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Dealing With Self-Doubt

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will’ (Suzy Kassem)

In an average week I will talk with strategists who, whilst they excel at what they do, have an on-going struggle with confidence in either the value or quality their delivers, or both. Having high standards and pursuing constant improvement is to be applauded. However, in the pursuit of excellence there can be a of perspective about ones ability. In the worst cases over time, one-off doubts can become something more.

 ‘Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.’ (William Shakespeare)

Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen defines imposter syndrome (IMS) as

“a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” Or, at the very least, a feeling of not being worthy.

A range of studies suggest that this is a fairly commonly experienced phenomenon, some suggest as many as 70% of individuals experience IMS at some stage of their career.

Clearly there is a difference between doubting oneself from time to time or lacking confidence versus a psychological phenomenon that arises from an incorrect assessment of ones’ abilities compared to peers. A lack of confidence that exists despite a range of academic and professional accomplishments that illustrate ability and effectiveness. Is this you?

Some of the typical symptoms highlighted by Business Insider:

Focusing on what’s wrong versus what’s wrong versus what’s right; Thinking it’s too easy/anyone can do it; Thinking it has to be difficult to be worthwhile; Believing that what you’re doing is never enough.

If you’re unsure take the test below:

In her article on ‘self-doubt and the confidence spectrum, Lee Lin Yang emphasizes scenarios in which the maximum feelings of self-doubt typically occur, both when an individual uses non-core skills and when working with individuals with greater experience or authority. Whilst the stakes are higher in both scenarios IMS at least in worst case scenarios leads to a lack of confidence which transcends all tasks and interaction, a cloud of uncertainty pervades. “The ensuing self-doubt leads either to avoidance, fear of failure, or it leads to procrastination.” (Leon Seltzer, 2017) It becomes a tightening straight-jacket that prevents an individual achieving that which their talent deserves.

Steps to Understand and Redress the Impact of Impostor Syndrome

Draw a line in the sand – Understand that many others in positions of authority feel the way you do. Consciously decide your narrative is going to change and you are going to make a case in your own mind, for the positive impact you make versus the impact you don’t make! 

Self-Awareness/The Questioning Antidote – Examine your self-doubt and understand what your ‘self-critic’ is specifically critiquing with a view to trying to objectively tackle it. Ask yourself, is the critique fair? And…Why am I doubting myself? Is it the comments of others? Because of something that happened, or didn’t? Because of feedback? Certain situations? 

Performance Metrics/Information Analysis – Is your internal commentary focusing on a specific performance metric? To improve your confidence levels, you need something specific to address. Have this and you will feel you are not addressing an amorphous monster but a tangible target. Are you doubting your: Technical ability, (or part of it) your social skills, (perhaps worse in different contexts), your ability to deliver a desired result. Bottom line, establish mutually agreed performance metrics with your boss, as these are clear indicators as to your actual effectiveness versus how you feel you’re performing.

Learning versus Performance Mindset  ie) Making mistakes is a basis for improvement not self- immolation! And If you didn’t perform to your own standards did you really do as badly as you’d expected (Kim Watson, MD)

Coping Mechanisms/External Support and Validation – Emphasize feedback from others. Seekout colleagues and/or peers to validate who you really are rather than who in your weaker moments you think you are.

Play to your strengths – There will be times when you experience greater degrees of self-doubt than others. When you feel more vulnerable, aim to default to areas of greatest expertise and experience. Protect yourself from downside impact to your confidence. Building your confidence levels will be an iterative process.

Embrace fear – Easier said than done! Understand that your inner critics’ job is to keep you on the straight and narrow. But remind yourself that very often, the straight and narrow is not enough!

For more context and direction on addressing IMS, please click on the attached link:

If anyone is struggling, please contact me and at the very least, I promise to be a good listener.