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How does one develop belief of self? Or said simply, how does a person develop confidence?

This question is one I've asked myself often lately. The past months of this year, I’ve been in a position of working with other personal trainers to help them develop their training skillset.

These individuals' desire for personal development goes beyond them wanting to “know” more about nutrition or exercise, but rather to improve their critical thinking abilities, expand their perspective, and increase the value of their training practice.

They want to feel more “confident” in their abilities as a personal trainer, and this theme is underlying in the work we do.

What builds confidence, though? Where does belief come from? And what backs up these beliefs? Let's explore the answers.

Confidence can be faked until you make it, but…you MUST make it.


Relative to truly being a skilled professional, in the beginning of one's career (and this goes for literally any career, not just training and coaching), it can be sensible advice to advise someone to “fake” confidence.

Or at the very least, talk themselves up enough so they are not so held back by fear that gets in the way of them doing their job.
That said, at some point, you must make up for the abilities you lack.

True confidence does not come from a false sense of self-esteem. Nor does it come with having an inflated opinion of one's abilities.

From my experience as a manager as well, all the pep talks and encouragement in the world don’t change the fact that if someone is inexperienced, THEY ARE INEXPERIENCED. The value in their craft simply isn’t going to be there.

Self-belief with nothing to back up that belief isn’t confidence; it's delusion.

Confidence is not a simply a matter of “believing” in one self then, as the cliché goes. Confidence is ground in competence, in the qualities that create skill.

alexander cortes

The Competence Formula

What is competence? To answer this, I’ll look at two truly masterful coaches that I know personally: John Meadows and Harry Selkow.

They are well-respected for the coaching abilities and their knowledge, and this comes from three key qualities that I've listed in order of relevance:

1. Practical Experience

There is no substitution for this. When you have been training people for 20 years and thousands of hours of face-to-face interaction, you are much more likely to have faith in what you are teaching and how you are teaching it. Both these man have an immense amount of experience practicing their craft, at least 40 years worth of combined experience.

One could argue that experience could be overrated and that its not guarantee of competence, but I would fundamentally disagree.

Certainly one could argue exceptions, but if experience is ALL someone had to assess a trainer or coaches skill, then more experience beats less experience EVERY time.

That established, what potentially makes one person's experience more valuable than another? That takes us to the second quality.

2. Masterful Mentality

Or being a masterful student, I should really say. What is a master student?

Someone that has made learning its own art form. You could even call this a “guru student.” Where the common belief in a guru is someone that “knows it all”, by definition it is a positive term, identifying an individual that is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.

This is a mentality, and a way of being. It's not a fixed state of learning once and never again. It’s a mentality that takes the experience one has and constantly seeks to maximize the learning from it.

To be a masterful student, you cannot let your ego dictate your learning, something many people get caught up in. They let their ego guide what they “learn” which in reality is just them seeking out like-minded opinion and practice that never challenges what they know.

This is delusional expertise. You cannot learn more by narrowing your perspectives down to less and less.

A master student is ready and willing to change what they know and practice for the sake of their own improvement. So one could say that someone with such a mentality COULD beat someone out on experience, say five years being worth more than someones else's seven years,

BUT overall, more years + a mentality to go with it will win out in the end.

There is a final quality that remains though that can elevate someone further.

bench press

3. Results

There is no going around this one. When you achieve successful results with lots of people, you are going to feel pretty good about what you are doing.

Results are time-dependent as well. I know I make this point practically every week on some form of social media, but time cannot be replaced. Nor can any amount of studying replicating having actual clients.

Achieving body changes, strength increases, dropping bodyfat, getting ripped, improving overall athleticism, quality of life; these things are all time-dependent.

Until you’ve worked with many people for awhile, you are not going to possess that faith in what you are doing really working. You are simply hoping that it does.

Experience --> Learning --> Result --> More experience

These three qualities create a continuous feedback loop.

You need experience to learn, and you need to create results to prove your learning, and with results you can continue with more experience, and so on and so forth.

This formula doesn’t have an end to it; it’s a PROCESS. Competence is a process. True confidence is the mental outcome that comes from the above, and competence cannot be bought nor studied.

From a professional standpoint of qualification then, an individual with many years experience, respectable levels of applied education, and a proven track record of success is a very appealing candidate, be it for a job, or for an individual looking to personally hire a trainer or coach.

And it is also gives a clear criteria for recognizing incompetency, or false competency.

Without the three qualities, you are simply faking it.

The Non-Competence Formula

In todays fitness landscape, I see the following things often mistaken for competence. I would in fact call this a non competence formula.

1. “Studies” and “Research” Being A Replacement for Experience

This is best demonstrated in the oft said statement of “I read studies.”

I have no idea what this means, my friends with PhDs (Jonathan Mike, Trevor Kashey, Bryan Mann) have no idea what this means, nor does anyone I know that’s a medical doctor.

Studies are performed by scientists for the specific point of testing specific hypotheses under controlled conditions. These studies are intended to be reviewed and analyzed and replicated by fellow scientists with equivalent education and context of knowledge.

Despite that, though, “I read studies” has become this rallying cry for meaning “I'm an expert,” yet the people claiming to read the studies are not scientists, do not have graduate degrees, and generally have zero credentials in the actual field in which they are supposedly “reading the studies” from.

eric maroscher

Going further, reading something does not equal practical experience or results. It's merely a guide to picking up information. Information isn’t knowledge.

Even giving the benefit of doubt and assuming one is qualified to actually understand what they are reading (such as a scientific study), until its been put into practical practice, (i.e. clients and athletes), it's simply information that one “knows.”

Mastery does not come from knowing, it comes from DOING.

2. Arguing Isn’t Learning

Obviously the internet has given rise to a whole culture of argumentation, but relative to actually improving as a professional, this is to no one's benefit most of the time.

Arguments ARE NOT CLIENTS. There is no qualification for being really great at arguing with people, be it on the internet or anywhere else.

As a trainer, I improve the most when WORKING WITH CLIENTS. I learn the most from my clients feedback, or my fellow professionals whose opinions I respect.

I had a conversation with Clint Darden during the weekend of the Powerlifting Experience, that when I talk to coaches like himself, it really pushes my learning, as I have to question what I think I've learned and what I “know.”

But that’s not us arguing, that’s a conversation.

Where people don’t learn is getting socially wired in, finding people that disagree with them, and then spending 12 hours insulting their mothers, their gym, their kids, their dog, and telling them how stupid they are for thinking differently.

No one learns anything in an argument when the goal is prove someone wrong and yourself right, and wasting time belaboring a point is just that: a waste time. That’s not your intellect benefiting, that’s your ego.

RECENT  The Hypocrisy of Intent Without Action

Before entering into a fray, people would do well to ask themselves the question “is this to benefit my learning, or serve my ego?”

If it's your ego, DON’T. The ego gets in the way of learning.

3. No Clients

Ive got little to say about this one.

If you’ve produced results for no people, you’ve got no grounds to argue anything, unless it's commentary about your own training.

When I worked in commercial gyms, training quality went up with the number of sessions trained. Basically meaning the more experienced one was, the better they tended to be.

Beyond that, when trainers had long term clients (let's just say six months or more to be general), you knew that they were doing something right.

Get to Work

With all that written, confidence is not a fixed state of mind, but a mentality that comes out of a larger process. These three principles, this formula, should hopefully give clear guidance on where you need to start or improve upon. You can also see the antithesis of these principles that get in the way of your own evolution.

Creating competence will require dedication, it will require self analysis, it will require experience, and it will take time.

I can say with confidence that if you are truly dedicated to the profession and have the desire to improve, it will be worth it.