Chapter 17. Trust

Definition of trust:

To do something without fear of consequences.

A feeling of certainty that a person or thing will not fail.  Trust implies depth and assurance of feeling that is often based on inconclusive evidence.


Fearless, carefree, not scared, easy, natural, effortless, automatic, comes easy, unthinking, non-judging, uncontrolled, uninhibited, free, open-minded, assured

Trust is about giving your body permission to execute its learnt skills without interference from your conscious mind.  It is letting go and being free, and having no fear of the consequences.  It is making decisions and committing to them.

For some, there is confusion over the concept of trust.  Trust what?  And how?  The key seems to be that the sportsperson needs to have a clear internal representation of what trust is, so that they can instinctively do it.  Trust is about giving up control in order to get the results you want – this is counter-intuitive which is why it can be difficult to achieve.

I worked with a golfer who had chosen “trust” as an attribute.  When choosing an incrementing method, at first he chose “believe”, but the catch is that belief is almost the same as trust.  In fact, perhaps belief is even less tangible than trust because it relates to believing in something external – a person’s beliefs are often a reflection of their model of the world which includes many things that are not under their control, whereas at least trust seems to relate to something within us that we can control.  Also we believe in things that are not proven.  If there was proof then we wouldn’t need to believe; we would know.  All this leads to doubt, confusion and the feeling that belief is somehow out of reach.

When the golfer who had chosen “trust” as an attribute found a simple behaviour-based incrementing method to manage it, things became much easier.  The incrementing method was for the golfer to say to himself “hand it over” just before each shot, which caused the shot to be handed to his subconscious, and at this point the trust he desired became implicit because he was no longer using his conscious mind to try to control the shot.

Self 1 and self 2

To understand the true meaning of trust, it can help to think of yourself as having two parts, known as self 1 and self 2 (or the outer self and inner self respectively).  Self 1 is the conscious part of you, the thinker, the critic.  Self 2 is the unconscious part of you, non-judgemental, instinctive.  In sport, self 2 does a better job of executing a task than self 1, because actions in sport are so fast, precise and complex that a person could not hope to control all the moving parts consciously.  Therefore, it is better to switch off self 1 and simply let self 2 get on with the task at hand.

This concept is prevalent in many sports psychology teachings.  W. Timothy Gallwey’s book The Inner Game of Tennis is devoted to this topic and explores it quite brilliantly and with considerable depth.

NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) also covers this idea, and breaks down the stages of learning a skill as follows:

Learning stage Description
Unconscious incompetence The person is not yet aware that they are not competent at the skill.
Conscious incompetence The person has become aware that they are not competent at the skill, and they want to address this.  This is the first step on the path towards learning the skill.
Conscious competence The person has become competent at executing the skill but they are using the conscious mind to execute it (the subconscious is still learning how to execute it automatically).
Unconscious competence The person has learnt how to execute the skill automatically using their subconscious.

Table 8 – Stages of learning

Ideal trust levels

You should always place complete trust in your learnt skills (10 out of 10), and this applies if you are performing well or badly.

When a sportsperson makes a few technical mistakes, it is all too easy for him to stop being trusting.  Self 1 (the conscious mind) steps in and relieves self 2 (the subconscious) of its responsibility.  This is not the right way to resolve technical issues occurring during competition.  If you are in excellent shape mentally and you start to make technical mistakes then it is very unlikely to be your mental state that is causing these mistakes.  In this situation you should continue to trust in your abilities, but at the same time you should carefully check your technique as something may have changed.  In many sports the problem will be related to the basics, such as the batting stance in cricket, or court positioning and footwork in tennis and squash.

Incrementing methods for trust

The key to achieving trust is to hand complex coordination skills to your subconscious.  You need to get into a generally trusting state of mind, and then before executing a skill, you need to take a final decisive action to unequivocally pass the responsibility of execution to self 2.

Here are a couple of simple and effective incrementing methods for trust:

Nothing new

Remind yourself that what you are about to do is nothing new.  You have practiced these skills and executed them many times before.

Hand it over to the subconscious

“Hand it over”, “trust it”, “give it up”, “let’s see what happens”, “it’s out of my hands now”.  These are phrases you can use to help your conscious mind hand a complex skill over to your subconscious.


Note that you can use these two incrementing methods together.  The first one (“nothing new”) can get you into a generally trusting state, and the second (“hand it over”) can be used for the handover to the subconscious just before executing a skill.

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