Soft Skills: Earning Confidence By: Steve Tarani

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It is one thing to develop lifesaving skills, the likes of defensive driving, defensive shooting, and defensive tactics. It is another to have the confidence to employ them. Having such skill without confidence is as bad as having all the confidence in the world minus the skills to back it up. 

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The dictionary definition of confidence as it pertains to lifesaving skills is “1. A belief or conviction that an outcome will be favorable. 2. Belief in the certainty of something. 3. Belief in the effectiveness of one’s own abilities.”

Confidence applied to personal defense starts with having the heart and will to defend yourself and your loved ones in personal combat against another or multiple human beings. There can be no confidence without the will and courage it takes to pull it off should it ever hit the fan.

When it comes to practical application via on-demand performance, skill and confidence share a symbiotic relationship. One cannot apply skills at the level of performance needed to save a life without the confidence to back it up. Both skills and confidence are earned, not granted.

people holding out their pistols from shooting stalls

In serving the defense intelligence, law enforcement, and concerned citizen training communities for over three decades, I have had the honor and privilege of working with literally tens of thousands of hard skills practitioners. Many of whom have successfully applied their skills and confidence in the field on the job.

Mindset

Referencing the skills-confidence relationship, there are four types of personal defense mindsets.

  1. Those who have the skills but lack the confidence.
  2. Those who have the confidence but lack the skills—usually with their mouths writing checks that their skill level can’t cash.
  3. Those who have neither skills nor confidence.
  4. Those with the confidence and the skills to back it up.

The rhetorical question arises of these four categories: “Under which category would you want yourself placed?”

To place yourself under the appropriate category to be combat effective in defense of a real-world altercation would mean cracking the code to your skills development and then welding that to a commensurate level of confidence.

The recommended hard skills (physical skills as opposed to soft or non-physical skills) to avoid, mitigate or defend against real-world extreme physical violence would include hand-to-hand (combative, defensive tactics, martial arts, et al.) firearms and non-ballistic weapons such as edged and impact weapons.

The secret formula for killing development is a time and commitment regimen where you attend ongoing physical training at least once or twice a week to develop and maintain your hard skills. All hard skills are developed in this manner. However, even following development, those same skills become perishable over time and require sustainment training.

Skill building is the easy part of the skills-confidence bond. Now comes the hard part—earning the confidence. Confidence is commensurate with and earned via cumulative training time, repeatability, on-demand performance, and application under duress.

person shooting a pistol in an indoor gun range

Cumulative Time

If you just started training a week ago, that earns you a week’s worth of confidence in your newfound abilities. Less time garnishes less confidence. The converse is also true; the more significant amount of time you put in, the greater your expectations of confidence. 

Building confidence in developing skills over time is not necessarily hours of any given day. For example, one of the most celebrated martial arts in history, Bruce Lee, once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” He was talking about building familiarity, comfort, and repeatability on demand.

Close up of a shooting target and a rifle at an indoor gun range

Repeatability

As there are varying levels of skill, there are varying levels of confidence. Learning a skill and understanding when it is done “right” means that you have gained a familiarity with what it means to be technically sound. 

More specifically, you have gained a familiarity with the difference between doing it “right” and doing it “wrong” and understand that when doing it “right,” your technique results in the desired outcome.

For example, a poor grip or changing grip pressure when delivering multiple rounds downrange at a specific target will inevitably result in a miss. Since hitting the target is the result of correct execution of technique, establishing a good grip means doing it “right,” resulting in good hits versus missing the mark, which is the result of doing it “wrong.” 

used shooting target at an outdoor range

The greater your familiarity with the difference between “right” and “wrong,” especially when reaping the rewards of doing it “right,” places the technique in your comfort zone. 

In the world of defensive tactics, familiarity is additionally borne from changing perspectives. Take grappling, for example, learning a rear naked choke (RNC) and how to apply it. Applying the technique to someone is only one perspective. To gain a fuller understanding, learn the technique through three perspectives. 

  1. Do it to someone.
  2. Have someone do it to you.
  3. Watch someone else apply it to someone else.

The number of hands-on, visual, and experiential repetitions will hammer it home. You will become familiar enough with it that it ends up in your comfort zone. Once you’ve handled it long enough, like being behind the wheel of a car, it becomes repeatable. You can make a left-hand turn now on demand and under most conditions without reservation.

Performance

Being so familiar with a technique that you can repeat it means that you have gained that skill to a functional level. If someone asks you, “Please do that again?” and you can, then you have demonstrated repeatability of that skill. 

When your familiarity with a technique becomes so comfortable that you can repeat it on demand, you have earned a level of confidence that is commensurate with your ability to perform that skill.

The last and final phase of skills development is to perform that skill on demand and under duress—meaning some type of time requirement or, for example, qualifying for rank, a job, or other desired result. 

guns and safety gear laid out on a table in a gun range

Much like how a diamond is formed when a piece of coal is placed under long-term pressure, placing your skills under duress is a continual process. The more you test your skills under pressure, the greater your abilities. The greater your abilities, the greater your confidence 

Gaining familiarity, comfort, and repeatability on demand (aka performance) is what instills confidence. However, you cannot earn on-demand performance without repeatability, nor repeatability without comfort, nor comfort without familiarity. So it starts with developing that skill, setting the commensurate level of confidence earned through cumulative training time, repeatability, on-demand performance, and under duress.