Here’s how to build your self-belief for sports, work and all aspects of life

Mental skills coach Jason Brennan outlines how we can reframe self-belief into ability-belief.

If I asked you to name the three main areas in mental skills that you’d like to work on, there’s a very good chance one of them would be self-belief.

Time and time again players, coaches, and clients ask for help in developing self-belief.

Self-belief is often framed up as ‘self-confidence’ and ‘self-esteem.’

It is a key area in sports training and mental health recovery and strengthening.

Below are some practical ways to improve self-belief.


Self-belief, self-confidence and self-esteem have one word in common – ‘self’.

This is the more important of the two words, as the work starts firstly with the self (our inner world) and secondly with belief (external world experience).

‘Act the way you want to become.’ Source: Jason Silva

The concept of ‘self,’ however, is complex and is often where people trip up – it just seems so BIG!

A practical way to avoid this trap is to focus energy on ability.

Abilities are much more user-friendly, as they are observable, measurable, specific and workable.

So we should really refer to self-belief as – ability-belief!

Ability belief is reality-based, as long as we are seeing our true abilities and the true possibilities of our abilities.

Often, not only are we blind to our abilities but we can even engage in discounting or playing down our talents when others – coaches, team-mates, friends, managers, colleagues – can clearly recognise them.


We can develop a filter on our vision that prevents us from seeing what we have done and what we are capable doing, and repeating.

This filter shows up when others compliment us but we don’t accept the compliment. We actively twist it into a put-down.

Think of yourself saying things like: ‘Thanks, but it wasn’t my best’ or ‘Yeah, but I should have been faster/stronger/louder/etc.’ when someone was actually complimenting you.

This type of ‘self-talk’ undermines ability-belief and needs to stop.

A simple ‘Thanks’ response will do – every time!

Of course, there is a place for performance analysis – in fact it is essential for high performance. What I am highlighting here is not analysis but a lack of ability acknowledgement, which hamstrings us in sports, business, relationships and life.

In his famous book ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill’s research outcome is as true today as it was a century ago:

‘If the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve’

His conclusion is that if our mind knows something is possible, then it can believe it is possible and through action we can achieve this possible.

This mental process can be repeated to build our ability-belief, leading to reality-based self-belief.

Like telling yourself: “I know I can do this, I have done it before, I am able to do it again.”

Or supercharging it: “I know I have this, I have done it before, I am going to do it again, and this time better because I have it in me to achieve more.”


One of the ways to define possible is by asking: ‘Has anyone else done it before?’

If the answer is yes, then it is achievable/possible!

A more personal question is: ‘Have I ever achieved it before?’

If the answer is yes, then I know I can achieve it again. It is not only possible, but highly probable!

Now of course there are some reality checks needed, such as: ‘How long ago did I achieve it?’ If it was 20 years ago and it was a physical accomplishment, then of course there are other factors to take into account.

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary Source: PA Archive/PA Images

But if we are talking about last week or last month or even last year, then ability-belief ought to be a given. What gets in the way is the aforementioned filter, distorting reality.

For example, many young athletes are often very surprised when they are called up to a senior position – like making the A team or playing for their country. The coach, however, is never surprised.

All top level coaches take selection very seriously and examine a player for ability prior to making the call.

So if the call comes, the player should feel proud that they got the call, as it is based purely on their ability.


So how can we disengage this filter and re-engage with a new one?

In a previous article, you will find one straight-forward technique – Strength Based Thinking (SBT).

However, ability-belief itself is a mental skill. Practising it leads to actively de-filtering – leading in turn to better results.

Practise not only changes the filter but puts in place another one that becomes second nature over time – your ability-filter.

The person no longer questions their abilities but clearly sees them, simply accepting them as true and real. Freeing ourselves to get on with what we are capable of doing.

With the example of being given a compliment, many might think it is good to be humble and, yes, humility is a valuable skill to develop (especially in a leadership role). It is one of the core values that the SAS hold – Humour and Humility.

However, there is a difference between being humble and actively undermining one’s achievements.

One of the stable bedrocks of all military services is the hard work they put into training and preparation – repeating actions, scenarios and drills. Going into action, all soldiers need to believe their training has prepared them for what they will face.


This kind of repetitive training and preparation – including ability–belief training, is possible for all activities.

It is about being open to what is possible, acknowledging what has been proven, building on a bedrock of results and having a plan to work towards with clear goals to execute and repeat.

So start de-filtering right now by carrying out the following steps:

  1. List three things you want to get better at
  2. Think about how you are performing at these things now
  3. Be honest, and check with others too (external feedback)
  4. Score yourself out of 10 (top marks being exceptional)
  5. Score yourself each time you do the task
  6. Capture what you did well each time – and why
  7. Acknowledge clearly to yourself what you can repeat to build on
  8. Always give yourself credit for trying!
  9. Always acknowledge the work you are doing and appreciate your own honest effort

Jason Brennan is an Irish mental skills coach who has worked with the Super Rugby-winning Hurricanes, the Wellington Lions, the NZ White Ferns and a host of other professional and amateur sports teams, as well as a wide range of businesses and non-sporting clients.