Finding the Confidence to Win

Andy Murray and his hard fought U.S. Open win

Posted Sep 27, 2012

Andy Murray recently overcame a career of near misses to win the U.S. Open, and a lot has been made of the mindset he needed to do it. Prior to his U.S. Open championship, Murray lost in four major tournament finals without a single win. His talent has never been in question, but his ability to embrace championship pressure was suspect. While the biggest predictor of confidence is previous achievement, how do you attack a problem confidently when you’ve continually failed in the past?  This belief in unproven possibility is fundamental to turning failure into triumph, and Murray’s journey offers precious insights.

In spite of his previous near misses, Andy Murray never backed down. Ultimately, he ignored detractors, and maintained a singular personal belief that he could win a major championship if he kept striving. His patience and persistence paid off, but what goes into the mental process of believing in yourself with little proof that you should? First, you surround yourself with other believers, particularly ones who know what they’re talking about. While Murray’s fan base is pretty robust (he seems to have the nation of Scotland on his side), support has to extend beyond the cheerleaders.  Earlier this year Murray brought tennis icon, Ivan Lendl, into his circle by hiring Lendl as his full-time coach. In doing so, Murray instantly had credibility on his side, as well as someone who had firsthand experience with overcoming setbacks (Lendl also lost four Grand Slam finals before winning one). It’s one thing to believe in yourself, but it’s another to have a subject expert who has been there to believe in you. Lendl brought credibility to Murray’s beliefs, substantiating the idea that Murray could win a major championship and enhancing whatever confidence Murray had.

Second, embrace adversity. Every obstacle is a storehouse of opportunity, and as they stack up they build something of a confidence staircase. By embracing the adversity of every little challenge we not only give ourselves a chance to succeed, we also grow from our struggles. For Murray, losing in major championship matches clearly wasn’t enjoyable, but each loss gave him insight into his weaknesses and ultimately the opportunity to develop and improve. Each championship loss also gave him all the wins he needed to get to that point. With each tournament that Murray lost in the finals, he won more matches than nearly every person who competed. These wins build confidence, and help a player like Murray to slowly climb up the staircase. Win or lose, challenges are a chance for self-discovery and steady growth. For Murray, his losses gave him a platform to push further, create new goals, and embrace additional tests. As Murray grew, his goals likely evolved from rising up the professional ranks to making the finals of a major to eventually winning a major. There’s little doubt that winning the gold medal in the Olympics this summer helped Murray to believe he could win a major championship, but first he had to get there. By embracing the challenges along the way, Murray was able to go one step at a time until he achieved the larger goal.

Third, make it a point to build resilience. With each struggle we have the opportunity to focus on the enjoyable nature of the challenge and become stronger in the face of momentary adversity. By focusing on the positive and critically evaluating our strengths we can train ourselves to be resilient, prepping ourselves to plow through unexpected hardships. It’s easily argued that Murray’s career of near misses prepared him for his U.S. Open win. As a metaphor for his career, Murray’s championship victory didn’t come easy. In fact, his stumbles throughout the tournament were widely publicized, as he struggled at critical moments in several rounds, including the quarterfinals and semis. Murray faced difficult weather conditions, delays, performance struggles, and worthy competitors throughout the tournament, but never crumbled. The fact that things haven’t come easy for Murray may have helped him in a tournament where unexpected challenges continually cropped up.  Inspiringly, Murray just kept playing tennis. He didn’t worry about the heavy winds or times he got down, he just kept going one step at a time, and his resilience showed.

Achieving lofty goals can be a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. If you haven’t achieved you may not believe you can, but if you don’t believe, who else will? Andy Murray’s recent triumphs are a wonderful example of how a string of just-misses can turn into a defining win. The general message of "believe in yourself" may seem cliché, but the nuances of building confidence with the company you keep, the challenges you embrace, and the resilience you develop are less explored and incredibly impactful. Murray finally won a major championship with an enduring belief in his abilities, and that self-confidence will likely win him more major titles. There are many things we do for the first time, but if you don’t first believe you can do it, the big win may never come true.

About the Authors

Dan Leidl, Ph.D.

Dan Leidl, Ph.D. is a managing partner at Meno Consulting and co-author of the book Team Turnarounds. Dan lives in the greater New York area.

Joe Frontiera, Ph.D.

Joe Frontiera, Ph.D. is a managing partner at Meno Consulting and co-author of the book Team Turnarounds. Joe lives in the greater Washington D.C. area.

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