Blog 20.2

We have all heard how important body language is in terms of communicating a message to others. If you slump your shoulders after a mistake, it is clear you are upset and frustrated with that performance. But what does your body language communicate back to yourself? Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard University, attempts to answer that question through her research findings. Cuddy starts with the concept of “presence” and how we first need to understand what presence is and how it can help or hinder us striving towards our goals. Her book, Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenge is about defining presence, identifying how presence and confidence are connected, and connecting our body language to both presence and confidence. Our current blog discusses the concept of impostor syndrome and how to break through to trust and believe in yourself.

Have you ever worked really hard for something, but once you got there doubted that you actually belonged? According to Cuddy, “The general feeling that we don’t belong – that we’ve fooled people into thinking we’re more competent and talented that we actually are – is not that unusual.” Despite feeling like the only person to ever experience this type of doubt, researchers Pauline Clance and Suzzane Imes found that across gender, ethnicity, occupation, socioeconomic status, and in 13 different countries, somewhere between 60-70 percent of people feel as though they are an imposter. Interestingly, researchers also found that some of the most competent, talented, and successful people out there are the very people that relate most to impostor syndrome. “Impostorism 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, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us an what that will mean for tomorrow.” Essentially, feeling like an imposter takes away our confidence and doesn’t allow us to show up as the best version of ourselves. “Impostorism steals our power and suffocates our presence. If even you don’t believe you should be here, how will you convince anybody else?” Impostorism can actually prevent us from going after our goals and pushing ourselves through challenges.

Impostors syndrome is important to understand and have a plan to combat through any of life transitions, like entering college or the workforce. In high school, you are comfortable, have your squad of friends and support resources, have your family, and you know what it takes to do well. Once you get to college, you are completely out of your comfort zone, have fewer perceived resources, new friends, and could be away from your family for the first time. On top of that, school is harder and everyone else seems to be getting it faster and easier than you. These are the ideal conditions for impostor syndrome to set in. So, what do we do about it? Cuddy explains we can “break up with our impostor selves” and remind ourselves that we DO belong. “If we all only knew how many people feel like impostors, we’d have to conclude that either (1) we all are impostors and we don’t know what we are doing or (2) our self-assessments are way off.” We need reminders that we can do it. We also need to put a greater emphasis on the evidence that are succeeding rather than the evidence we are not. For example, doing well on four exams needs to outweigh doing poorly on one. Another important observation by Cuddy was, “most of us will probably never completely shed our fears of being fraudulent. We’ll just work them out as they come one by one.” So, the more we understand ourselves and are aware of what might trigger these beliefs, the easier it will be to shut them down and choose to believe in ourselves anyway.  Our module on Confidence provides more tips on how to self-coach yourself when you feel like an impostor.


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