How can I build my confidence in training?

Simon Long

Simon Long

Simon is a highly experienced personal trainer and behavioural psychology expert
View My LinkedIn Profile

Hey everyone! I hope you’re having a good one!

So for those of you who follow what I write, you may remember in my last article that we spoke about Self-Efficacy. If you did catch that then welcome back! But if not then no worries, I’ll run you through a quick recap:


Can I get a rewind!!


Self-efficacy is just a fancy word for “how confident you feel about doing a specific task well”. For example, I have:


High self-efficacy that I can smash out 16 hour days of work (mainly online clients since the world went nuts, but I do write for various PT education websites too).



Medium self-efficacy that I can do 16 hour days if I don’t get my one hour of chill time per day and one full day off a week.

Low self-efficacy that I can take a holiday and not think about work (What can I say… My jobs amazing and I love what I do. No! What do you mean I’m sad?!?)

When you have high self-efficacy you’ll find motivation for the task easy, and when you have low self-efficacy motivation becomes harder to find (Which may explain why I’ve only had a week off in three years… Dam realisation moment here. Okay Demi we need to plan a weekend away after lockdown!!).


I choose here! Don’t know where it is, but it looks beaut!!


Essentially, if you choose “exercise” that you feel confident in, then you’ll be far more motivated to do it. I air quote it because what counts as exercise is far wider then most people think. It’s way more then just jogging or lifting weights!


Of course you can jump in to the article to get more in depth info. But today I thought we should take a wander through how we improve our self-efficacy. As you may have exercises, or anything in life really, that you would like to be motivated for, but currently lack that required self-belief in.


There are four well documented ways to improve your self-efficacy, and one more that has been suggested with some evidence. What are they? Well let’s get this show on the road and find out!


Mastery Experiences


Mastery experiences is kind of what it sounds like. It’s learning to master a task. Practise makes perfect true, but it also makes you confident. And that confidence makes you motivated!


This is by far the best way to build self-efficacy, but it can be a slippery slope. As self-efficacy can go both ways. It isn’t all rays of sunshine. If you feel like you’ve failed at something, and don’t approach “failure” with a growth mind-set (i.e. you haven’t failed, you’ve earned an opportunity to learn), then your self-efficacy will take a hit!


Ahh!! Right in the self-efficacy!!


So with this in mind, you always need to be careful! Every booster we’re going to talk about here has it’s “evil twin”. And they can rip down your confidence and motivation quickly!


So how do you avoid this with mastery experiences? Well it all comes down setting challenges at the right level. For example, if you can currently run for two minutes non -stop, then telling yourself next week you need to run for ten is likely to end in a fail, which may lead to you getting annoyed, frustrated and upset, which are all emotions that result in your self-efficacy taking a hit. If on the other hand you added one minute a week, or even thirty seconds, now the task is enough to push you, so you can feel like you’re mastering it, but the risk of you not making it is reduced. Winner!


You too could be this happy when you’re running! You nutter!!


I’ll be putting together a post or possibly a video on these types of “stretch goals” soon, so give me a follow on Facebook and Youtube to make sure you don’t miss it!


Vicarious Experiences


Okay! Okay. I know what you’re probably thinking! Vica-what-now? Dam Simon this is getting a bit heavy? But don’t worry! Science loves giving rough sounding names to things, but often the actual concepts aren’t all that bad.


For vicarious experiences, it’s just a dead fancy way of saying “if they can do it, so can I“. Essentially, if you see someone who you feel is in a similar boat to yourself get fit and lose weight, you begin to think “Hey! Maybe I can do it too!”.


Yes you! You legend!


This is why you get that spike of inspiration when you see those before and after pictures. As if you identify with the before picture, then look at the after picture and think “Heeey! That means I could look like that!!”. And so your confidence improves! (As a side note, it is worth nothing that often these before and after pictures use photography tricks, photo editing or straight up lie… So don’t feel bad if you don’t achieve a six pack and amazing muscles in just a few weeks. No one does!).


Of course seeing someone you count as being similar to you fail also lowers your confidence. For instance if you watched a video of someone you identify with falling off a treadmill, there’s a good chance you’ll be thinking “Oooo. I’m not so sure about treadmills anymore!”. So be careful who you compare yourself to!


Social Persuasion 


AKA verbal encouragement. Because let’s face it, we all like to be told we’re killing it! When you have a really good session on the weights and get told you “BEASTED” it, or when you go for a run and your husband is surprised how quickly you completed the circuit, you start to think “Hey! Yeah! I smashed that! I’m actually getting pretty good at this!”.


Cue obligatory (but earned) flex!


Yet this one is also the most likely to pull down your self-efficacy. Because it only takes the smallest comment to start lowering your self-confidence. Even something that isn’t really aimed at or commenting on your ability can have huge knock on effects, if you interpret them in the wrong way. For instance:


“Come on we’ll call the session there” – And you start thinking “Am I doing badly and that’s why they want to finish early?”


“Push yourself!” – Causing you to think “Am I not pushing? Maybe I just don’t have it in me?”.


“Oh hey. I started cooking so we didn’t have to wait until you finished your run”- Could lead to you thinking “Do they think I’m slow”.


Of course interpretation of what people say is incredibly individual, but it’s wise to avoid training with people who make negative comments, either directly, indirectly or in a way that can be interpreted badly, when you’re learning to master something.


Of course this works both ways. What we say has huge effects on people in every aspect of life. So if someone is trying to get good at a new skill, point out what they did well and build them up!


Ditto with comments peps! Be good to each other!!


Physical and Psychological States


This one is especially relevant to exercise. Because let’s face it. Exercise can be pretty uncomfortable! Muscles burn, breathing gets heavy and our heart goes ten to the dozen. Yet how people interpret this differs wildly.


For some, it feels like hell! It hurts, they hate it, and so it becomes something to avoid. For others, they actually enjoy the burn! It let’s them know they’re pushing! For me personally, I wouldn’t say I love it, but I look beyond the burn. I’m very good at delayed gratification, and I’ve no problem with some discomfort for this moment when I know I’ll be buzzing afterwards and will be fit, healthy and confident in the long run!



Here’s one of the nutters that love the burn! Look at that smile!! Mad head!!


And this is really the factor to take on board here. The amount of physical pain is not the important factor. It’s your interpretation of it! People with high self-efficacy for exercise are likely to see the burn as proof that they’re doing well, as it’s a by product of pushing themselves.


This one takes time to get used to, and often comes as a result of improving self-efficacy from other directions. But it IS worth keeping in mind and focusing on! Because if you get into the mindset that exercise hurts too much, you’ll never give yourself the chance to have mastery experiences or to get encouragement from others about your improving ability.


And do keep in mind, if this is something you worry about, you can always lower the intensity for the time being, and build up the burn as you begin to believe in yourself more!


Imaginal Experiences


Okay so I know a lot of you are thinking “Okaaaaay…. I imagine I’m good and I’ll get better…If you say so”. But hear me out! As visualisation is not just some hippy approach to getting better. It really works! Micheal Phelps used it a lot on his way to an unprecedented number of gold medals, and if top level athletes can still find they get better and benefit from it, then so can you!


So how exactly does this work? Well you have to imagine yourself doing whatever skill it is that you’re trying to master. For instance if you currently think you are an awful squatter, then watch some good squatting videos, and then just close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the movement.


This man may look like he’s relaxing, but in his mind he’s smashing a beast of a deadlift!


Doing this starts to build the neural pathways in your brain that you’ll then use to do actual squats later. So you can even improve your self-efficacy whilst not even doing anything!! (Although I would advise you go and do the exercise too. Imaginary squats burn no calories and build no muscle I’m afraid!).


As with all of these approaches, this can pull you down as well as build you up. So always focus on yourself improving at a skill, never see yourself failing or messing up!




So what’s your take away here. Well firstly, you now know that if you’re ever going to do exercise just for the enjoyment (which really is the way to win long-term) then you need to believe in your ability. Self-efficacy makes motivation obsolete.




And so to build this oh so important self-efficacy you have five approaches:


1. Getting good at the exercise, by practising and setting challenges just above your current ability.


2. Focusing on others you identify as similar to you succeeding at similar tasks.


3. Get direct or indirect positive feedback on your ability and skill (So surround yourself with positive people!)


4. Interpret the “burn” of exercise as proof you’re killing it!


5. “See” yourself succeed in your minds eye.


Each of these can just as easily lower your confidence if you aren’t careful, so avoid negative experiences, people and thoughts. Do this, and you’ll be on to a winner!


Okay peps. That’s me for today. I hope that gave you some ideas on how to build your confidence in a natural way, which will go on to give you some high end motivation!


I am of course still around for online training  (something I had medium self-efficacy for until I was forced to do it full time by the lockdown). So if you’d like your free strategy session then give me a shout!


And for anyone who thinks having that killer hair is going to give them an even greater confidence boost (and why wouldn’t it! I mean I would know!) then my wife has a ton of tips and tricks for you on the Here Come The Blondes Facebook page.


I’ll be back soon, so make sure to give the Facebook page a like! But until then, have a good one!




Simon Long - Leicester Personal Trainer