Why Not Being Confident Can Sometimes Be A Good Thing
Impostor syndrome can inhibit progress, but flying blind with a false sense of confidence is a much bigger threat to our success.
Millennials constitute the largest percentage of the global workforce, and 7 out of 10 report that they've experienced impostor syndrome at some point in their career. This feeling of being a fraud can discourage you from taking risks and further educating yourself, and picture-perfect social media feeds have heightened our collective perfectionism, paralyzing us from making progress and contributing to a mental health crisis.
However, there’s a far more dangerous villain lurking in the sense-of-self spectrum: Overestimating your abilities. Having unearned confidence. And most of us are biologically wired to exaggerate our efforts.
Where does false confidence come from?
In social psychology, illusory superiority is a phenomenon in which we consider ourselves above average when it comes to, well, just about everything. For example, labor statistics repeatedly show we overestimate the amount of time we spend working by nearly 10%.
And in a self-evaluation study, 87% of Stanford MBA students believed they were in the top 50% of their class.
Paradoxically, the more incompetent someone is, the more extreme their bias of themselves. The reason for this is simple: incompetent people are incompetent at measuring their shortcomings.
This phenomenon is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. A recent real-world example, Netflix’s Behind The Curve documentary, showcases classic Dunning-Kruger Effect in action by following leaders of the flat earth conspiracy theory.
If you can’t identify your entrepreneurial Achilles heel and improve upon it, you run the risk of falling short of your goals. In order to succeed, you’ll need to disarm your illusory superiority.
Data and feedback loops are your best friend in achieving that. So here are three ways to measure your progress objectively and effectively.
1. Define your data points
Whether you’re immersed in your daily grind or learning a new skill, having data points can help keep you out of your head.
Even for seemingly immeasurable pursuits, we know from illusory superiority that you’re likely to talk yourself into thinking you’re more productive than you actually are. Measuring windows of time, words written, or phone calls made can keep you honest.
For example, I track my daily writing and articles published each week. These simple measurements, while small, give me insight into my progress and whether or not I’m on track to achieve my monthly goals.
(I also implemented this because I thought my writing was above average, which we’ve now learned is illusory superiority in action. I reach my goals faster and sideline my ego when I focus on the numbers.)
Choose something to measure that you know will move you in the direction of your goals.
Trying to get clients? Embrace networking and reach out to a certain number of new people each day, or pick up the phone and start making calls.
Adding a new skill to your repertoire? Measure the minutes or hours each day you spend educating yourself or practicing your craft.
Be prolific rather than perfect. If you don’t take the time to think through what you want to measure, it can be easy to let feelings run the show and succumb to inconsistency as a result.
2. Follow a ritual that historically serves you
Resist the urge to go by how you feel — this is like candy for your illusory superiority, and you’ll begin to inflate your sense of self. Instead, look for ways to systematize your flow state, that glorious headspace popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
For most of us, we need triggers or a daily ritual to help get into flow state. Once you’ve begun measuring your output, you’ll be able to review data and make adjustments that put you in your sweet spot more often.
It’ll take practice, but over time you’ll build awareness. Maybe your best work comes when you’re in a certain room, wake up at a certain time, or watched a certain inspiring video before the day begins. For me, some triggers include the same coffee beverage each day, the corner seat at my local coworking space (to minimize distraction), and the same song playing in my headphones on repeat.
Document these details. Then recreate them and craft a ritual that delivers results. These small tweaks can be the difference between hundreds or thousands of words written, minutes or hours saved, or even profitability.
(If you’re a rituals nerd like me, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is a fun and easy read about the routines of 161 great thinkers throughout history.)
3. Have a contingency trigger
You’re investing time and effort, measuring your output, and optimizing your environment. Gold star.
Now, what if you wake up one morning and just can’t seem to get into the swing of things? Your one guarantee is that you’ll have days where things just don’t seem to click, yet you’re still on the hook to deliver. Have a backup plan.
For my example around writing, if things aren’t flowing, I take a moment away from my computer, pick up a physical book (usually a fiction bestseller), and read a few pages to recall the feeling of easy prose I want to recreate.
This sort of ‘contingency plan’ can be the difference between having a small blip in your morning or letting feelings take you off the rails for the entire day. Consider a simple trigger that you can pull in when it’s taking longer than usual to hit your sweet spot.
Don't let imposter syndrome derail you
It’s important not to let impostor syndrome get in the way of your entrepreneurial pursuits. To make real progress, though, it’s good to be firm and factual with yourself. As Henry Ward Beecher said, “ Be a hard master to yourself — and be lenient to everybody else.”
Look for new ways to measure and optimize your progress, and you’ll develop a variety of tools you can use each day to achieve your goals.
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