The Truth Behind Trust

research Nov 12, 2019


By Shannon Thompson

 Again, he crouches on the start line. His heart and eyes are wide as he considers the danger and possibility that awaits him. Somehow, a volatile relationship with the track has not killed his willingness to return. Memories flare and doubt curls in his throat. The unknown is alight within him. But, he bravely accepts the innocence of this new moment and offers his trust back to the race.

In the world of high performance trust is essential. Trust is the pillar around which all hopeful striving turns, and the foundation that consistent excellence is built upon. Specifically where trust is placed is a personal choice. Some trust their own abilities gained through experience and training. Others trust a wise leader who has proven to be previously trustworthy. Many place their trust in a Higher Power considered to be religious or spiritual. Regardless of its placement, trust is the weight, the anchor, the rudder that holds the course. It is the focusing force that keeps the North Star of the mission—the dream itself—in sight. 

Psychological science says that trust leads to excellence. The emotion of confidence (a synonym for trust and characterized by a feeling of “certainty”) is frequently measured in studies of performance. Those who feel confident have been shown to perform better than those experiencing doubt. This is probably no surprise to you. Think about it. If you are confident that a positive outcome is certain how do you feel about facing that challenge? When you’re feeling confident, in what manner do you work toward your goal? Fearlessly. You work fearlessly because if a positive outcome is assured there is no negative outcome to fear. 

Fear poisons performance because it steals attention from the task. When we’re fearful we’re constantly scanning the environment (internally and externally) for potential threats. As a result our attention, a limited resource, is scattered about, often landing on targets that are irrelevant to our performance. Fear, therefore, is the cause of massive attentional waste, which could otherwise be used to strengthen our work. Trust aids performance because it is resilient to fear and enables all of our energy, skills, reflexes, curiosity, and creativity to be focused on the craft. In short, trusting that a positive outcome is certain enables full focus, which drives actions, which then lead to its realization. 

How to Trust

At this point I can hear some objections: but you can’t ever be certain about a positive result. No outcome is guaranteed. How is total trust possible or even desirable considering the unpredictable reality of life? Also, what precisely are we trusting anyway? 

In this essay we are talking about using trust to produce excellent performance. Although the outcome of one performance can be influential (it is often related to status, sometimes to employment, and is frequently viewed as justification for a lengthy toil) it is rarely a matter of life or death. The truth is that you are going to be ok no matter how you perform, and your honesty about this fact enables a peace that liberates the best within you. 

True trust is enabled by being honest about what’s really important (probably your close relationships, your health, and your ability to continue to strive in a craft that you love) and recognizing that in most cases these things are not at the mercy of the outcome of one performance. 

Let's continue to be honest for a bit: We—especially within western culture—are privileged to have opportunities to strive at all, whether the competitive arena is athletic, artistic, academic, or economic. Also, the opportunity to draw something rich and worthwhile from a performance is guaranteed, if we choose to value all that’s available to appreciate within the moment at hand. Each challenge offers opportunities for learning, stories, and growth, whether the outcome is successful in the way that we envisioned it to be or not. 

Many resist this perspective. They claim that it is too passive. They fear that this attitude will breed complacency and that they’ll lose their competitive edge. But tell me, how can any viewpoint that loses sight of the importance of one’s goals in relation to life-as-a-whole result in achievements that truly matter beyond one’s personal ambitions? Only by working from a heart that is balanced and grateful can performances of real worth arise. It is not an intense fear of failure or warped ideas about the significance of one performance that drives excellence. The achievements that inspire others are the result of focus, love of the craft, curiosity, and the willingness to learn which arise from a dedicated, peaceful mind. True excellence transcends fear, which is often made possible by a balanced perspective regarding where your performance falls in the grand scheme of things. From a balanced perspective you are more likely to act free of fear, because you recognize that nothing of critical importance is in jeopardy. So, to answer the question of what am I trusting? I am asking you to trust that you cannot truly fail. When you allow this to be true, and you realize that there is nothing to lose you are set free. And, when we play with nothing to lose we rarely do. 

The Role of Spirituality in Trust and Performance

The topic of trust runs through spiritual texts the way light rides a river: in harmony, ever present and inseparable. For example, Mark 11:24 claims, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” The ancient Chinese I Ching reads, “Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal. Such certainty alone gives that light which leads to success.”  

Although religion and spirituality are a sensitive topic I would do a great disservice to many if I did not highlight its role in trust. For some trust in a higher power is both genuine and helpful. I am one of those people. For those of you where trust in a spiritual framework feels true, I strongly encourage you to draw upon it. If spiritual beliefs do not align with your worldview, I will never push them upon you.

Joyful, fearless performances are possible when we place our trust in our Truth. You’ll know yours by identifying what really matters and from the peace that this recognition brings you. Peace is the ideal platform from which to create excellence. How do you find yours? If this were your last day what would you do and who would you call? Make these people and actions the center of your life and notice regularly that they are. The rest are only performances, which I hope are now free and fearless ones.

About the Author 

Shannon Thompson is a mental performance consultant who specializes in high performance sport. Shannon holds a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

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