4 Expert-Backed Strategies for Overriding Imposter Syndrome and Boosting Confidence
Even those at the top of their game struggle with self-doubt. Override your doubts and remember that confidence is a continuous practice.
Famed confidence-whisperer and author of The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance, Nate Zinsser is a master at teaching people how to reach ultimate confidence.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, he explained how to create a constructive shift in one's thinking. Having confidence, according to Zinnser, is "the sense of certainty about your ability that allows you to do something without thinking about it: that allows you to execute more or less unconsciously."
In reading his words, I'm reminded of the episodes of imposter syndrome that I've experienced at different periods of growing my business, Jotform, over the past 16 years. Most people assume that it's only budding entrepreneurs who go through this kind of self-doubt, but I want to assure you that it can afflict us even when we're at the top of our game.
Take 2020 for instance. I was leading an established company with millions of users worldwide, but that didn't save me from having bouts of insecurity.
Here's the thing: Imposter syndrome — or lack of confidence — is often rooted in our fear of failure, and it paralyzes us. Needless to say, living through a two-year pandemic has taught me many lessons about navigating self-doubt. Although I haven't gotten rid of it completely (I'm sure this will be a lifelong endeavor for many of us), I'd like to share these four key strategies that have often helped me shake the feeling off.
Remind yourself of past wins
The feeling of not being good enough is prevalent among high-achieving people. But the right kind of performance thinking is reminding yourself of past successes. I had a business coach once who suggested keeping a folder on my laptop with screenshots of things I'd been proud to accomplish.
Got an especially glowing testimony or email from a client? Save it in your "win" folder. All of these reminders will help you get into the right zone to perform with confidence. Another recommendation from my coach: Keep a spreadsheet of your life and career successes you can easily look at. All of this will help you balance out your inner self-talk when anxiety rears its ugly head.
Override your doubts
Acclaimed poet, memoirist and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou once noted:
"I have written 11 books but each time I think "Uh-oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.'"
This, however, didn't prevent her from being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and winning five Grammys for her spoken recordings, along with a host of other awards.
You might think, how is this possible? How could someone as highly talented and capable as Ms. Angelou struggle with imposter syndrome? What chance do I, as a mere mortal, have then?
But here's where Zinsser poses a valuable question: "Have you ever produced good work in suboptimal conditions?"
To override our doubts, he recommends reinforcing the story we tell about ourselves, such as "I work well, despite distractions." By reframing how we view ourselves and knowing that we are more than capable of delivering even under suboptimal conditions, we're able to keep doing the work despite our fears.
And as entrepreneurs, we can create a confidence-trickle-down effect within our own cultures. At Jotform, there's a guiding principle I strive to live by: trust. I trust that my employees are competent and showing up — and it's that faith in their abilities that helps reinforce their own self-belief.
Realize it's not just you — it's universal
We all have a history. You know the one. The one that repeats over and over in your head on loop about your past failures and mishaps. We somehow believe we're the only ones floundering — the only ones not sure of making the right decisions.
"It's terrifying to feel like the only fraud in your field or organization; it's equally terrifying to confront the truth that everyone is winging it," writes journalist Oliver Burkeman for BBC. "That's another reason why it can be hard to accept that the impostor phenomenon is universal: We desperately want to believe that there are grown-ups in control."
In my early years, imposter syndrome was hard to shake. I constantly asked myself if I was smart enough to be in this space. I was a programmer — a techie at the time. But becoming a business owner was a whole new ball game.
When these feelings would strike, I'd look around me at other startup founders — others who were not so different from me — who were still doing the work. My colleague Craig, another CEO who was also struggling at the time with his own spells of insecurity, told me something one afternoon I'll never forget: "We're all just making it up as we go. And that sometimes has to be good enough."
He was right, of course.
Know that confidence is a continuous practice
Keep this in mind: You can be featured on TechCrunch, disrupting your industry and reaching unimaginable goals. And you can still battle self-doubt. But here's the good news: It doesn't have to stop you.
Confidence isn't something that you miraculously acquire that stays with you throughout thick and thin. As Zinsser puts it, it's vital for us to embrace self-assured thinking and reject over-identifying with our shortcomings.
This is a continuous practice and an important part of our education as entrepreneurs. "It's the decision to say: "I've done the work. I know what I know. I'm going to deliver now. I am enough,'" Zinsser says.
I like to think back on the younger man I once was — full of self-doubt but also ambitious zeal. That inner faith I had in myself blossomed into confidence and allowed me to achieve things I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.
I know now that no matter the obstacles I'll face today or in the future, if I stay the course, I'll end up on the other side — and what an amazing view that will be.
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