High Performance Habits: The #1 Thing 1 (part 21 of 22)

We’ve measured over a hundred variables in search of which habits matter most in high performance. We’ve asked high performers almost every conceivable questions bout how they got so extraordinary. We’ve also sought to find out what matters most in the increasing overall HPI scores and scores in each habit area proven to correlate with high performance. And so far nothing we’ve found correlates with high performance scores across the board more than confidence. Confidence is the secret ingredient that makes you rise to the challenge.

But this doesn’t mean confidence alone causes high performance. You can have all the self-confidence in the world, but if you don’t practice the high performance habits, the odds of long-term success aren’t so good. It’s clear from our research that to become extraordinary, you need strong confidence and high performance habits.

But where does the kind of confidence that improves performance come from? What, specifically, do high performers do to gain and maintain confidence as they deal with life’s challenges and take on ever greater goals?

The 3 C’s of Confidence

High performers do have more confidence than most people, but not by birthright, luck, or superhuman skill. What I found was that high performers simply thought about things that gave them more confidence than others, more often did things that gave them more confidence than others, and avoided things that drain confidence more often than others did, They almost universally reported that their confidence came from purposeful thinking and action.

Practice #1: Develop Competence

While most people think of confidence as a general belief in oneself, the kind of confidence that it most tied to performance improvement comes from belief in one’s abilities in a specific task. This means that the more knowledge, skill, ability, or talent – that is, competence – you have at a given task, the more likely you are to be confident and perform well. I’ve been teaching about this “confidence-competence loop” since 1997, and I’m continually surprised at how much it comes up in conversations with high performers.

The idea here is that the more competence you get at any given task, the more confident you’ll become in trying it more often – and the more you’ll stretch yourself. That repetition and stretching leads to more learning, which gives you more competence. More competence, then, begets more confidence, and round and round it goes.

In the chapter on productivity, I covered how to get super-competent at any skill through practicing progressive mastery. So let me move on to another distinction in this area. High performers have confidence not only because of past skill acquired in a specific area, but equally from trust in their ability to gain future competence. That is, they reported that their confidence was not tied to one specific competency but rather to a belief that they could adequately handle things in the future – even if they had no experience. Their confidence came from belief in their power of learning in general.

High performers are learners, and their belief that they can learn what is necessary to win in the future gives them as much confidence as their current skill sets. 

Having learned so many things in the past, they trust they can do it again. In this way, it became clear that the internal voice of a higher performer is saying, “I believe in my ability to figure things out.” It’s a bit circular but no less true: The key competency that gives high performers confidence is the ability to quickly gain understanding or skill in new situations. In other words, the competency that matters is the ability to become competent.

High performers ponder the lessons from their wins. They give credit to themselves, and they allow those wins to integrate into their psyche and give them greater strength. 

That’s what, as you strive, it’s important that you begin a practice of reflecting on your progress and your new learning. Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to think about all the great things you did and learned this year. I recommend you spend at least thirty minutes every Sunday reflecting on the previous week. What did you learn? What did you handle well? What do you deserve to give yourself a pat on the back for? As simplistic as this may sound, it can have a profound effect in helping you gain more confidence.


  1. The competences – knowledge, skills, abilities, or talents – that I have worked hard to cultivate in my life include …
  2. If I gave myself credit for learning all those things, I would start to feel more …
  3. Something I’ve learned to do in the past few years that I have not yet given myself credit for is …
  4. I feel that I can handle a big challenge in my life right now because I am good at learning how to …
  5. A practice I’ll begin doing every week to help me start feeling more confident is …


Practice #2: Be Congruent

It’s hard to be congruent. Naturally, different parts of us are engaged at different times. Our identity, personality, states, and standards may vary from one context to the next. We might be a rock star at work but a janitor at home. We may be fun, exciting, and playful with our best friends but shy and reserved in bed. We can be aggressive in one situation, then fail to be assertive when it counts. Variance in who we are in any given context is natural and, despite what some would have you believe, healthy. Life we be terribly unhealthy (not to mention boring) if we were exactly the same all the time.

To feel more congruent, though, we will have to be more conscious about who we are and what kind of life we want to live. We will have to be conscious in crafting and maintaining our identity.

All this requires conscious choice and work. Maybe someone didn’t light the candle of love for you when you were younger, so your’e always had the identity of someone who isn’t or could not be loved. Now, as an adult, you can consciously choose to light that candle for yourself. Perhaps you were never given the attention or respect you desired. Now is the time to give it to yourself. Maybe no one every instilled in you the confidence that made you feel you could shape or shake the world with your power. Give that confidence to yourself. This is the path to constructing your own identity.

They shaped their identity by conscious will and have aligned their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to support that identity. 

The more days they live in congruence with who they have chosen to become, the more they feel a sense of general confidence in life. I heard it over an dover again in interviews: “I decided to break free from my parents {or my job or my old relationships} and do what I really wanted to do.” “I finally chose to seek work that was more me.” ” I started living with greater intention.”

If you can understand the power of congruence, then you can understand why the habit of seeking clarity is so important to confidence. You can’t be congruent with something you’ve never defined. No clarity, no congruence, no confidence. It’s that simple. That’s why I encourage you to revisit the chapter on clarity and remember to fill out the Clarity Chart each week. Enter each week with intention for who you want to be, then align your actions with that self-image, and you’ll gain greater confidence.


  1. The person I really want to be in life could be described as …
  2. Three things I could do each week is live more congruently with that vision for myself include …
  3. Three things I should definitely stop doing in my life so I can live in greater congruence with my ideal image of myself are …