There are people whose confidence is directly in line with their actions.
There are also people who have lots of confidence, but lack the required skills for the things they do. This can get dangerous (I used the idea last week of feeling like you could fly a plane before having learned how to do so.)
Many people that I meet, though, have what’s come to be called the “imposter syndrome.” If you’re one of these people, you may have the necessary skills, but lack the confidence to actually do what you want to do.
What we often want in these situations is someone we fully trust to convince us that we can do the thing, but deep down we need to feel this for ourselves. We can run on others’ fumes for a little while (the old “fake it till you make it” idea) but at some point, we’re going to feel a heck of a lot better if we can have this confidence on our own.
Here are 5 ways to develop your internal self-evaluator.
1. Develop a Working Group of Trusted Associates
While I’m sticking by my idea of being able to internally evaluate yourself, this does not mean not connecting with others—and by that, I mean cultivating trusted relationships with others. Whatever you do, it’s important to have a group of people who know you well. Not people who are just cheerleaders (like, perhaps, your mom) or people who constantly find fault (like, perhaps, your mom), but a varied group of friends, co-workers and mentors who you can turn to for honest, smart feedback. Remember, these are not people whom you rely on to do your thinking for you, or to make the final decisions. They are your trusted advisers, no more/no less. You don’t get to fully blame them for bad directions, or give them all the credit if things go well. It’s a way of being independent, but also connected. Our American values don’t always treasure this—we have a desire to do it all on our own, and be self-reliant. But we’ll never see ourselves from without ourselves. One of those trusted people could be a therapist who should
never rarely give advice. It’s also the place for other people who are knowledgeable about you and about whatever it is you’re seeking direction on.
2. Make Mistakes
You’re going to mess up. You’re going to go down the wrong hall way. You’re going to realize that you’re not in Oz any more. That’s ok. Where things can go awry is how you choose to handle a mistake. Once you realize you’ve been barking up the wrong tree, let yourself have whatever feeling comes up. You can be operatic about it for a while if you need be: Please feel your share of Despair! Fury! Sadness! Disappointment! but you’re not helping yourself if you stay in that place for too long. Allowing your mistakes to seep into your sense of how great or horrible you are as a person (a la self-esteem) is a rabbit hole that will never be of use to you. So just be open to the idea that confident or not, skilled or not: you’re going to make a mistake. Do we really need to point to famously smart and talented individual who do things that make us think—how did they not see what a bad idea that was? (and (see point 1) How come no one told them?)
3. Learn from the Mistakes
This is where the choice comes in. If you sit and sit and sit in the tragic opera effects of your mistakes you won’t be able to learn from them. This is an emotional as well as a thinking change. Yes, feel the despair, but if you can’t get yourself out of that feeling, then Houston, we have a problem. Because this is going to prevent you from taking the knowledge from what happened and applying it. Some people go too far—oh, X happened when I did Y, and that means I should never do Y again. No, it means you need to look deeply into what Y is and whether there is a better way to do Y. People, in order to avoid the Despair! of their mistake, compound their mistake by totally closing the door. This isn’t always necessary and it’s often unhelpful.
4. Go Big Only if You’re Ok with Never Going Back Home
Can you guess one of my least favorite mantras in the English language? (G.B.O.G.H.) Risk is a factor in all types of successes, but a thoughtful, calculated risk is so much more helpful—and less anxiety producing. Yes, there will hopefully come a time when you invest a significant portion of yourself (money, time, etc.) into something you want. Maybe it’s a relationship, maybe a business venture, maybe even becoming a parent, but there are often ways you can dip your toe in the water before diving in. Sure, you can quickly google people who found enormous success by playing all their chips. Those people who went all in, failed big, went all in again and ultimately succeeded (in however they may quantify success). They’re out there, yes, but that’s threatening to most of us, and could lead to a lot of hardship for, not just us, but for people who depend on us. Many people give you a little bit of something before asking others to go ‘all in’ with it. Maybe it’s a taste of the new micro-brew, or small dab of an ice cream flavor. I offer a free phone consultation for potential clients because I don’t want people taking a big investment without first getting to know me a little. They can read articles (like this one!) and get a sense of my style—how I work and how I think—before deciding to work with me. Before you decide to go to grad school, why not audit a few classes. Before deciding to have a baby, spend some time with your friends’ kids. Before getting married, date a little bit. You’ll be able to get a sense of the risk and know a little more if it’s worth it. And if you end up feeling you made the wrong decision anyway, well, just turn back to #2 and #3 above.
5. What Would [Person I Admire] Do?
There’s a weird mind trick I use on myself, and bring into sessions when appropriate. Often, when I ask a client what they think about a situation, especially one that encourages them to say something positive about themselves, they often struggle with answering. I then say, if I were to ask [insert best friend here] what they think about you is great, what would they say. This takes the responsibility off the client from saying something positive about themselves (something very difficult for those who lack confidence) and encourages them to see themselves as others see them. Others who they’ve chosen to be their friends. Others whose judgment they’ve already told me they trust and look to. I’ll often find myself in situations where I seemingly bring my trusted group along with me (in my head) to evaluate which road to take. I remind myself that it’s still my decision, but given what a trusted associate thinks of me and my abilities, will I be able to do this thing that I’m attempting to do? It’s incredibly helpful.
It’s incredibly difficult watching smart, strong, knowledgeable people hold themselves back from doing stuff that they’d be awesome at all due to their ‘imposter syndrome.’ If you see yourself in this, please keep the above suggestions in mind and let me know how it goes.
Justin Lioi, LCSW
Counselor for Men