Writing

No idea what you're doing? Fake it til you make it.

At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me
— Mike Myers, actor and comedian

In my first ever blog post I mentioned that I have from time to time called myself a writer and cringed as I've done it. Nothing against writers. I aspire to writerhood. I've cringed because I've felt like such a fraud. Me, a writer? Nah!

I'm a psychologist, yes. There's a piece of paper to prove that and I've been doing that for such a long time that it feels ok. A mum. Yes. A couple of small boys call me that and I've changed enough nappies and cut up enough fruit to qualify I think, but a writer? That's all a bit new and rather uncomfortable.

When I wrote that first post a couple of people kindly wrote back and said that they too have felt like frauds doing what they do - at least at first. In fact this experience is so common that there is a name for it, the Impostor Syndrome.  You may have heard of it?

The term Impostor Syndrome was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in a research article in 1978.  They were discussing the experience of high-achieving women who felt that they were not as intelligent or as competent as people seemed to think they were (and indeed as they actually were).  A lot of  research and media articles on the Imposter Syndrome have focused on women but it does appear to be just as common in men and it could be that up to 70 per cent of us have felt it at one time or another.

For some people their 'imposter' feelings can be so serious and ongoing that it leads to acute psychological distress, most commonly serious episodes of anxiety and depression. For most of us though it's just that uncomfortable feeling that we don't really know what we're doing and other people seem to think that we do.

This happens most commonly when we are embarking on something new and stepping outside our comfort zone.

So what's the antidote?

First, let me tell you a little story...

When I was about 20, on a weekend away with close friends, I fell into a deep and meaningful early morning conversation with a boy in the way that you can only when you're 20, slightly hungover and there's absolutely nothing in the world pressing on your time.

I can't remember what we were talking about but I clearly remember something he said...

'Guys know that if you say something confidently enough everyone believes you.'  

This was a revelation to me as a 20 year old female racked with self doubt about everything.  Chances are he was equally racked with self doubt but he, and seemingly other blokes, knew that if you carry on as though you know exactly what you're doing then other people will believe that you do.

How does this help with the Impostor Syndrome? Well it doesn't really, except that if you keep going - confidently looking like you know what you're doing - most times you will start to feel more comfortable, your real confidence will grow and the imposter feelings will fade. Just fake it til you make.

Other tips?

  • Take a reality check.  Do you really have no idea what you're doing?  Where's the evidence for that?  Are you really less capable than someone else starting out or with an equivalent level of experience? What do you know? What skills do you have? You're probably better than you think.  If you need regular reminding, make a note of what you know and what you've done and put that note somewhere you will see it.
  • Believe the feedback. If you get good feedback, believe it!  Don't dismiss it as someone just being nice.  Add it to your confidence boosting mental piggy bank and say thank you.
  • Look for others foibles. Not in mean way. Just examine whether other people occasionally make mistakes or perhaps look or sound just as nervous or anxious as you. 
  • Laugh! Laugh at yourself every once in a while - or more often if it suits.  Laughter relaxes us and helps us to not take ourselves too seriously all the time.

What are you faking til you make it?

Onwards and upwards,

Ellen.

Scared? Who? Me?

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
— T.S. Eliot Poet

Have you ever really wanted to do something, try something new, make a change, follow your dream or begin anew but just not known where to start? Been too scared? Not felt ready?

Or started, been unhappy with the result or frustrated with your progress and stopped again?  Maybe you have had some success but you couldn't maintain momentum or it didn't feel right or give you the buzz that you were hoping for?

creating courage.png

This is what writing has been like for me.  I've done a bit of this and that.  I've written a few articles for websites, had a little piece published in a daily metro newspaper, even co-authored a book that was published in a couple of different countries and translated into Dutch!  I've called myself a writer and an author (and felt like a fraud) but I've never been able to make it work. I've procrastinated, avoided, decided it was not my destiny (excuses, excuses) and moved on to other things, pushing the dream back to the far reaches of my mind. To the place where we put the things we really want but are too scared to really try.

Peter Bregman, an acclaimed author and expert on 'leading and living' as he puts it, reckons that when we don't take chances, when we procrastinate and dilly dally over our dreams it's because we are afraid of feeling.  We don't want to feel disappointment or sadness or frustration or embarrassment or rejection.  We don't want to hurt.  

Now I don't know what research he has done in this area but intuitively it makes sense to me. Maybe I've never given it my all because I've been afraid it wouldn't be everything that I'd hoped for? That I would write and no-one would read it or worse, they'd read and get bored?  That I would feel disappointment, rejection, sadness and loss. 

At the same time I started reading about courage.  Not the 'save a child from a burning building' type courage, although there's no denying the courage it takes to do that! I was reading about everyday courage. The courage it takes to begin new things, like start a new job, get married, move cities, quit a job or follow your dreams.

Robert Biswas-Diener, a positive psychologist and author of The Courage Quotient has done a lot of research in this area and he says that everyday courage has two parts. The first is about managing the fear. The second is about having the willingness to act.

His tips for managing fear:

  • Get angry! Anger trumps fear every time.  Get angry with the status quo, with the fact that you're not doing what you want to be doing, that you've got this big vision of an exciting future in front of you and you need to do something about making it reality, dammit!
  • Relive success.  Think about the things you've done in the past that required courage - the jumps you've made - and the successes you've had, no matter how small.  Remind yourself of the new job you started or the big house move, or the time you struck up a conversation with a stranger in the hope of getting to know them better.  Think about how good that felt and draw on that feeling.
creating courage

How do increase my willingness to act?

  • Take baby steps.  Remember the quote, 'the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step'? What one very small thing can you do today that will start you on your journey?  Do it.  Then think about what you'll do tomorrow.  When tomorrow comes, do that.  Keep going.   
  • Engage in a little failure. The key word here is little.  So what if one of your baby steps doesn't work out as you'd hoped? You've got more to take tomorrow.  Embrace the mistakes, learn from them and keep going.  The stakes are low when you're taking baby steps and the rewards, even from the failures, can be great. 

Recently I decided it was time to try again. It had been seven years since I put fingers to keyboard, so to speak, and written something for publication. I took one baby step at a time and I worked fast, without giving myself time to second guess, to get anxious, feel fear, to edit and re-edit.  I wrote, read it and hit the send button.  It worked, and I felt happy.