When I was a kid growing up in the Baby Boomer era, I bounced between cocky, extrovert behaviour and nervous introversion. The stuff I excelled at, mainly sports, maths and science, filled me with confidence, whilst stepping out of my comfort zone into languages, music and the arts made me anxious and shameful. I was fortunate to grow up in the 1970s in a small town and attend well-run schools where I gradually learnt to overcome my fears and get used to stepping out of my comfort zone in a safe and supportive environment. Peer pressure only came from my immediate friends, and we were all on the same journey fumbling our way through school, discovering who we were and the lives we wanted to lead.
In contrast, the Millennial generation and those that have followed grew up in an accelerated, hyper-connected world with a bewildering tornado of information and opinions on every subject under the sun coming at them 24*7. Digital and social media meant their peer group wasn’t the kids in their class, school or town; it was pretty much every person their age and above in the western world. The constant exposure to seemingly perfect people achieving instant success has a conditioning effect; it erodes realism and relativity, diminishing both confidence and resilience.
I have the privilege to coach some exceptionally bright and talented Millennials who are well advanced in high flying careers. Yet, one of the common themes of conversations is self-doubt or what they often refer to as “Impostor Syndrome”. While their knowledge, skills and achievements are impressive their confidence is often low, reinforced by their internal narrative filled with negative, diminishing thoughts and statements. Their self-doubt makes them feel like they don’t belong or aren’t worthy of their position. This limiting belief often stems from this ingrained need to constantly assess themselves against an unrealistic mental model based on unfounded assumptions. They disregard the evidence in favour of listening to their negative internal narrative, leading to feelings of self-doubt.
The consequences of Impostor Syndrome extend beyond the discomfort of the individual impacting their performance through procrastination, avoidance, perfectionism and workaholism. From an organisation’s perspective, having some of your high-flyers operating well below their potential is less than ideal.
Fortunately, given that it has become so prevalent, there has been a good amount of research into Impostor Syndrome and how to address it. One such expert is Dr Valerie Young, Ed.D, whose ten-step programme to tackling Impostor Syndrome, I recommend as a useful reference point, https://impostorsyndrome.com/articles/10-steps-overcome-impostor/ .
My approach when coaching clients on tackling Impostor Syndrome is based on a cyclical process:-
The first things to accept are:
- self-doubt is a normal emotion that most of us experience
- there is no panacea that is suddenly going to make you feel confident
- it’s an intentional process that is going to take both time and considerable sustained effort to undertake.
You start off learning to recognise the triggers, acknowledging both the evidence and false assumptions, and becoming aware of how your negative internal narrative is reinforcing your self-doubt.
This is where the reframing and intent come in. You have to start consciously taking a different cognitive and behavioural approach to the situations that trigger your anxiety. Everyone is unique, but this is usually the most challenging part and where the coach can assist in exploring new perspectives.
From there, it leads naturally to action, getting out there and practising your newly constructed mental mantras. At first, you will be conscious that just thinking and acting differently doesn’t make you feel any more confident. Like changing any habits or learning a new skill, it takes time and perseverance. Using your coach as an accountability buddy enables you to review and measure progress on your journey to becoming confident and at ease whilst performing at your best.
If you found this article useful, please share it with anyone you think may benefit from reading it. If you are struggling with issues of self-doubt or Impostor Syndrome and would like to explore if I can help you address it, please contact me:
Wow – a great perspective and understanding Andrew. Well done.
I work with all youngsters and have two daughters – I recognise the traits you describe in all of them…