Do you get knocked back by self-doubt?

This article was originally published by The Boardroom June 2017

There is hope!

I wanted to share this article that I wrote in June 2017 - 1 year 8 months ago. There is a passage that refers to how I felt when I was writing it. Whilst I recognise the feelings, I do not feel like that now! I share the tactics I have used at the end of this post. I practice what I preach!

The article: Do you get knocked-back by self-doubt?

Let’s dig deeper - what are the ingredients of this ‘doubt’ that you are ‘doing’ to yourself?


Try these questions out for size:


Do you ever:


  • Worry about how you are going to be judged - and pre-judge yourself?
  • Put success down to fluke?
  • Fear that one tiny mistake will be all that people notice?
  • Feel everyone else has got what it together while you look in from the outside?

Would it help if there was a technical term to sum all this up?

Well the words won’t help as such - but it is good to know that these feelings are not unique to you! When something has been through the process of rigorous research it tends to suggest that it is real and worth investigating.

The research I refer to was done in the 1970’s by Clance & Imes - and the name they used for these ways of thinking was ‘Impostor Phenomenon’ (and yes I did just use spell check). Fortunately this ‘condition’ is now more commonly referred to as ‘Impostor Syndrome’ - easier to say and spell, whilst not so technically accurate.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

(This is the part of the article I refer to above. The part that no longer applies to me with this intensity - because I now spot the feelings of Impostor Syndrome and sort them before they stop me. The feelings will still arise -  It is a human condition remember.)

It’s what I have right now as I scour my overflowing bookshelves for yet another reference for this blog. It’s what I had an hour ago when I came across yet another person on google who does something similar to me and seems to be having massive success and they look different and talk different and have a good ‘ebook’ and ….. nobody will ever take me seriously.

It’s what I did at the last networking event I attended - looked around the table and associated ‘credibility’ to every person other than myself.

It’s spending 10 times as much time as needed to ‘perfect’ a presentation, piece of work, business card, website…..

It’s completely ignoring every achievement and qualification you have already and considering taking an open university degree to make sure people believe that you ‘know your stuff’.

It’s NOT GOOD! It can hold you back if you let it - and it’s exhausting.

Checklist of symptoms

  • Putting success down to fluke
  • Obsessing over your mistake - forgetting the good stuff
  • Comparing yourself with others too much
  • Perfectionism
  • Turning down opportunity for fear of being ‘found out’ as a ‘fraud’
  • Worrying way too much about what others think about you
  • Over attention to ‘appearance’
  • Embarrassed by ‘praise’
  • Awkward about ‘selling yourself’ - in case they actually do ‘buy’ you!
  • Disconcerting ‘alien’ feeling

Effects on your business


There is a concept in marketing known as AIDA - how to lead a person to buy basically:

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

That makes perfect sense for persuasive communication - I certainly explore this sequence when coaching clients and indeed use this AIDA approach frequently in verbal and written communication.


However - let’s chuck all the above ‘impostor syndrome’ ingredients into the mix - and do so even before you start this sequence. How does this influence the ‘action’ part? You want to get the ‘prospect’s’ attention, interest, desire - but there is a voice in your head saying : ‘I’m a fraud and they will catch me out any minute’. You therefore ‘pull back’ at every stage. You underplay the benefits of what you do and more than likely you fail to get them to take action.


A quick look at the above checklist of symptoms will allow you to imagine many more ‘negative’ consequences of Impostor Syndrome thinking - the very worst being ‘giving up’ and reverting to comfort zones to hide away where nobody will question you - where nobody will notice you - where no mistakes will be made. You might even spend all your energy seeking ‘validation’ from others rather than getting on with the job and seeing the results which lead you to give yourself

that validation!

Is there a cure?


Firstly - you have to want a cure. It is very possible to get into a love-hate relationship with the Impostor Syndrome - and fighting it might feel like you are fighting your very identity - which after all you are already a bit ‘wobbly’ about.

In the words of Diana Ross:

If there's a cure for this 

I don't want it

I don't want it

If there's a remedy

I'll run from it

So - having decided that you DO want a cure - the bad news is there isn’t one! Sorry.

However - having decided that you are up for doing something to change the thinking pattern - there is a way forward. This way forward is simple to say and less simple to do. Don’t be too hard on yourself while you are trying - keep at it and the patterns will start to change as our brains have an amazing capacity for re-wiring connections.

The way to make this change?

You have already done step one. Remember - you are totally the boss of all this - it is only you creating it in the first place.

  1. Get to know there is a name for it - it exists.
  2. Find out more - here and here will do for starters.
  3. Talk to others - you will be surprised just how much you are NOT alone
  4. When the thinking pattern starts - stop it quick! Positive mantra and even referring to a list of your achievements and qualifications.
  5. More ‘action’ and less ‘thinking’ can often help.

Final point to consider


The Impostor Syndrome is not confined to a group of people - it can be found in well over 70% of the population - both genders, all ages, all backgrounds, all personalities ….. It is wildly rampant among the highly skilled and outwardly confident - it lurks among academics and actors alike! 

Can you imagine winning 3 Oscar’s and saying this:

‘You think, “why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”‘  Meryl Streep.

Yet another great video from The School of Life

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Trisha Lewis

I help people become more effective communicators through the kind of coaching that offers a safe space to explore and rehearse and better understand the impact they have. My blog is full of insights and tactics that will help you break down the barriers that prevent you from being a truly effective communicator. These insights are based on my own experience as well as the issues raised during coaching sessions and workshops.

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