Many accomplished women have a dirty little secret: They truly believe that their successes are not due to their abilities or talents. They live in the world of worry that they will be found out by others and kicked out of the "success club."
This limiting and unfounded mentality can make these accomplished women say no to promotions they deserve, push away from the table they deserve to sit at, and feel awkward among other successful people. This self-destructive thinking is known as impostor syndrome.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome may sound like a great title for a television show, but for women who live with feelings of inadequacy, it is seriously disruptive and damaging. Impostor syndrome challenges its victims with an internal belief that they do not measure up to their accomplishments. The world around them offers proof that they are worthy of accolades, and yet they have a deep feeling that it is untrue.
The great news is that it is possible to change this mindset and adopt one that is more accurate and supporting. Here are seven powerful strategies to help you step into your power and break free of self-doubt.
1. Be present-focused.
When feeling underconfident, many women begin thinking about the past and/or future. They will consider all the things in the past that support their feelings of underconfidence or have dooming thoughts about what may happen in the future. They are locked into focusing on what they cannot control.
A powerful and helpful strategy is the practice being present-focused. This can be a daily practice of spending time just being with yourself, such as by meditating, practicing yoga, doing breathing exercises, baking, golfing or going for a run – anytime you are connected to what is happening in the moment and not being pulled into thoughts of the past or future. The benefit is noticing your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. This lens of experiencing yourself will help you disconnect from unhelpful ways of being. You will begin to notice things you have missed, leading you to make different choices about what you pay attention to or how you react to certain thoughts and emotions.
2. Write down all your accomplishments.
Challenge yourself to write down 100 of your accomplishments. Do not edit the list in your brain by giving credit to others or minimizing the successes. Most likely, you will begin to see that you are the common denominator in your listed accomplishments. Now, reflect on what traits enabled the achievement, such as being tenacious, detail-oriented, focused, a great communicator or innovative. This will disrupt your knee-jerk internal dialogue of negating your successes and give you a high-level view of your achievements.
3. Confirm your strengths.
Ask friends and trusted colleagues to identify your top five strengths. This will provide you with a different viewpoint and make it harder for you to dispel your positive qualities. Seeing yourself through someone else's perspective will give you a fresh sense of yourself. Make sure to ask for examples; those specifics will make the feedback harder for your brain to negate.
4. Disrupt your negative stream of thoughts.
When others compliment you, you receive a promotion, or you win an award, practice stopping the negative tape in your head by saying to yourself the specific attributes that contributed to the achievement. While driving, looking in a mirror, or getting out of bed, say verbatim to what others said to you. For example, repeat, "You did an extraordinary job with X project" or "You did a fantastic job presenting at the offsite management meeting." The more often you do this, the more readily available these positive thoughts will be to you.
5. Get to know your thoughts.
Many of us believe that our thoughts are all true. We give each one attention and follow them, often down the rabbit hole of negativity. Have you met your thoughts? Most fall into what are known as "thinking traps." Thinking traps are thoughts that you believe but are not true or helpful. For instance, there are "should" thoughts, such as "I should know how to do that already." Shoulds can make you feel inadequate and insecure, because they create a world where the bar is impossible to meet.
You might also have "mind-reading" thoughts, such as "She must be thinking that I don't know what I'm talking about." Mind-reading thoughts can make you believe you know how others are perceiving you. You may base your emotions and actions on this "mind reading," without any way of knowing whether this is reality.
How do you break free of thinking traps? Start by noticing them. What are you saying to yourself? Is there a pattern? (For example, who is around you when you have these thoughts?) Next, challenge them. What is the evidence for or against the thought being the truth? The more often you apply this test to your thoughts – particularly the ones that provoke strong feelings like insecurity, fear or anxiety – you will begin to see that most are not true.
6. Practice self-compassion.
Women with impostor syndrome often are not kind to themselves. They judge themselves against impossibly lofty standards. When they achieve something, they just move the bar higher. They say negative and hurtful things to themselves. They leave little room for being soothing, kind and supportive to themselves.
How can you be more self-compassionate? Think about a situation where you are being unkind to yourself. Now replace yourself in the scenario with your best friend. If she were in this same situation, what would you say to her? Would you be unkind and judgmental, or would you offer her kindness, graciousness and forgiveness? (The latter is most likely.) Now, put yourself back into the scenario and say those kind things to yourself. Try this practice every time you are harsh and judgmental to yourself.
7. Believe like a child.
Just watch a child during pretend play. They assume a role with joy and ease. Even more interestingly, they play it with fierce clarity and confidence. They become a doctor and self-assuredly place a Band-Aid on their injured doll. After watching a basketball game on TV, they bounce a ball and swish it in the air with absolute conviction that there is a crowd roaring in approval.
For women with a low threshold of confidence, practicing belief in themselves is key. Think of a confident woman to play. First, write down her characteristics, positive attributes and achievements. Practice being her at home first. How does she speak? What are the words she uses to describe herself? How does she accept praise and compliments? How does she walk into a room? What are her nonverbal gestures? How does she feel when she has a success?
After playing her for a while, take your show on the road! Begin to incorporate the way she sees the world into your own personal lens. This is not an exercise in pretending, but in creating new ways for your brain and heart to perceive and experience your life.
Too many accomplished women are grappling with this silent disrupter that makes them feel as if they are walking on a tightrope, close to falling at any time. Committing to these seven confidence-boosting strategies will bolster your well-being and increase your faith in yourself.