impostor syndromeIf you suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’, or your friends sometimes ask why you don’t have as much self-belief as you should have when you are so good at what you do, this article is for you.

Belief in yourself comes from experience. If you are in a challenging situation and you can remember a number of times when you have successfully handled similar situations, you will feel as if you know what you are doing and you will feel confident that you can handle the current challenge.

For any given quality or skill that we have, we have a ‘database’ of memories or reference experiences in which we demonstrated that quality. If our recollection of those memories is strong and clear, and if there are a lot of them, we will feel confident about dealing with challenges that require that skill or quality.

Some people have lots of experience, but don’t ‘store’ their memories in an easy-to-access way. These people don’t have the confidence to match their competence level.

So one way of boosting your confidence is to recall times when you showed competence, or dealt with a challenging situation successfully.

Try this exercise, based on the ‘Appreciative Interview’ protocol from the change method known as Appreciative Inquiry – more about this at

You could do this as a written exercise by yourself, or as a pair, taking it in turns to interview each other. Please note that what you are after here is a story, not a set of bullet points or analysis. If you are interviewing someone else, it should take at least fifteen minutes – if the whole thing is over in five minutes, that suggests you weren’t going into enough depth.


  1. Tell me about a time when you faced a significant challenge and overcame it – a time when you learned something positive about yourself. 
  1. What is important to you about this experience?
  1. What qualities or skills does this experience show you possessing or developing?
  1. What was present in the situation that made this positive experience possible?
  1. What will you do to preserve and strengthen these qualities or skills in the future?

Let me know how you get on with this exercise by adding a comment below!

Note: ‘impostor syndrome’ is when high achievers worry that they are frauds and will be exposed as incompetent, despite lots of external evidence that they are actually great at what they do. It comes from an inability to store their experiences of competence in their inner ‘database’ of memories in a form that indicates validity, or that is easily accessible when they need it.

The concept of a ‘database’ of reference experiences comes from Steve Andreas’ excellent and accessible book Transforming Your Self: Becoming Who You Want To Be. Here’s a brief review of it.


How To Build Your Self-Belief

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