By Judd Biasiotto Ph.D.
I think another important characteristic of a great athlete is that he believes in himself. In fact, I don't think - I know. The most consistent finding in sports-related research is the direct relationship between self-confidence and success. Research has consistently shown that athletes who are confident think and act significantly differently from athletes who lack confidence. Confident athletes, athletes who believe in themselves, not only love to compete, they love to compete against the best. Athletes who are confident believe they can do anything - and often do. They never quit; they constantly see themselves as winners - never losers. If you look at the Larry Birds, the Michael Jordan’s, and Stephi Graf’s you'll see people who have a powerful belief in their skills and themselves. These are people who can create magic - who work miracles.
Evander Holyfield is a prime example of what I am talking about. He is a man who has an unwavering belief in God and himself. This was never more evident than in the first Tyson - Holyfield fight. If you recall, Holyfield was an underdog in that fight. He struggled in the three fights he had prior to the Tyson fight and was still experiencing trouble with his heart. Tyson, on the other hand, was going through his opponents like a hot knife through butter. Everyone they put in front of him he literally destroyed. Consequently, no one thought that Holyfield had a chance in hell of beating Tyson. Incredibly, when the fight was first announced the odds in Vegas were forty-five to one that Tyson would defeat Holyfield. Can you believe that? Forty-five to one. Of course, it didn't matter what Vegas believed; only what Holyfield believed. And Holyfield believed that he was going to win. In fact, Holyfield actually assured victory in a television interview a week prior to the fight. He said, "I know everyone thinks I'm washed up. That there is no way I can beat Tyson. But I guarantee you, I will win this fight. That's a promise. I know in my heart that I will beat Tyson!"
And you know what? Holyfield defied the odds and the critics by knocking out Tyson in the eleventh round. It was one of the biggest surprises in boxing history. It documented what courage, determination, and belief can do. And Holyfield is just one of many great athletes and/or individuals whose beliefs transcended them beyond what others thought was their peak. History is filled with accounts of ordinary men and women who have done extraordinary things through the power of belief. Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, Buster Douglas, Monica Seles, Greg Louganis, Dan O'Brien, Carey Struthers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca, Donald Trump, and Oprah Winfrey are Just a few Individuals, who, through the power of belief, made the seemingly impossible - possible. I have a little formula for success. It goes like this: Conceive, Believe, and Achieve. It's simple but profound. I'm sure most of you have conceived yourselves as being great at one time or another. I believe that's very important. I know when I was a little boy, I always saw myself as being great - actually AWESOME. In fact, I was always visualizing myself kicking Larry Holmes's butt or breaking Hank Aaron's home run record. I never had a problem conjuring up images of myself doing something spectacular.
The problem was that, in my heart, I really didn't believe I could reach such heights. There's a big difference between conceiving of yourself as being great and actually believing that you are going to be great. Once you believe - I mean really believe - that you can be great, achieving your goals is just a short step away. Belief is the magic elixir that can transform mediocrity into excellence. Believing opens the doors for success. It sends power and energy soaring when you need it most. Consequently, there is no telling what heights you can reach.
Have you seen the movie "Lorenzo's Oil"? If not, you have to. It is one of the most powerful, most gut wrenching movies you will ever see. It is a prime example of what the mind can accomplish when it is put to the task... that the mind's powers are truly limitless. It's a true story about a five-year-old boy named
Lorenzo Odone who is stricken with adrenoleukodystrophy. Adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD is an inborn error of metabolism that causes a degeneration of the brain. It only affects males who are 5 to 10 years of age. The progression of the disease is relentless and it is always fatal. If you have ALD you are going to die. At least that's what Lorenzo's doctors told his parents. "There is no hope" they said "it may be a year, it could be two, if he is lucky, but Lorenzo will die. Adrenoleukodystrophy spares no one."
Can you imagine how the Odones must have felt when they heard that prognosis? A death sentence for their only child. Most parents would probably pack up their tent, go home and wait for their child to die. And you really couldn't blame them, not with that kind of prognosis, but not the Odones. They said, "Hell, no, we won't let our Lorenzo die, not without a fight. And boy, did they fight! While his wife Augusta took care of their little boy, Michaela went about the business of educating himself about ALD. When he first started researching the disease he knew as much about biochemistry as I know about quantum physics ... which amounts to nothing. But that didn't discourage him. Nothing discouraged this guy.
Every waking minute he had was dedicated to finding a cure for the disease. Every opportunity he got he spent in the library researching ALD. At night he would read about the subject until he fell asleep. He literally ate and slept at his desk. And guess what? In less than two years he discovered a therapy that halted the progress of ALD. In other words, he accomplished in two years what the entire medical profession couldn't do in more than five decades. Not only did he save his son's life, but he also saved the lives of thousands and thousands of children. Think about that for a second. Here was an ordinary man who performed an extraordinary feat by putting to use the greatest gift God gave him... his mind. Michaela Odones was not a prodigy. He was just an average man who had a purpose, firmness of mind, and the courage to persevere. Some people make their own miracles.
The magic of believing applies not only to physical performance but also to every aspect of human behavior. All of our actions, feelings, behavior - our abilities are consistent with our conditioning and/or programming. In short, we tend to "act like" the type of person we conceive ourselves to be. Not only that, but we literally cannot act otherwise, even if we make a conscious effort to do so.
Obviously then, the way your brain has been programmed will go a long way in determining how successful you'll be in athletics, as well as in life. If you've been conditioned to believe you can, there's an excellent chance that you will. Conversely, if you've been conditioned to believe you can't - you most likely won't. In order to win, you must expect to win. If you talk to people who have achieved success, you will find that they are individuals of vision. Their success was in their mind before it ever materialized in reality.
Think about this, O.J. Simpson was only ten years old when he told Jim Brown, the greatest running back ever to play pro football, that one day he was going to break every record he had held. At the time Brown didn't know Simpson. He was just a skinny kid with a dream. Brown knows him now. George Herring was only seven years old when he told his parents that he was gong to be the strongest man in the world. Cassius Clay was only eight years old when he told his mother he would one day become the heavyweight champion of the world. Neil Armstrong was 10 when he told his dad he was going to be a famous aviator. Robert Kennedy, while in grammar school, told his classmates that one day he would be the President of the United States. And here's something that will really blow your mind. In 1985 while performing in small comedy clubs for minimum wage, Jim Carey wrote himself a check for 10 million dollars for services rendered and dated it 1995. And you know what? The day before Thanksgiving, 1995, Carey signed a movie contract for, you guessed it, 10 million dollars. Isn't that great?
You know, it's interesting, but some of the greatest achievements in sports and life were performed by individuals who were too dumb to realize that what they did was impossible. Men with vision, men who believe, are the men who rule the world.
Let us be honest, we all have voices in our heads that undermine our faith and our abilities. But we have to work on trading in those negative voices for supportive, more realistic ones. As I said before, nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. The greatest dreams that have been accomplished by men and women have been called impossibilities - and somebody has proved that the impossible was possible. Remember that through belief, you can do or become anything you want. You can go to the stars ... heck, you can go to new galaxies. Just put your mind to it; and watch the magic begin.