Building confidence by doing

Earlier this week, we talked about impostor syndrome. That topic resonated with a number of you. It really seems that, from time to time, we all experience the fear of being exposed.

So what can we do about impostor syndrome?

A key ingredient of impostor syndrome is a lack of confidence. Regardless of your ability, when you feel like an impostor, you don’t feel confident.

In my experience, the number one antidote to impostor syndrome is doing, because taking action leads to confidence.

When you start doing the things you feel less confident about, one of two things will happen:

  1. You’ll do them well (which builds your confidence)
  2. You won’t do them well (and you’ll learn from your mistakes and you’ll do better next time)

Either way, in the long run you’ll build your confidence by taking more action. And the more confidence you have, the less you’ll suffer from impostor syndrome.

The hard part is taking action while you still feel the fear of being exposed. You’ll need to act despite the fear.

This is where a little mindfulness or self-awareness comes in. When you’re about to go into that scary meeting, you can tell yourself “I feel fear, but I’m going to do this anyway”.

You can’t talk your way out of impostor syndrome. But you can do your way out of it.


— Peter

Meditation for skeptics

Do people suggest that you meditate, but are you skeptical?

Are you interested in being more resilient, more present, or less distracted—but do you want nothing to do with incense, robes, or chanting om?

Lately, people have been mentioning that they’re curious about meditation. They’ll ask me how often I meditate, for how long, and whether I can get rid of my thoughts successfully.

(No, I can’t! Successful meditation does not look like “not having thoughts”. It does look like not getting yanked around as much by your thoughts.)

But people also express reservations. They want nothing to do with anything spiritual and they worry that meditation will involve doing silly things.

If that’s you, try the 10% Happier app (App Store; Google Play) by Dan Harris and company. You don’t need an app to meditate, but if you’re intrigued yet skeptical, this app will help.

By the way, why do I beat the drum for meditation so often?

When we talk about productivity, it’s often about tools and methods, mindset, and taking care of our bodies. These things are important.

But it’s equally important to take care of our minds, and meditation is the second-best tool that I know of to give our minds some rest. (The first-best is, of course, getting enough sleep!)

See, meditation sessions are to the brain as squats are to the body: they can be ridiculously hard, and you’ll want to give up in the middle, but you’ll never regret having done them.

So if you’ve been on the fence about meditation, give the 10% Happier app a shot.


— Peter

P.S. Dan Harris also wrote a book that’s called 10% Happier too. It’s a hilarious chronicle of Dan’s journey into the “world of meditation”.

Some days, you just got nothing

From time to time, we all experience difficult days.

Maybe you slept poorly, your train was delayed, your boss made you sit through a useless morning meeting, and your friend canceled for lunch at the last minute.

All this despite your careful planning and your intention to have a great day.

When you have a day like that, what can you do?

I talk a lot about being productive. Many of us want to do work we care about and do it well. That often requires some planning and the right mindset.

But if you’re focused on being productive, and you have a bad day, you might experience some negative thoughts. Thoughts like “I should have tried harder”, “I should have planned better”, or “I should push through difficulty”.

Sometimes these thoughts are true, and sometimes they’re not. If you normally have productive work days, then having one bad day doesn’t suddenly turn you into a lazy person. If you usually work out five days a week, and you skip one day, you don’t instantly lack discipline.

In other words, when you have a difficult day and you are not as productive as you wanted to be, that does not make you a failure, a lazy person, or someone who doesn’t have “it”.

It only means that today, it’s your turn to have a shitty day. Better days are coming your way soon.

You know how when you can’t sleep, it helps to stop trying to fall asleep and instead to read a book for a while? Bad days are like that.

If you’re normally a productive person, but today you just can’t get anything done, then give yourself permission to stop trying for the day. If you like, think of it as “today I wasn’t meant to get stuff done”.

Instead, engage in some basic maintenance. Take care of yourself. Enjoy a hot bath, go for a run, watch a Bond movie, or cook something new.

Because some days, you just got nothing. When you run into a day like that, accept it as quickly as you can.


— Peter

Eighty percent

Could it be that you’re not succeeding because you’re trying too hard?

Until recently, this sounded preposterous to me.

It was obvious: effort leads to results. More effort leads to more results. If something isn’t going the way I want it to, I need to try harder.

Problem is, this sets up a vicious circle. When you’re expecting the results that come with 100% effort and (for whatever reason) you don’t get those results, you might feel disappointed. Then you might channel that disappointment into trying harder.

But the harder you try, the more energy you use, and the more stress you generate. Then, when you work with less energy and more stress, you’ll probably make more mistakes, only disappointing yourself more—leading you to want to try harder again.

The result is that you’re constantly stressed and disappointed.

What if you decided, instead, to give 80% effort and expect 80% of results?

This could look like taking more breaks, allowing for some mistakes, or expecting success 80% of the time.

For example, if you’ve been trying really hard to establish a daily habit, you might feel guilty whenever you skip a day. The guilt can easily turn into negative self-talk like “I don’t have what it takes”, which can demotivate you and cause you to give up on the habit entirely.

In this case, try allowing yourself to miss one in five days (on average). When you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember “eighty percent” and make a specific plan to do better tomorrow.

If you like, you can also give 50% effort and expect 50% of results. The specific percentage doesn’t matter, as long as you stop trying so hard and relax a little.

In mindfulness terms, we could say that giving 80% effort is “letting things be” a bit. By not clinging so hard to great results, you might paradoxically be more likely to get those results.

So if you’ve tried giving maximum effort, if you’re not heading in the right direction, and if you’re stressed—why not reduce your effort and lower your expectations by 20% for a while, and see what happens?


— Peter

The fear of being exposed

Do you sometimes worry that—any minute now—you’ll be exposed? That others will realize that you’re a pretender, that you don’t know what you’re doing?

This fear is known as impostor syndrome. The more you push yourself, the more likely you are to suffer from it. As far as I can tell, anyone who frequently pushes themselves out of their comfort zone experiences impostor syndrome sometimes.

And that’s okay—fear is part of life, and so is the fear of being exposed as an impostor.

But a problem arises when you compare yourself (a beginner) to experts.

For example, I write to you every day. So does Seth Godin, who has written 17 books and whose blog is among the most popular in the world.

If I compare myself with Seth Godin, I’ll find that his posts are more inspiring, funnier, cleverer, that they’ll make you think more, etc. And all this while Seth’s posts use fewer words than mine!

But I have written perhaps 80 blog posts in my life. It would be fairer to compare my posts to Seth’s first 100 blog posts. And even then there might be all sorts of confounding factors.

Now, you and I both know that it’s better to focus on ourselves than to compare ourselves with others. Compare Present You with Past You and see whether you’ve made progress.

But if you’re going to compare yourself with others—I definitely do sometimes—then compare yourself when the beginner version of those others.

If you’re a musician, compare yourself with the Beatles when they were playing in a bar every night. If you’re a neuroscience student, ask your famous professor what he worked on when he was doing his master’s degree.

There’s nothing wrong with being new to something. We all start there. And towards others, simply be honest and tell them what you can do and do have experience with. They’ll trust you and want to work with you for your honesty.


— Peter

Anything, but not everything

Yesterday, a coaching client mentioned that she hates certain marketing channels.

To get new customers, she could blog, get on the phone with people, email them, or contact them on social media—but some of these do not align with her values.

Problem is, a friend told her that one of these channels (one that my client hates) is amazing for generating leads. Should she suck it up and do it anyway so that she can build her business?

My client can’t rule out all marketing channels. So it’s not as simple as “if there’s something you don’t want to do, don’t do it”.

Here’s a better way to think about it:

One of my favorite blogs is Paula Pant’s Afford Anything. It’s about achieving financial independence using passive income. Paula likes to say that in life, you can afford anything, but not everything.

Let’s adapt this motto: when it comes to things you don’t want to do, you can rule out anything, but not everything.


— Peter