Impostering My Way Through This

Do you ever have those moments in your life where you wonder how you got to where you are? Or even better, you are just biding your time until someone figures you out? An earlier post covered this very topic and how it related to my own photography coming from a place with no background but a willingness to learn. Well guess what, that feeling never goes away but we can manage the side effects.

Sometimes the thought pops into your head during an elevator ride to your new office realising you have no idea what you are doing. Or while you are writing blog post about a topic you know very little about. It can be comforting to find out that many of our heroes struggle with the very same beliefs.

Neil Gaiman so eloquently describes this situation in a way only he is able to in following up with someone on his Tumblr account named duckswearhats:

Having just finished Neil Armstrong’s book entitled First Man it was hard for me to envision someone who took such great risks in life feeling like an imposter. To quite literally go where no man has ever gone before instils a sense of absolute confidence in the program and one’s abilities. Not the case it seems.

So I picked up Amy Cuddy’s book Presence and began to read. A book about confidence in the face of adversity with imposter syndrome showing its face. Do these words resonate at all with you?

“Imposterism causes us to overthink and second-guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgments might poison our interactions. We’re scattered – worrying that we underprepared, obsesssing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said fix seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.

Imposterism steals our power and suffocates our presence.

If even you don’t believe you should be here, how will you convince anybody else?

Presence and imposterism are opposing sides of the same coin – and we are the coin”

If the coin is us how interesting to see presence show up on the other side. Presence. A word well known amongst the discussions of mindfulness and being aware of the present moment; bringing awareness to the activities that we pursue. Reflecting more deeply on Amy’s words it makes sense. When we find ourselves drawn out of the present moment we dive back into thoughts about the past and the future. The storylines begin and the ego rejoices. Where else but the ego could imposterism truly find a home. Where the seeds of our own insecurities are allowed to grow when left to their own devices.

Do not be discouraged, my friend. It is common. In fact, have a look at this remarkable list of well-known actresses and writers and consider their own stories. Sheryl Sandberg, Amy Schumer, Helen Mirren, and writer Cheryl Strayed stood out to me. Neil Gaiman, someone I admire, speaks of his own feelings of Imposter Syndrome and yet manages to continue creating beautiful works.

In order to address Imposter Syndrome and various other by-products of a thin veil of confidence, Amy moves into the notion that perhaps we can somehow nudge ourselves out of this predicament. The psychological effects we unknowingly place on ourselves through our own posture is one area Amy spends considerable time on referencing many different studies done on the topic. Slouched shoulders not only impacts our long-term physical health but has surprising effects on our own beliefs in ourselves. Body language it would seem not only portrays non-verbal communication to others but to ourselves.

As you read along you become acutely aware of your own mannerisms and posture and without question over the past two weeks, I’ve noticed my own posture more than ever. Not only my own but all of my co-workers as well it seems. Posture, facial expressions, and even unconscious body language. How we physically portray ourselves is remarkable especially when uncomfortable. This reminds me of a business communications course back in University that covered this very topic as we stood in front of the class presenting while being video recorded. Uncomfortable. So what to do?

Amy introduces the idea of small nudges that can help us along the way. The idea of a nudge, or small adjustment to our daily lives, is appealing because they are simple and easy to implement. Small adjustments, similar to my last post on breaking down an hour into 10-minute intervals, can be empowering and easily habit forming. Consider this very real example.

I sit in a meeting surrounded by various co-workers all with varying levels of experience and rank. I immediately notice that my feet are crossed under the desk and my arms are crossed in front of me; closed off.

Ok, small nudge.

Uncross the feet (nobody notices but me). Great a little less closed off now how about those arms? Right.

Just need to get those suckers on the arm rests opening myself up to the room.

There we go.

Has anyone really noticed except me? Good question. According to the research cited in Presence and our understanding of basic communication and body language, Yes! People notice how we are in face to face situations even if it is at a subconscious level. Even more interesting was how I felt after a few more meetings using this simple technique. You become more present to what is going on around you including what others’ own non-verbal language is telling you. There’s also a sense of confidence that comes with the knowledge of being present with yourself in these situations. Recognising how you are physically reacting and changing it subtly. Being present is a good way to describe this very exercise.

An interesting study noted in the book reminded me of mindfulness in athletics when they described the physical presence of soccer players prior to taking penalty kicks. Geir Jordet and Esther Hartman, both sports psychologists, studied World Cup, European Championship, and Champions League players and their body language before taking the shots. The sample amounted to 36 shoot-outs and 359 kicks. Those players who had body language that appeared avoidant (not looking at the goalkeeper and head down) had a significantly higher rate of missed shots vs. those players who appeared more confident and looked directly at the goalkeeper. (Insert sarcastic comment here about how not looking at the goal dramatically reduces chances of hitting it) Presence, and being present, appears to have an impact on performance much like what we saw when George Mumford described similar situations in his experiences with NBA Athletes. Those NBA athletes who were able to stay present in the moment outperformed to an incredible degree.

So what does it all mean? We started this post discussing my own feelings of being an imposter which is quite common in our often pressure filled lives. Amy describes it succinctly throughout her book providing many helpful suggestions including the idea of nudges (covered in depth in the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) . The solution then seems to be awareness and coming to terms with being present with ourselves. In this case specifically our own posture and body language. Nudges are great little tools we can all use to be more present with how we are unconsciously communicating.

Potential nudges for you to try:

  1. What is my body language while I write this e-mail? Am I slouched over or sitting up straight? Sit up straight.
  2. How am I sitting right now in this meeting? What are my arms and feet doing? How about my overall posture? Open yourself up to the meeting and sit up straight.
  3. Take 30 seconds to simply stand in what Amy describes as a power pose. Try the hands on hips pose and simply stand there and see how you feel afterwards. Check out Amy’s TED Talk for more descriptions and ideas as well.
  4. Try deep breath work focusing on the posture you need to achieve it. Chest up, head up. Deep breathing in with slow controlled breaths out.

While Amy’s book doesn’t specifically dive into the world of mindfulness it is interesting to see these topics cross paths. Being present with our bodies in various situations is no different than being present with our mind. I’m reminded of meditative body scans where the whole exercise is to simply scan your body noting when the mind races off and bringing it back to the breath and the exercise. Consider the above nudges minor forms of the body scan exercise and a way to help generate more confidence and stave off those feelings of  imposter syndrome.

If you made it this far I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via e-mail with your own encounters with imposter syndrome and how you deal with it. A really great article on the subject also exists over at Startup Bros. if you are interested in additional ideas to specifically address Imposter Syndrome.

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