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Developing Skills and Self-Confidence

January 10th, 2024
Developing skills and self-confidence

Whether you like it or not, your thoughts affect your actions.  That’s why how you feel about what you do counts. And the only way to gain confidence is practice: the more you do, the more you can do. And the more you can do, the more you do. The fact is, you can only be skilled when you’re confident. And that’s why gaining self-confidence is key to developing skills.

Practice to Gain Confidence

Self-confidence is a kind of “filter” that changes how we face challenges [1]. With lots of self-confidence, we completely focus on the task at hand; it “expands” our ability to act. Otherwise, we feel anxious, we can’t concentrate, and so we can’t improve. (Worse, at the first “sign” of trouble, we give up.)

But what happens when the practicing itself is stressful?  Imagine yourself  at the controls of heavy equipment, with all of the associated danger at the start, not to mention the costs of fuel, insurance, your supervisor’s time, and repairs to that equipment when you make mistakes (and everyone learns everything by making mistakes).

That’s why, when it comes to developing operating skills, the best way to practice, especially at the start, is with simulation.

Here’s how one Simlog customer described it: simulation removes the pressure associated with training at the controls of real equipment and that’s why trainees who start with simulation have a level of confidence that you won’t find as a result of traditional training methods.

The fact is, mistakes in the simulated world only have simulated consequences. And gaining self-confidence (as you develop operating skills) relies on that “ability” to let yourself make mistakes. And that’s

So when the simulation graphics (how things look and sound) and simulation physics (how things move) are “good enough” for the simulated “doing”, now it’s time for the right kind of “doing” that’s both challenging and supportive [1].

About Simulator-based Practicing (to Gain Self-Confidence)

First, you need the right kind of tasks. And that’s why the best training simulation features an Instructional Design that teaches you what to do bit-by-bit, with work that starts off easy and then becomes progressively more difficult.  

Second, you need the right kind of feedback, and lots of it, because you can’t know how to do things right when you begin. (If you could, you’d already be an expert.) So for each simulated task, you need to be able to measure how well you are doing in order to improve. Indeed, without the right kind of feedback, you’ll never notice that you’re doing something wrong and worse, down the road, you’ll need to “un-learn” bad habits (that can even be dangerous).

And that’s why the best training simulation provides feedback that is much more comprehensive and objective than a human trainer ever could, to evaluate what you do in exactly the same way every time, without ever getting angry, or impatient, or discouraged.

In fact, being able to see yourself improve is essential for maintaining motivation: , it’s because you see improvement that you gain self-confidence [1]. Motivation also reduces the perception of effort, and that makes learning easier. Stated otherwise, motivation helps us “endure” the effort that’s required to learn [2].

There’s even a name for this kind of learning, “deliberate practice”, and that’s a topic explored in a recent Simlog conference presentation.

About Losing and then Regaining Self-Confidence

Now it’s time for a story about losing, and then regaining the necessary self-confidence to successfully operate heavy equipment.

A forest industry sawmill had recently purchased new heavy equipment and with a unionized workforce, the senior person operating the old equipment was first in line.

But because that new machine featured much new functionality (including two joysticks replacing four levers), the operator, so proficient at the controls of the old equipment, was having lots of problems. And after repeatedly damaging the machine over the course of one month, the local dealer refused to make any additional repairs under warranty, and that brought a halt to everything.

That’s when Simlog entered the picture.

At first, the simulator was used to evaluate the operator’s “aptitude” along with eight other, more junior, employees who were selected as possible alternatives. And much to everyone’s surprise, the operator ranked favorably, as measured by the simulator’s comprehensive Performance Indicators.

After that, the operator and the three other employees with top scores received simulator-based training. Once again, when that ended, the operator ranked favorably, as measured by the simulator’s comprehensive Performance Indicators.

The final result? The operator returned to the new equipment and the improvement to his previous performance was dramatic. Today, everyone is smiling: the operator, the Mill Manager, and the local dealer.

And when I talked with the Mill Manager, he told me that it all came down to self-confidence or rather, to a lack of self-confidence: that with so much “new-ness” going from the old equipment to the new, and with so much financial pressure to make that new machine work well right from the get-go, the poor operator was feeling overwhelmed.

After each mistake, he lost more self-confidence, and then made even more mistakes. That’s the downwards spiral that the training simulator helped stop and turn around.

Concluding Remarks

The fact is, you can only be skilled when you’re confident. And that’s why gaining self-confidence is key to developing skills.

And whether you need to gain self-confidence, or re-gain self-confidence, the right kind of training simulation is the best way to proceed, especially at the start.

[1] S. Magness, Do Hard Things, Harper Collins, 2022.

[2] B. Stulberg, S. Magness. Peak Performance, Rodale Publishing, 2017.

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