Dealing with Lack of Confidence and Imposter Syndrome
Make that inner critic an ally
We might call it the Saboteur, the Inner Critic, Imposter Syndrome, undeserving, ‘feeling less than’ or something else but almost all of us suffer at some point from a lack of confidence. It’s really about feeling ‘not enough’ to thrive in a particular circumstance. Experts say that perhaps 85-90% of us feel it at some point; and no less than Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks and even Einstein have said they’d experienced it in doing their work.
This can be debilitating and hold us back from having the impact we’d like to have in our lives and our work. In my case, I find myself hesitating when I’m doing something I feel is important but that others are already doing (like the topic of this article- plenty of people have studied and written about Imposter Syndrome so my inner critic screams at me, “MANY PEOPLE MORE QUALIFIED IS ALREADY DOING THIS! HOW CAN YOU THINK YOU’LL BE OF ANY USE?”).
It’s uncomfortable, anxiety-generating. And we judge ourselves horribly for not being able to accomplish things we feel should be capable of. And we often suffer in solitude because talking about it can be really awkward, even shameful.
There are many approaches to dealing with lack of confidence or imposter syndrome or the inner critic- there’s a list of well-studied techniques at the end of the article.
However, here’s a technique you can practice to get past the anxious feelings very quickly (it takes about 30 seconds) and get into action. Many people find it’s really useful in those moments of stress and anxiety and judgement.
Premise: Stop pushing the Inner Critic Away
These feelings are really uncomfortable, and our tendency is to avoid them, to push them away when they show up. Instead, it helps to recognize this is a part of you- at some point in your life, these feelings served you, they offered protection and they are a part of the whole you. Our efforts to push them away or avoid them isn’t effective and you might actually find makes them worse by spinning up the cycle of self-judgment.
These feelings have their greatest power when they reside in the background, those voices in the back of your head.
Instead (and this might sound crazy), turn these feelings into an Ally or Team Mate. You do this by bringing them out front, giving them form, and making a choice about them. This gives you back control (instead of the Inner Critic driving the bus).
Try these steps.
Steps in working with your new Ally: AGCT
1. Acknowledge it: ‘Hey, I see you there.’ (This brings those feeling to the front, to a place you can deal with them, instead of hiding in the background)
2. Gratitude: ‘Thanks for showing up.” (You’re showing gratitude because, at some point, these sensations served to protect you, to keep you safe.)
3. Make a choice: Seek information (get curious) or release it. (This puts you at choice; you have control again.)
4. Tell it what to do: “I don’t need you right now; you can take off.” or “What are you trying to share with me right now?” (You get to choose whether to listen and learn from it in this moment or let it know it’s not needed. You’re no longer hijacked by old stories or feelings.)
Try this a few times when those ‘not enough’ feelings show up. You might find you’re able to get into positive action more quickly.
Some Other Options
And here are several other approaches that psychologists recommend for dealing with the Imposter or Inner Critic.
1. Lean into Strengths / remember who you are and what you’ve already overcome already.
2. Self-compassion: rather than comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and the progress you’ve made.
3. Remind yourself you are not alone; lean into people who care about you. Build yourself an army of people to support you; check in with whether the people you’re surrounding yourself with are draining energy or adding energy.
4. Let go of the hundred things you have to do and focus on ONE or TWO SMALL STEPS which gets you into action.
5. Choose your Story- you can pay attention to the negative and the doubt or you also have the capacity to choose a more positive story filled with possibility.
6. Practice setting boundaries – practice by starting small and then deal with the bigger things.