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3 Ways Highly Successful People Handle Self-Doubt

Think about the last time you felt fear and anxiety take control of your day.

Maybe it stopped you from speaking up in a meeting because you felt like your opinion wasn’t worthwhile. Perhaps a simple email took you hours to write because your inner-critic kept telling you it wasn’t good enough — that you weren’t good enough.

Despite a track record of accomplishments, many high-achievers struggle with thoughts that they are a fraud and that they are incompetent.

This psychological phenomenon, known as Impostor Syndrome, can show up in many areas of our lives, including at work in the form of:

  • Downplaying promotions
  • Declining new responsibilities
  • Assuming you’re not sufficiently qualified for your job

While no one is immune from self-doubt, it actually impacts high-achievers the most, and in my experience, this battle with the inner-critic is one many successful people share — yet one we don’t often talk about it.

The Truth About Self-Doubt

Fear of failure is a universal human emotion, experienced by some of the world’s most successful people

Maya Angelou once admitted:

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

Leaders from virtually every industry have spoken about feeling undeserving of success, including Neil Gaiman, Sheryl Sandberg, Emma Watson, and even Albert Einstein.

So if you are dealing with Impostor Syndrome, know that you are not alone. While it’s true that self-doubt can be toxic, what’s more problematic is the fact that we never learn to deal with this normal, expected emotion in healthy ways.

In my TEDx talk I shared a simple two-step strategy highly successful people use to overcome self-doubt. The secret is approaching uncertainty as a skill, and embracing a growth mindset that it’s something you can get better at with time and practice.

You can watch my talk for the full details, but here are a few tips to get you started.

How Highly Successful Deal with Impostor Syndrome

1. They recognize repetitive thought patterns and actively change their mindset

Out of the 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts we have every day, estimates suggest 98% of them are the same. This means your inner-critic is really a habit– a thought pattern you can get control of.

Start by identifying underlying beliefs (potentially rooted in childhood) that may make you feel as though you don’t deserve your success. Look for exaggerated, irrational, or unrealistic thoughts that come up again and again, and practice identifying common cognitive distortions that trip you up.

2. They get curious and ask questions

Your inner-critic is really there to protect you, so do your best to practice self-compassion. Take the questions it poses at face value and use them for problem solving.

For example, if your inner-critic is cautioning that you may not be ready to pursue a new career path, address its concerns constructively. Use it as an opportunity to honestly assess your skills and evaluate gaps you need to fill.

3. They don’t let fear get in the way of their purpose

We all experience worry and confusion in the face of change and uncertainty. It’s normal to be afraid. Our inner-critic will always speak up anytime we try to do big things no matter how positive we try to be. Hearing the voice of your inner-critic can mean you’re about to do something brave and important to you. No one gets the luxury of living without fear–not even confident people.

So, it’s time to start viewing your emotions — the good and the bad — for what they are: your greatest strength and most valuable tool.

3 Ways Highly Successful People Handle Self-Doubt

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a performance coach, licensed social worker, and has a Masters from Columbia. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers. Her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She also helps entrepreneurs take bold steps to grow their businesses. Melody has helped over 10,000 smart, self-aware people like you. Her coaching gives you actionable strategies to reach your goals. You get concrete steps to overcome the complex struggles of success. Melody loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence. She can teach you skills for assertiveness and influence. Her specialties include better managing your emotions at work. Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Click here and grab the FREE COURSE to go from insecure to unstoppable confidence 5 DAYS TO FREEDOM FROM SELF-DOUBT..

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APA Reference
Wilding, M. (2018). 3 Ways Highly Successful People Handle Self-Doubt. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 Mar 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.