Impostor syndrome: it’s a new term, but hardly a new phenomenon. It’s the feeling psychologists describe as sheer disbelief in one’s own accomplishments. People afflicted by this condition assess their achievements and dismiss them all as a fluke or just a guise for their own inadequacies. Sooner or later, they’re certain they’ll be discovered for what they really are: a fraud.
If you’re ready to shake off your doubts and make your dreams a reality, it’s time to take a step forward. To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. Here are a few actions you can take immediately to start changing your mindset.
1. Identify Your Strengths
“Strengths are not activities you’re good at; they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”
Everyone is good at something. Write your strengths down. If you’re stumped, reflect over your life’s experiences. What kind of activities have you enjoyed over the years? What leaves you energized? What are your values? When did you have successes, and under what circumstances? What would others say about you? If you’re not sure, ask them. Identifying these skillsets or traits is your first step toward greater self-confidence.
2. Acknowledge Your Weaknesses
“Try to look at your weakness and convert it into your strength. That’s success.”
Be honest: What are your weak points? One of the most effective ways to gain greater self-confidence is by discovering your opportunities for growth. Find a mentor and discuss your weaknesses. An objective listener can often help you begin to develop a game plan for overcoming those roadblocks.
3. Baby Steps
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”
Bold action is rarely a single, giant leap, but rather small steps forward. Inaction breeds inaction, while any action can boost confidence. If you’re trying to work up the courage to lead a presentation, start by challenging yourself to ask at least one question during meetings. Or perhaps pitch an idea to your boss or to your colleagues. Gradually, you’ll begin to feel more at ease with your own voice, and you’ll be ready to take on that presentation.
Everyone is good at something. Write yours down.
4. “Yes, But”
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
When doubts creep in—and they will—acknowledge them with a “yes, but.” For example, you’re afraid to start a new business because you might fail; remind yourself, Yes, but I might also succeed. Make it a habit to spin your internal critic toward a more positive dialogue.
5. Watch Others
“The only way to learn new things is to ask questions and be curious. Find the people who inspire your curiosity because those are the ones you will most learn from.”
Whom do you admire? Watch their body language. How do they stand? Do they use humor to make a point? How do they ask questions? Try incorporating one of those observations within your own behavior patterns, and see if you notice any subtle changes in how you’re received by others.
6. Fake It
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”
We’re not talking about padding your résumé. This is about simply pretending you’re not nervous, and dressing the part, so to speak, for your success. Start with your mindset—begin with an assumption of success. Visualize a positive outcome.
7. Conquer Shyness
A lot of us struggle with shyness around new people. If that’s you, strive to remember the name of someone to whom you’ve just been introduced by repeating her name back to her as you look her in the eye and shake her hand. Start a conversation with a stranger, even if you’re just asking him what time it is. Get comfortable with small talk. Stand up tall. The more you practice, the more it becomes second nature.
“Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication.”
Exercise has been proven time and again to be not only a stress-buster, but also a mood- and confidence-booster. In fact, a study by the University of California at Davis found that vigorous exercise boosts critical neurotransmitters that may help restore mental health. Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the brain’s hippocampus, the area involved in verbal memory and learning.
9. Expect to Stumble
“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”
If you don’t fall occasionally, you’re not setting your goals high enough. When you’re truly stretching yourself, you’re going to have setbacks. Learn to reframe them and think of them as opportunities. Identify what you learned, then continue on your journey without looking back. Your response determines the ending to your story.