Reflecting on moments of fear

Something I often hear with clients is the line ‘what if it doesn’t work?’

I usually reply with ‘and what if it does?’

At the core of this fear of failure is usually our old friend, imposter syndrome.

I’ve presented webinars and written articles on this before, but it’s always worth pointing out that imposter syndrome affects the majority of people.

In fact, the higher your position, the more likely you are to experience it.

As a result of this, imagine you’re sitting in a management meeting of ten other managers, feeling like a fake and that you don’t belong. There is a strong chance that six or more other people in the room are feeling exactly the same as you are.

The problem is that everyone tries to hide it, therefore everybody thinks it’s just them. I know I used to!

It can be a vicious circle, though. The more imposter syndrome takes hold of us, the more fear grips us, and because of this the less effective we become. The more out-of-place we feel. We become afraid to ask for help, or to own up to mistakes. We give in to fear, avoid speaking up or out, and avoid difficult conversations. 

None of which are conducive to being great managers or leaders.

So, what can we do about it?

Coaching, journaling, meditation, exercise, goal-setting: all things I’ve recommended in the past and that I will continue to eulogise.

Using CBT in our journaling

As part of our journaling, we can use the methods of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is used to treat anxiety, phobias and panic attacks, in order to get to the root of our fears. 

Remember…fear is a natural, human reaction, and can save our lives in times of danger. We can’t eradicate it, in fact it would be fatally hazardous to do so, but we can manage it.

CBT uses a technique called ABC – Action, Beliefs, Consequences in order to do this.

The A, Action, is the situation, the ‘trigger’ for the fear.

B – Belief is how your mind assesses and interprets the situation.

C – Consequences are the responses to the A&B.

Let’s say, when you are journaling one morning, you are reflecting back on a situation the day before where you were asked your opinion on something in a team meeting by your manager. The journal entry could look something like this:

Action

I was asked the question. I felt put on the spot, and because of this my face flushed, my heart rate increased. 

Beliefs

‘Everybody can see me go red, so I will look silly.’ 

‘I’m going to look like a fake.’

‘My manager will think I’m incompetent, or an idiot’

‘I’m not as smart as the rest of the room’

Consequences

I panicked. 

I rushed the answer, stammering, trying to get the focus away from me as quickly as possible. 

After I’d finished speaking, I felt breathless. 

I spent the rest of the day avoiding my boss and the other people in the meeting. I felt down all day, and because of this, I didn’t sleep well.

How do I use this information?

The idea with this approach is to challenge the Bs and the Cs. Why? The Action, the trigger is not in our control – your manager asked you the question, and your mind and body had a perfectly natural reaction.

The key is to let that reaction happen. But challenge the beliefs. 

So what if you go a little red in the face? Did your colleagues really notice? Why did your manager call on you – probably because she values your opinion. After all, you’re in the room on merit, you got the job, no doubt over other people.

Challenge the consequences too. 

If you’re in that situation again – and you probably will be – you could take a pause, a deep breath. Look at this video of Justin Trudeau taking a HUGE pause while he considers his answer. All good speakers use pauses – just watch anyone you consider to be a great speaker.

Get back on the horse

In the example, one of the consequences was avoiding the boss and the people in the meeting. Why?

Even if you were not happy with what you said, get back on the horse. Ask your boss for a coffee – you could even use this to add to what you said in the meeting (“Now I’ve had a bit more time to think about it, I think…”).

Anyone who reads my articles will know I’m a huge proponent of the ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ method of coaching – looking for what works. Sometimes, though, we can let our amygdala, our emotional centre, hijack us.

When this happens, the ABC approach of Cognitive Therapy is definitely the way to go.

If you’d like some help with your inner imposter, feel free to book some time here

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