Marcellus: The Foundations of Self-Belief

Published on: 5 April, 2019

Self-belief is known to be a magical catalyst with a proven track record of delivering transformational results in sport, in business and in investing. The roots of self-belief lie as much in the environment in which an individual finds herself in as in the innate characteristics she’s born with.

“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion…”― William Makepeace Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1848)

“Promise yourself-
• To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
• To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
• To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”
– From the creed of Optimists International, an organisation which sponsors clubs throughout the world (see

India’s 1983 World Cup win

In the first two cricket world cups – held in England in 1975 and 1979 – India managed to win one match, that too against East Africa which was basically a collection of amateur Gujarati cricketers whose families had migrated from India to various African countries. As a result, most of Indian players (and the Indian team manager) who went to play the 1983 World Cup had purchased Mumbai to New York tickets with a stopover at London i.e. they saw the World Cup as a week long hiatus before an American holiday. One Indian however was crazy enough to believe that India could win the World Cup. That man was our then captain Kapil Dev. Indian opener Krish Srikkanth explained last year in a memorable interview how Kapil Dev was central to India’s epic victory against overwhelming odds in the 1983 cricket World Cup (watch )

The remarkable thing about India’s 1983 win was that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. In 1985 India won the Rothmans Cup in Sharjah and the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. So as Srikkanth points out in the video, it really was a confidence thing for the Indian team. Until Kapil shook up the Indian cricketers in 1983, we didn’t really believe in our own abilities. Once the belief came through, India started beating everyone everywhere in one day cricket.

What are the roots of self-belief?

So if self-belief is so important to success, what are the roots, the foundations of this magic quality? And how can we get more of it? Whilst psychologists have not found clear answers for the roots of self-belief, there are two broad schools of thought regarding the foundations of self-belief.

The first school of thought views self-belief as an innate trait possessed by those who belief that they control their own destinies rather than being controlled by events external to them. As per this school of thought, every person you meet can be classified on a spectrum of optimism to pessimism. “…virtually all realms of human activity can be cast in goal terms, and people’s behaviour entails the identification and adoption of goals and the regulation of actions vis a vis these goals.” This is referred to as the self-regulation model. “Optimism enters into self-regulation when people ask themselves about impediments to the achievements of the goals they adopted. In the face of difficulties, do people nonetheless believe that the goals can be achieved? If so they are optimistic – if not, pessimistic. Optimism leads to continued efforts to attain the goal, whereas pessimism leads to giving up.” (Source: ‘Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification’ by Chris Peterson & Martin Seligman (2004))

The second school of thought views self-belief as a learned behaviour – cultivated first by the love & attention of caring parents & teachers and then through self-discipline and goal oriented behaviour. As per this school of thought, you are more likely to have self-belief if in your formative years you learn that the way life pans out is largely in your control (rather than believing that catastrophic events completely beyond your control dictate the course of your life). In such a setting – where things are largely under control – if your parents and/or teachers inculcate in you a “growth mindset” i.e. that you can learn and train yourself to become a better version of yourself you are likely to grow into a person with a huge reservoir of self-belief.

In fact, Carole Dweck, author of the mega bestseller “The Growth Mindset”, has shown: “…when students had a growth mindset, a mindset which perceives a challenge as an opportunity to learn rather than an obstacle to overcome, they responded with constructive thoughts and their behavior showed persistence rather than defeat. From Dweck’s research into the growth mindset in regards to tenacity and its effects on achievement, especially in an educational setting, she discovered 4 factors that affect ongoing tenacity or grit:
• Their beliefs about themselves
• Their goals
• Their feelings about their social connectedness
• Their self-regulatory skills” (Source:

As is evident from these bullets, Dweck’s work cleverly links self-belief as a ‘learned behaviour’ with self-belief as an innate trait. So perhaps that is the best way to think about self-belief – the basic sense of self worth comes from within and on top of that parents, teachers and circumstances can play a positive role to create a person with immense self-belief. [For those who like cricket, MS Dhoni’s biopic links these schools of thought nicely. See]

Investment implications

Whether you are running a business or managing money, any endeavour in which luck/randomness plays a role will test your self-belief – when the roll of the dice is against you, you will need self-belief to sustain your work ethic, to stick to your investment strategy and to avoid hasty decisions.

Furthermore, when it comes to investing in your business’ growth, you will need even more self-belief especially if your capital is limited and your are up against larger, better capitalised competitors. At times like these, it is useful to remember Kapil Dev’s words as he reminisced about India’s pathbreaking win in 1983 “Cricket was played by cultured people, 15 years ago,… They (his teammates) were cultured, I came from agriculture.” (Source:

Kapil Dev’s rise in the 1980s and that of MS Dhoni twenty years later is the story of the rise of Indians who from modest beginnings found self-belief in a country which was gradually finding its feet as it recovered from degradations of colonisation and from the trauma of Partition. As India’s rebirth continues more Kapils and Dhonis will emerge to inject transformational self-belief into our teams and our businesses.

If self-belief is indeed dependent on the extent of volatility in the circumstances in which we grow up, as India becomes a more prosperous and hopefully a more peaceful country, we should see less fatalistic and more optimistic thinking amongst businesspeople in general and amongst Indian investors in particular. That should reduce the amount of speculative trading in the market and increase the amount of fundamentally oriented investing. That in turn should reduce market volatility and hence the cost of capital. Broadly speaking, the last 20 years have demonstrated these trends. Let’s hope that India’s positive evolution continues in the next 20 years.

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Saurabh Mukherjea is the author of “The Unusual Billionaires” and “Coffee Can Investing: the Low Risk Route to Stupendous Wealth”.

Note: the above material is neither investment research, nor investment advice.Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services and as an Investment Advisor.

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Marcellus Investment Managers is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Board of India as a provider of Portfolio Management Services and as an Investment Advisor.

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