Here it comes.
You have a tremendous opportunity, and it strikes. Maybe you’ve landed a new client or mastered a powerful skill. And then those voices creep in.
“What makes you think you can do this?” “Why would anyone pay you for this?” “Where are your credentials?” “You don’t even know what you’re doing.”
It’s amazing how these thoughts can hit just when you’re on the brink of success. This has been described as “impostor syndrome” — similar to the concept of “resistance” described by Steven Pressfield in his book, “The War of Art.”
You may feel like you’re stuck in a loop of doubt, says Ayodeji Awosika, author of “You 2.0: Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself and Become a Brand New You.”
“You feel the doubt, feel bad about yourself for feeling the doubt, and you think of yourself as a person who lacks confidence,” says Awosika. “Then you find yourself on the impostor syndrome hamster wheel.”
Two helpful techniques for dealing with endless self-doubt are the Socratic method and The Four Questions.
Developed by the philosopher Socrates, the Socratic method is an inquiry. Basically, you take whatever negative thought you have about yourself and question it to death. With practice, you’ll begin to see how irrational some of these beliefs can be.
Here’s a condensed version of a personal example of resistance, shared by Awosika, using the Socratic method. The author’s doubtful thoughts are presented in quotes, with challenging feedback — gleaned over time from his conscience — expressed in italics.
This method is similar to an exercise I did in a seminar a while back. We kept peeling off all the layers of resistance by answering the irrational thoughts with facts to dispel the mythical statements created by doubt and fear. In the seminar we worked with a partner who countered our doubts. With practice, you can learn to do this yourself, as illustrated below.
“You’re unfit to write and coach other people because you’re not successful.”
Haven’t your clients told you they got great value from working with you? Haven’t readers — from all over the world — reached out to tell you?
“Well ... yes ... but my book didn’t hit the New York Times bestseller list, so why should I teach other people?”
Is making the NYT bestseller list the standard to judge aptitude? You’ve published two books and had your words read by more than a million people. Do you live a life your clients and audiences aspire to?
“OK, yes ... I guess you’re right.”
Yes, I am right, and by this logic, I’ve come to conclude your original assertion is false ... and you’re absolutely full of it.
The four questions
Another helpful tool is use of The Four Questions, developed by Byron Katie in her book, “The Work.” You stop to ask yourself four basic questions. When you really listen to the answers that come back, you may uncover some fallacies — and stare down those doubts.
- Is this true?
- Can I absolutely know it’s true?
- How do I react when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought?
Taking on resistance
We’ve all had those instances where we want to cut and run. Cancel that event. Make an excuse. Dodge that bullet.
“After I calm down, I use my doubt as fuel to push on,” author Awosika says. “You have to find a way metaphorically to put a gun to your head.”
Ready. Fire. Aim. This is a different twist on the usual strategy of taking action. We’re our own worst enemies at times when we apply analysis paralysis to the challenge at hand.
Sometimes it’s better to get into action than to keep pondering all the options. Then you can “collect evidence” to disprove those irrational doubts. Eventually, this evidence will provide rational proof to counter your resistance.
You may not cure your impostor syndrome all together, but you’ll have more ammo when it comes to mentally talking yourself off the ledge.
At the end of the day, you have more people to serve than yourself. After you’ve allowed yourself to indulge in your doubts and fears for a while, get over yourself.
Either get into motion or be OK with your decision not to proceed. Both decisions are justified. Staying on the fence is not. It only creates misery.
If you decide to move forward, advises Awosika, make it so that backing out of something becomes painful and embarrassing to the point that doing the thing is less painful than not doing it.
This concept is beautifully illustrated in one of my favorite quotes by author Anais Nin:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”