imposter syndrome

3 Steps to Move from Self-Doubt to Confidence

Photo via    Pixabay

Photo via Pixabay

I had a great conversation with Daisy Ozim, founder of Resilient Wellness, a nonprofit that builds community-based solutions to address intergenerational trauma. 

We talked about how people who don’t fit traditional straight, white, cis-male templates for leadership often have to build the kind of resilience that allows us to transcend the limiting cultural messages we get about who we are.

Keep reading for 3 tips on becoming resilient in the face of self-doubt, inspired by this week’s episode of the Dialogue Lab podcast

3 Steps to Move from Self-Doubt to Confidence 

Daisy talked about being excluded and bullied at a young age, and how ultimately, she didn’t let any of that stop her from doing her thing. 

When I asked her where she found that strength, she said she didn’t have role models or a supportive home environment. What she did have was this:

“I think my ancestors are really strong. I feel protected. I think that there's always been an energy around me that has been able to guide me and lead me different places and keep me out of certain troubles. I think that's what I was able to rely on.”

As leaders, we often face self-doubt. And some of us (myself included) also deal with imposter syndrome -- particularly those of us who have a marginalized identity. 

Imposter syndrome is just what it sounds like: a persistent inner narrative that can sound something like this:

“I don’t really belong here. Everyone else here is so on top of it. I’m just skating by until someone figures out I don’t know what I’m doing, and that I haven’t earned my spot here the way everyone else has. I’m on borrowed time.” 

And if you haven’t had a lot of role models that look like you, and you can relate to, you are even more likely to develop a case of imposter syndrome. 

And it can hobble us as leaders. 

The good news is that there are ways we can develop an emotional immune system that helps us bounce back when self-doubt strikes. 

Here a few steps to take to do that:

>> LESSON 1: Recognize how self-doubt shows up for you <<

Take stock using the following questions as a guide. It’s normal to not be sure how to answer all of these. If that’s the case, just start where you are, and reflect on these questions over the next few days. 

1. What emotions do I feel when I doubt myself? Anxious? Sad? Angry? Detached? Frustrated? 

2. How does self-doubt feel in my body?

For instance, I’ve noticed that when I’m doubting myself, I feel small, and I get very still, like I’m hoping no one notices me. 

I had one client describe it as feeling contracted and tight. Another said she felt edgy (like she was ready to run out the door). Another compared it to walking a tightrope. These are just examples, and it might feel totally different for you. 

3. What am I telling myself, about myself, when I feel self-doubt? 

For instance, in those times when I feel small, if I listen to my internal dialogue, I might notice that I’m comparing myself (unfavorably, of course) to people that I admire and envy. 

I’ve had clients find that they’ve been dismissing their dreams as naive. Another who dismissed her concerns as too petty to bring up. All of these are examples of common ways that our internal dialogue can fuel a sense of being small, insignificant, and not good enough. 

>> LESSON 2: Practice "catching yourself in the moment" of self-doubt <<

You might start by journaling for 10 minutes every night for a few days, to reflect back on your day and see when it came up. Over time, you will start noticing it more quickly, until eventually, you will be saying, “oh look! I’m experiencing self-doubt right now.” 

And that kind of in-the-moment, mindful self-awareness is pure, unadulterated power. 

Here’s the difference it makes. 

When you don’t realize you are experiencing self-doubt, all those thoughts, feelings, and emotions that come up with it just feel like reality.

For example, when I feel self-doubt, it really, truly does feel like I am small and insignificant, that my ideas are dumb, and my best move is to go hide under my bed. It feels real because my anxiety tells me it’s real. 

This is akin to watching a scary movie. The sounds and images are so overpowering that we really feel like we're being chased by a dinosaur. We get lost in the experience of the movie, which on a certain level, convinces our nervous system that we are in danger. 

And when you catch yourself experiencing self-doubt, it’s like saying, “oh! I’m watching a movie!” Which then gives you a moment to take a deep breath, step back, and take a fresh and more compassionate perspective on yourself.

>> LESSON 3: Reframe self-doubt towards connection rather than isolation, and reach out for support <<

In our interview, Daisy talks about how her healing journey began when she took a psychology class. The class rang a bell of recognition within her, and helped her to understand her experiences within a larger context. 

I had a very similar experience, and I know others who have as well. 

One of the reasons I’ve always felt drawn to studying human development and systems of marginalization is that everytime I learn something new, it helps me put my own struggles within the context of a larger human experience. 

And so it has been with my sense of not being good enough. It’s not just about me. It’s an experience that so many others share, and I feel connected to them through that. 

And whatever particular form your self-doubt takes, I can guarantee that you are not the only person out here feeling that way, and saying those things to yourself. 

Self-doubt is just human. It is an experience of vulnerability that we all share. 

But we forget that when we feel it. When you are in the middle of it, it really can feel like you are the only one who feels that particular, broken way. 

And that is often what is most difficult about self-doubt. It’s isolating. It makes us feel like we are the only one. 

So turn it around. For instance:

1. Reach out to a trusted friend and share what you are going through, and ask them for what you want. 

Maybe you just want them to lend an ear. Or you might ask them if they’ve ever felt this way. Or (as I’ve done on more than one occasion) you can even ask them for a pep talk.

2. Don't fall into the trap of assuming everyone else has it together. Instead, take a moment to wonder about the unique ways other people struggle, and connect with a sense of empathy for them, and all people like them. 

Because the truth is that we all feel this way at times, and it helps to remember that because it connects us to others. 

We are not broken. We’re just human. And as Daisy shows us, wonderful things happen when we refuse to let self-doubt stop us.

What would help you feel more confident in your work for social impact? 

My clients are incredible people whose biggest challenge is often that they don't realize how awesome they are. I talk about imposter syndrome because I have seen how it pops up in social impact spaces. And I've struggled with it myself. 

If you can relate and would like to talk, I'd be happy to lend an ear and perhaps offer you a fresh perspective. Just shoot me an email and we'll set up a free consult.

Thank you for all you do,