By Hannah Wright
January 21, 2022

How many times have you thought “I could’ve done that much better” after giving a presentation or leaving a job interview? There are lots of potential reasons for underperformance—but the one we give the most weight to is negative thoughts. We call this our 'imposter syndrome'. It refers to an "internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be". We all know the score. We’re speaking perfectly well, and then… our own negative perception of ourselves and doubts creep in.

"Even though I had sold 70 million albums, there I was feeling like “I’m no good at this.” - Jennifer Lopez

Imposter syndrome affects nearly 70% of us at some point in our lifetime. Many people think women experience imposter syndrome far more than men, but in fact it is spread equally among each gender. Imposter syndrome does manifest in different ways though - male imposter syndrome is often driven by the fear of being unsuccessful, whilst female imposter syndrome often means feeling underqualified or inadequate.

The bad news is that we can’t guarantee an end to negative thought (if only we could, life would be a lot simpler!). However, the good news is that we do have a choice about how we respond to our negativity. 

How you make the move changing your negative thoughts to ones that are positive and encouraging is somewhat personal to you, but here are some suggestions to help you stop the undesirable internal dialogue and accentuate the positive.

1. Find your triggers

First, try to catch your most common negative thoughts and think about what triggers them. Write these down and once you identified them, you’ll be able to capture them as soon as they start to arise and can then work on reversing or dismissing them.

2. Reframe your negative thoughts

For some it simply works to tell the negative thoughts to take a hike, but it’s often more effective to replace a negative thought with something else. To do this, for every detrimental thought you have, write down a positive to counter it and highlight it. For example, when you failed but it ended up being helpful because it taught you something. You could also try affirmations or reason the negative thought away. This will help shift your imposter mindset to a more positive one. 

Here are some examples:

imposter

3. Surround yourself with positivity

Surrounding yourself with positivity could be positive people, but it could also be as simple as to bring out that list of achievements somewhere you can see it, so you can refer to it every time you need to ground yourself with a dose of realism.

Principal Coach Jamie says “As my eighteen-month-old nephew wants nothing more than to stick his hand right in the middle of an open fire (because there’s no point reasoning with a toddler), I have to gently, but firmly, push his hand out of the way every time he reached for the fire. And that’s my image for negative thought when I’m speaking. ‘Out of the way, I’m busy’.”

4. Give your confidence a boost

Everything is always a little brighter and more positive if you believe in yourself and what you can achieve. So how can you increase your confidence? Well for a start, we have a free eBook for that. Download our dedicated eBook, “How to Sound More Confident, Even If You Don’t Feel It.”

5. Be proud of yourself

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Look at your list of achievements or events you’re proud of. Go back to that moment and chances are, you were feeling confident or at least a positive emotion. Remember that feeling. Even simply thinking about that memory can encourage you and bring out more positivity and confidence in you. Celebrate the small wins too - what have you done today that you're pleased with? Give yourself some positive self-talk before you go into an important meeting, presentation or interview - I can do this, I'm unstoppable, I've achieved so much, I have so much wisdom to impart. 

6. Get your body language right

Research has shown that improving your posture can actually help to raise your self-esteem and therefore reduce imposter syndrome. A study by American psychologists asked subjects to either sit up straight or slouch. Those who didn’t slouch had more confidence in their own thoughts – whether they were positive or negative. Even if you feel nervous, your body language can express confidence and openness to help you make a positive impression. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed back, not hunched forward and that your gestures are open i.e. no crossed arms). Create a relaxed facial expression, with warm eyes and remember to smile.  Read blog on power poses to learn more.

7. Remember to breathe

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Deep breaths, expanding all the way into your belly are amazing at helping to calm you down, take the stress away and remove your own imposter feelings. 

8. Plan and prepare

If you’re going into a meeting without having planned what you’re going to say, you’re not going to be as confident as if you had prepared. Creating a bullet point list of the things you want to emphasise on should be enough. By committing them to pen and paper, it boosts your ability to remember them and help you keep focused. If you appear organised, you’ll also project confidence too – whether or not you actually feel it!

9. Notice your emotions

You may be confident usually, but particular people or situations bring out your defensiveness and imposter feelings. Try noticing when and with whom you move into the defensive zone and what you do when you are feeling defensive. Then you can work on modifying that behaviour.

Body

Defensive

Relaxed

Strong and confident

Posture

Shoulders rounded, bent over, small

Shoulders relaxed, not forward or back

Straight spine, shoulders back

Eye contact

Avoiding eye contact, blinking frequently

Light eye contact, sometimes flitting

Direct eye contact

Facial expression

Stiff, inexpressive face, jaw clenching, lip biting

Smiling, bright eyes

Warm and relaxed face

Gestures

Arms close to the body or no gestures at all, arms crossed in front of the body

Flowing, easy gestures, relaxed and loose

Firm hand and arm gestures

10. Avoid upspeak

Bad habits can make you seem less confident and in control. Upspeak, also known as upward inflection, is where you raise the pitch of your voice at the tail end of a sentence, so it sounds as though you’re asking a question. This can make you appear less confident, so use a downward inflection instead – imagine a weight is attached to the end of your sentence.

11. Ditch the disclaimers

Ditch the disclaimers and self-doubt – for example, saying "I’m not sure I’m understanding this correctly, but…". These can make you sound unsure – you need to state your ideas with conviction to make them happen.

Screenshot 2022-01-21 142709

12. Avoid fillers

Filler words are words like 'umm', 'err', 'like' and 'ahh'. Fillers get in the way of bringing our ideas to life, because they interrupt the flow of ideas being transferred from the speakers' head to the listener. The listener has to edit out the fillers in order to get a clear idea of what is being said. Even though they do this editing subconsciously, it still takes effort, which gets in the way of effective communication. One way to avoid this is by using linking words such as 'is', 'and', 'because' or 'well', or the final word of the unit. All you have to do is stretch the word out, while you are framing your next thought. We call this the mozzarella moment - in the same way mozzarella is stretchy when you pull at a slice of pizza, so can your linking words be, giving you time to find the next thought!fatima-akram-uU0Anw-8Vsg-unsplash

To conclude, it's important to be realistic with your expectations. You can’t expect everything to be perfect all the time. You’re human, and as such, you’re going to slip up or make mistakes. This is all part of learning and growing, so don’t be afraid of failure now and then – it will help to shape you and make you more resilient. 

If you'd like to find out more about our communication courses, book a free Discovery Call to find out more about how we can help you reach your goals.

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