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The Secret Formula

Updated: Jul 19, 2020

Across the street from Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, sits a weirdly modern building claiming to be a museum. In reality this building guards the mysteries of one of the most influential organizations in world history. Deep within the walls of this strange building, hidden within a rarely opened vault, lies the secret of the organization’s power. It is rumored that only two men are aware of what is in the vault, and even then, each man knows only half of the truth so that it cannot be forced from either. I’m writing, of course, of the secret formula for Coca-Cola.

Secrets and mysteries fascinate us. Not to be outdone by Coke’s secret formula, KFC developed its own origin story around the secret recipe for its fried chicken. McDonald’s has closely guarded the ingredients in its “secret sauce” used on the Big Mac. Google has secret algorithms which guide its search engine. If a company could plumb their mysteries, it could be the number one hit every time someone searched for anything related to their industry.

There's a not-so-secret formula for confidence, as well. Once you understand it, the mysteries of confident living began to break open for anyone to utilize.

Shh. Look around. Is anyone listening? No? Okay. Here it is:

This formula indicates that the degree to which a person can be legitimately confident is directly related to their performance over a substantial period of time. Let me give you an example.

In university I was a jazz trumpet major. Anyone who has played trumpet knows that the most exciting and valued skill is to be able to play very high notes. These are the notes that audiences applaud for, and other musicians wonder at. The ability to hit these notes ensures that a trumpet player will get gigs. There’s just something visceral and energizing about a really high screaming trumpet part.

The challenge for trumpet players everywhere is that in order to learn to play those notes, you have to go all in. It takes a lot of breath and, typically, a lot of volume to hit them. Learning to play high notes follows the same pattern as learning any skill. You try and fail. You try and fail. You try and partially succeed. So, you first have to try and miss, again and again. And when you miss those high notes, they're really loud and they just kind of splatter all over the wall. Everybody knows when you miss.

So let's imagine we're playing a concert and I have to play a high E flat. That’s a pretty high note for an average-to-good trumpet player. Imagine I've been working really hard and over time I've got to the point where I can hit the E flat 50% of the time in practice. How confident am I that I'm going to hit that note in the performance? Probably not too confident. Chances are 50/50 at best, the flip of a coin. Add in the pressure and nerves of the performance, it's probably even lower. But now imagine I hit it 99 times out of 100 in practice. In fact, I can hit the G above the E flat. I nail it again and again. Now, how confident am I? Much more, right?

The secret to confidence is performance over time. How do you perform over a decent amount of time? That is the level of your confidence. Now, if you're truly going to be confident, you need to have very high, and very consistent, performance. To have perfect confidence, you need perfect performance over time. Otherwise, there's always room for doubt. Even if I hit that E flat 99 times out of 100, when the pressure is on and the audience is out there, there’s still a little voice in my head saying, “What if this is the one time in a hundred that you miss?”

Confidence equals performance over time. In order to have perfect confidence, we need to have perfect performance.

To be continued ...


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