time, but he’s a top world golfer.

How does visualization actually work?  How is it different than confidence?

What Does Confidence Actually Mean?

As a Registered Corporate Coach, my work with clients includes building leadership skills, especially those that require additional confidence.  One of the first things we do together is discover and refine the client’s definition of confidence.  

What’s yours?  Think about it…what does confidence actually mean to you?  How do you know you have it, or don’t?  How do you know when other people have it?

For our purposes here, let’s define confidence as self-belief in ability to achieve an outcome.  And that self-belief needs to stay stable even if the external performance (either at work, in practice or the game) isn’t supporting the theory currently.  

That’s when other skills like resilience become vital to maintaining that confidence.  And why we look to tools to help us support our confidence and achieve an outcome.

Let’s define confidence as the self-belief in ability to achieve an outcome.

Which brings me back to our Aussie duffer friend, Jason Day.  I had never seen someone do visualization so prominently as part of their craft.  The way golf is played allows for this type of slow, eyes-closed activity before teeing off.  

One could certainly do the same in a myriad of other sports, like visualizing perfect twists and turns before pushing down a slalom, or making a free-throw with nothing but net.  

You can visualize perfection and still miss.

Visualization and Resilience

But that’s where the resilience comes in:  trying again, getting better, more practice. The self-belief in an ability to achieve an outcome doesn’t mean you automatically have the ability to achieve it. The work still has to happen.  But it means you believe you can get it.  (There’s that confidence definition again.)

And visualization can get you there faster.

Visualization and Leadership

Improving public speaking (in meetings and speeches) is a common skill for which clients come to me for coaching.  

Amongst a myriad of tools in addition to solid preparation, most involving self-talk, visualization is particularly useful.  As a speaker, you would practice visualizing yourself at the front of the room, and seeing yourself not only from the perspective of a third-party, like a meeting participant in your audience, but also visualizing yourself looking out at the audience, speaking well.  

And then - and this is key - visualizing at the end of your presentation that the audience actually gives you a standing ovation.  This assuages the subconscious that ’they’re judging me’ ‘I’m doing terribly.’ or ‘I’m going to be terrible.’ There’s that imprint on your subconscious of you doing really well.

And that’s where visualization is the same in athletics.  

By visualizing your desired outcome and the process by which you will achieve that, you tap into your subconscious ability to make that desired outcome happen.  

There’s a deeper, natural knowledge that comes with your athletic skill; your talent and skills allow you to perform with that ‘unconscious competence’ that comes from practice,  and by visualizing perfection from your perspective, your subconscious conspires to make that a reality.  

Visualization and Reality

When visualization is done consistently, intentionally and deeply enough to feel the emotion as if it were actually happening as a practice, I’ve heard the brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality.  Your brain thinks this event is actually happening so your subconscious is being imprinted with the ability to create that outcome.  As Coach Tami says, ‘Connecting your mental skills with physical abilities.'

Back to my golfing husband: when annoying things are happening or when he is trying to go to sleep, he ‘plays’ 18 holes at Carnoustie in his head.  And goes right to his visioning happy place. (And he’s usually asleep by the second hole.) 

Originally appeared at
Refuse to Lose Coaching | Training the Mind and Body