I’m Scared to Death. But Supremely Confident.

"When I come out I have supreme confidence. But I'm scared to death. I'm afraid. I'm afraid of everything. I'm afraid of losing. I'm afraid of being humiliated. But I'm confident. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. The closer, the more confident. All during training I've been afraid of this man. I think this man might be capable of beating me. I've dreamed of him beating me. For that I've always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. Once I'm in the ring I'm a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent….During the fight I'm supremely confident. I'm making him miss and I'm countering. I'm hitting him to the body; I'm punching him real hard. And I'm punching him, and I'm punching him, and I know he's gonna take my punches. He goes down, he's out. I'm victorious. Mike Tyson, greatest fighter that ever lived."

        — Mike Tyson

I love this dual attitude: terrified of failure but also supremely confident of success.

It's too easy (and trendy) to just say "fear is the mind killer" or speak in glowing terms about how instructive failure is. If you aren't terrified of failing you probably don't care enough.

If an investor asks an entrepreneur, "Are you scared of your business failing?" and the answer is, "Not really," I'd be concerned. The best answer would be, "I'm fucking terrified that this will totally flop, and I'm doing whatever it takes to make sure that doesn't happen, and I'm confident it will not happen."Mike-tyson

Too much fear can be crippling and preclude action. I think the optimal amount of fear is one notch before the "crippling" point.

I got nervous before high school and AAU basketball games.

I got nervous before big sales presentations in the early days of business career. So nervous, in fact, that I had a hard time getting business cards out of my suit jacket because my hands were shaking.

I get nervous before public speeches, difficult phone calls, or high-stakes emotional encounters.

I'm scared of failing, scared of letting people down, scared of embarrassing myself, scared of not one-upping what came before.

But the fear tends to be like cotton candy, it melts upon contact when the moment of truth comes — the tip-off of the basketball game, the start of the big sales meeting, or the first words of the crucial one-on-one conversation I'd prepared for. In the clutch moment, confidence must take over. When you come to the plate and crouch into your stance, you must believe that you are capable of hitting a home run.

As Tyson has also said, "Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It's like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can't control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn."

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Here's a compilation of other Tyson quotes. Here's my post on developing self-confidence. Here's my post on getting to the point of saying "I can do this!" Here's what elite athletes focus on in the clutch moments so they do not choke.

14 Responses to I’m Scared to Death. But Supremely Confident.

  1. Krishna says:

    I’ve often wondered why only boxers scream and yell at each other before the start of every fight. I’ve never heard Roger Federer or even the mercurial John McEnroe doing it before a Wimbledon final. Guess these fighters are a scared lot. None of them had real bravery; just degrees of fear as it looks like. I go they were all cowards just like the rest of us – men in whom the instinct of self-preservation acts normally, weren’t they?

  2. Jones says:

    I think the difference is that boxing is a uniquely visceral sport where the objective is inflicting pain on your opponent, not getting your opponent to miss a little green ball.

    I think you do need to psych yourself up to smash someone’s face in whereas you would probably need a different sort of psyching for non-contact sports.

    And bravery is not necessarily about not feeling the fear, it’s about feeling the fear and getting in the ring anyway.

  3. The Writer says:

    Thanks so much for this one Ben. It came at a time when I really needed a boost with some frustrations working on a new project at work. This and your self confidence posts are really coming in handy!

  4. Someone once said to me if you’re scared about something, that probably means it’s very important. The older I get, the more I think that eradicating fear is a waste of time- the right approach is to learn how to handle it better. The worst thing you can do is let it compromise you; the best you can do is be fully aware of it while staying just as confident in your path as if it wasn’t there.

    Anyway, yeah- good post! :-) People should share this more, the whole pretending never to be scared culture is really unhelpful & fake.

  5. Akshay Kapur says:

    ‘I think the optimal amount of fear is one notch before the “crippling” point.’

    Great point. I suck at practicing my presentations. I’m just terrible. Knowing how detail-oriented I am, it makes me fearful, a little uncertain and I have to dig down to look for resolve. Just before I deliver though, there’s so much fear and none at all, and before I know it, I’m done presenting.

    Fear, and the conquering of it, is the thrill that’s so hard to give up. Hard to deny that we live for those moments. Why fear them? ;)

  6. Does over coming fear, or learning to deal with fear in contact sports, or sports in general, help to translate to other areas of our lives? I have a feeling it does. I think the practice of experiencing fear and going through it helps when facing other situations that cause fear. Maybe the brain has a hard time distinguishing between the fear created at an auu basketball game or a boxing match and the fear right before a public presentation?

    In football, on the line, I always had butterflies in my stomach until I got to hit the other guy across from me a few times, then it went away.

    This is a great site. Always gets me thinking. Many thanks Mr. Ben.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    Yeah I think it’s definitely transferable. Fear is fear is fear.

  8. Franklin says:

    thanks for this post Ben.

    For me -the most useful phrase I’ve heard about dealing with fear is – “feel the fear but do it anyway”.

    I had an opportunity to practice this last night as my salsa dance company gave a performance at a local restaurant. My first time performing. Ever. I was scared shitless.

    I pushed through it and even though I’m not entirely happy (from watching the video) – I experienced an incremental increase in confidence. That to me was a gift.

  9. david says:

    “I feel like sometimes that I was born, that I’m not meant for this society because everyone here is a f**king hypocrite. Everybody says they believe in God but they don’t do God’s work. Everybody counteracts what God is really about. If Jesus was here, do you think Jesus would show me any love? Do you think Jesus would love me? I’m a Muslim, but do you think Jesus would love me … I think Jesus would have a drink with me and discuss … why you acting like that? Now, he would be cool. He would talk to me. No Christian ever did that and said in the name of Jesus even … They’d throw me in jail and write bad articles about me and then go to church on Sunday and say Jesus is a wonderful man and he’s coming back to save us. But they don’t understand that when he comes back, that these crazy greedy capitalistic men are gonna kill him again.”

    Mike Tyson was right on with this one!

  10. Andrea says:

    Wow. Excellent post at a time/place where I am scared. “If you aren’t terrified of failing you probably don’t care enough.” This is what I needed to hear. It is totally okay to be scared as hell because it makes you a living,feeling and caring human being.

  11. The closer you get, the clearest it becomes, as no more imagination brings in all types of scenarios, just the present counts… And if you believe you’re well prepared, and you are, piece of cake :)

  12. Ted Gonder says:

    Reminds me of this:
    “You’ve got to be audacious enough to set goals that make you stretch and give you clarity of vision and purpose. But you have to have the humility to know that this work is hard, and that you might not get there. If you start off talking about all the reasons that you’re not going to get there, you’re not going to get there. And so it’s holding that balance of not being reckless, but also having a huge element of fearlessness.” – Jacqueline Novogratz

  13. Joel D says:

    Great article, Ben!!

  14. M Cascio says:

    I cried while I read the entire post. ..I am scared to death to step out and be a success on my own. I hide behind others to build their brand with s successful track record to date. But I’m scared to death to promote myself. All of the fears and in securities are paralyzing but will not stop me.

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