It's happened to me quite a few times in my life, and maybe it's happened to you. I am in a high stakes situation (interviewing a prime minister, leading an important meeting, giving a speech in front of many people) and I have a strange out-of-body moment, mentally drifting away, looking down on myself and questioning why the heck anyone has entrusted me to my role. I don't belong here, I think.
The older I get, the fewer such moments I have and the faster I dismiss my thoughts and carry on. But they still arise, especially when I'm in a new environment tackling an unfamiliar challenge.
That inner refrain of "someone has made a big mistake thinking I'm qualified for this!" is sometimes called impostor syndrome. I've talked candidly to enough people - especially women - to know that most of us feel this way at times and as we confront a crisis of confidence. In fact, there is a lot of new writing and thinking documenting a very real confidence gap.
It's important that that we address this, because the degree of confidence we exhibit can be just as important as the level of competence we deliver in determining our success in a range of situations. Confidence is what gives us the courage to act on our competent thoughts. So I thought I'd share three interesting - and even surprising - strategies to feel more confident at what you do. The first two come from research that has received a great deal of media attention lately. The last is from my own, non-research-based experience and is reflected in this very post.
1. Change how you talk to yourself.
There was a great story on NPR by Laura Starecheski about the curious science of self-talk. It turns out that many of us mentally berate ourselves or criticize ourselves in ways that undermine our confidence and affect our behavior. Researchers have found it can be very effective to counter this negative self-narrative by comforting ourselves with positive reminders. This can feel a little goofy - staring into the mirror saying, "I will give a great speech today!" may not revolutionize our self perception and can even feel like a cliched self-affirmation. In fact, it can stress you out even more. But, researchers have found, if we switch to speaking to ourselves in the third person, it can be far more effective. So instead of looking into the mirror and thinking, "I'm not sure I can handle this situation," I would think, "Katya, you can do this - you've done it before and will this time, too." Apparently using a third person perspective gives us a little emotional distance and allows ourselves to offer the pep talk to ourselves that we'd certainly give to another person who needed one.
2. Change how you carry yourself.
It turns out not just our inner thoughts can shape our confidence - our physical bearing does, too. The social psychologist Amy Cuddy has made a fascinating study of how our non-verbal signals affect how we feel about ourselves. If we hunch up our bodies and make ourselves smaller, we feel less confident. If we strike a power pose, we feel powerful - and are perceived differently. As Cuddy relates in this second most viewed TED video of all time (I recommend you check it out), studies show body language can affect who we hire, how we judge people, how we decide how to interact with someone - and how we perceive ourselves. In other words, our bodies change our minds, Cuddy says. This holds true in the animal kingdom and across human cultures. Her advice on impostor syndrome? Take two minutes to strike a power pose before you go into a challenging situation. It will affect how you feel (your hormones even change) and how you are perceived in positive, powerful ways. As she puts it: "If you feel you shouldn't be somewhere, fake it. Don't fake it till you make it - fake it till you become it."
3. Change how you describe yourself.
None of us are perfect, and we all make mistakes on a regular basis. I find that when I own this part of myself and am open about my imperfections and errors, I paradoxically feel more - not less - confident. There is something about turning my inner humility over failure that makes me feel stronger. It allows me to be better about apologizing, learning from missteps and growing. It's certainly uncomfortable (as was writing the first paragraph of this post) yet oddly empowering. I have control over my narrative, however flawed it may be.
I fully believe in faking it till you make it - though I'd argue what we mean here is that we're faking confidence more than competence. Tell yourself (in the third person) you can do it and strike a power pose (like Wonder Woman). I also believe in openly owning the moments when we aren't Wonder Woman and boldly claiming our very human mistakes. Together, this can build confident moments in place of those out-of-body moments of doubt.
What do you do to build confidence in yourself?