No, I didn’t buy a course. Or a bunch of books.
And you aren’t going to have to either. In fact, this one you can have for free. The $150 I spent was the therapy session during which I learned this nifty little exercise, one I’ve repeated several times in recent years and that works wonders for leveling off the surge of self-doubt that shows up fairly often.
Find yourself a favorite spot, and a beverage of your choice, and paper and a pen. I really think the physical act of writing this down on paper is important vs typing it on a computer, and I’ll explain why in a minute. If you can, try to do this on a day when you’re feeling strong, or at the very least not sitting in deep despair.
You’re going to make what I call an Inventory of Truths. It’s a list of FACTS about what you know to be true about yourself in a positive light. Things that have evidence, that are irrefutable.
- You got promoted in your last position.
- You did a speech at a big event (and maybe in spite of performance anxiety).
- You got on stage and did stand up comedy for the first time ever, even though you’ve always dreamed about doing it.
- Your friends have told you that you have the best, most joyful laugh.
- You bought your home or rented your apartment on your own, without help.
- Your kid loves the bedtime stories you tell.
- Your project failed, you learned an important thing about X.
If you can’t manage to say something nice about yourself, look at the last exercise we did and have your Committee of Champions help you. There’s no such thing as no answers to put on this piece of paper.
If you can, it’s great to especially inventory the truths that directly refute the lies that imposter syndrome tells you about who you are or what you do. You know the tapes in your head, the ones that play over and over about where you’re falling short. How you’re not good enough or qualified enough.
The reason facts are important is because they have more impact than what we can easily dismiss as platitudes.
I have my “hype file” (another tactic we’ll talk about later) where I save compliments or kudos or positive book reviews or things people have said about me that are nice. But nice things are sometimes different than true things, and our imposter-focused brains sometimes have a hard time telling the difference.
It’s much harder for our lizard brain to refute a thing that we have backup data for. No one can tell you that you didn’t get the promotion or write the blog post or complete the certification. Those are facts.
And when I’m having a fraud fest, the facts are the way to break through the noise of the “yeah but what about” tracks that keep wanting to remind me of all the ways I’ve fallen short or never started.
I write it down physically for an important reason: my truth inventory goes with me wherever I go. Because self-doubt doesn’t care if I’m in an Uber or about to step into a big meeting or get on a big stage, or whether I’m in bed at laying awake at 3am inventorying every mistake I’ve ever made or every stupid thing I’ve ever said.
My list is my truth. Wrinkled, dog-eared, pocket-worn truth. And every time I read it, I’m re-teaching my brain to undo the knots of the lies I’ve told myself and the ones from others I’ve let myself believe.
Repetition matters here; our neural pathways – the actual, physical trenches we create in our grey matter with our thoughts – are hard to get out of. Think of an old stage coach and the ruts the wheels make in the dirt. It’s much easier for the next traveler to use the well-worn pathway instead of carving new ground.
So we have to repeat, and repeat, and repeat some more to create new truth pathways in our heads, quite literally. Our truth inventory is our study guide to help us, because in those tougher moments, it’ll be harder to recall them without assistance. My handy piece of paper has helped me shake loose a fraud-focused mindset many times.
Over time you can add to it. Change it. Write new ones when yours falls apart (that act alone is very cathartic and helpful). And over time, you’ll likely find that you need it less and less. I don’t refer to mine all the time these days, but the act and ritual of writing it is comforting and enlightening, and there’s a sense of calm that comes with knowing my truth is in my pocket when I need a reminder.
It’s a powerful little tool, and worth way more than the $150 I paid to learn about it. (And we’ll talk about the importance of therapy and professional help later on in this series, but that’s an entire post in itself).
I hope it’s helpful for you too. Try it, and let me know how you fare.
Next week, we’ll talk about a really significant change you can make in your everyday life with a few clicks of your mouse (and a little willpower) that has the power to be transformative in your wrestling match with self-doubt.