Overcoming Self-Doubt to be Your Most Confident

In a 2016 Ted Talk, Lou Solomon describes at length something many of us know all too well. For the CEO and entrepreneur, sharing her story of identifying and overcoming the feeling of fooling everyone in spite of all her success resonated with audiences worldwide.

Solomon was talking about imposter syndrome, a phenomenon estimated to affect about 70% of people at some point in their careers.

Imposter syndrome is most commonly characterised as feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite one’s education, experience, and accomplishments. A 2019 research even shows that for every 100 men brought onto teams and elevated to management, only 72 women experience the same promotion. Men hold 62% of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38%.

While it’s more than natural to wonder how you measure up in a competitive environment, this phenomenon may hinder your growth and even affect your performance. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone; here’s some strategies for identifying and overcoming these overwhelming feelings so you can be your best, most confident self in every aspect of your life.

Identifying Your Type

Leading imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young describes five main types of imposters in her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It”.

She posits that imposter syndrome can be broken down into different basic types, reflecting your internal beliefs about what competency means to you. Identifying with a particular type can be a good start to your journey in overcoming self-doubt, determining how it manifests so you can combat it head-on.

The Perfectionist

Perfectionist traits might make you believe that you’re not as good as others and cause you to be hyper-critical of yourself.

This can look like setting unrealistic goals and feeling let down after being unable to meet your high standards. You might even avoid trying to learn new things if it is not guaranteed that you’d immediately succeed and perfect the task at first try.

The Expert

Not knowing everything there is to know about a topic or having not instantly mastered a subject or skill may induce strong discouraging feelings.

You might even spend way more time pursuing more information about a task instead of devoting time to actually completing the action. When faced with questions you might not be able to answer, self-doubt starts kicking in.

The Natural Genius

If something doesn’t come easily to you, or you fail to succeed on your first try, you might feel ashamed and embarrassed.

For instance, while picking up new skills comes easily and naturally to you, exceptions to this experience might cause distress and embarrassment.

The Soloist

If you can’t achieve success independently, this might lead to a spiral of questioning your competence or abilities.

While people might reach out offering support, asking for help and receiving assistance feels like falling short of your own high standards. It might also mean to you that you’re not able to be fully competent and adequate.

The Superperson

Linking personal competence to your ability to succeed in every role you hold might result in believing you need to be the hardest worker and highest achiever in every aspect of your life, studies, and career.

In order to achieve success, pushing yourself beyond your limits to successfully navigate the demands of these roles can take a toll on your mental health and bring up feelings of exhaustion and inefficiency.

Building a Stronger Sense of Self

No matter what type of “imposter” you might identify with, what these types all have in common is distorted expectations. There’s no single clear cause of these feelings, of course, but combating them starts from nurturing your own internal confidence.

Building a stronger sense of self starts with managing these feelings! While emotions of inadequacy and self-doubt may return, there are steps to take to build a more satisfying and happy life without letting imposter syndrome hinder you.

This starts from changes within, making feasible changes in your life and within the scope of things that are in your control. Your experiences are more common than you think!

Avoid comparing yourself to others

This means acknowledging your own unique abilities and accepting that failure is not just okay, but also an inevitable part of life! Everyone learns and progresses at different paces, and what’s right for you might not look the same for others.

Instead of comparing your progress and achievements to other people, explore ways to develop your own abilities or things that interest you instead of allowing others’ success to highlight your own flaws. Remember that only your own strengths and positive qualities define yourself as a person, not your failures.

Start a journal

Write down what your strengths are and what you have accomplished. Listing these things out will foster feelings of gratitude. You will also be able to actually visualise your good qualities in a tangible way, serving as a physical reminder of your self-worth.

Apart from journaling being a good release, you might even realise after you see your concerns written down, that they may not be as detrimental as you thought they were – especially when placed next to your accomplishments.

Ditch diminishing language

You can project self-confidence by recognizing and minimising how often you use qualifying language. For instance, instead of saying “Does this make sense?” or “Am I being clear enough?” in meetings or in your personal life, using more self-assured language reassures to yourself and others that you are secure and confident in your abilities.

Open a dialogue using far more confident-sounding open-ended questions, such as “What are your thoughts?” or “What questions do you have?”. Oftentimes, this simple change in phrasing can make a huge difference to how you perceive yourself.

Building Community

Self-doubt can manifest itself in many ways, be it in upcoming meetings or questioning your performance, or speaking up. You don’t have to face this alone, however.

While it’s important to work on ourselves, it’s also a good idea to get support from your loved ones, including family and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family members, friends, mentors, supervisors or even a coach.

Build connections

Making a conscientious effort to turn to or connect with your peers, friends, and coworkers creates a much-needed network of mutual support. Learn to welcome praise from them instead of brushing it off – we as humans can’t face adversity on our own!

Ask for external advice

By talking to other people about the problems that you are facing, this can allow you to better acknowledge and access your feelings. Irrational beliefs tend to fester when they are hidden and remain bottled up, and a non-biased point of view might also help you see yourself more objectively.

Nurture Important relationships

Identify the people who are closest to you and bring positivity into your life. As you put your energy into fostering deeper and lasting relationships with these people, you will be able to draw strength and confidence from them. Furthermore, happiness in personal life also strengthens general confidence in your performance in your professional career!

Finding Success

Success doesn’t require perfection. Perfection is unattainable, and fear should not hold you back from progressing in life.

Overcoming imposter syndrome might sound easier said than done, but the most important step is to let your guard down and have patience with your journey to self-confidence.

Everyone moves at their own pace, and overcoming self-doubt may likely be an ongoing process.

Opening yourself up to improvement is perhaps the most courageous thing you can do. After all, your mental health always comes first. If you feel like the above methods are not working for you, consider seeking professional help.

You’re not alone in this journey! Being kind and compassionate to yourself is oftentimes the most powerful favour you can do to overcome self-doubt and aid your self growth.