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Dealing with imposter syndrome or a big setback?

Self-doubt is an inevitable aspect of leadership. This powerful idea can help you overcome it.

It’s not a question of if you experience self-doubt as a leader. It’s a question of when.

No matter what job you hold or how high you've climbed the ladder, there will be times when imposter syndrome strikes and you wonder if you’re up to the task. 

That sense of self-doubt can be even stronger after a tough career moment —like getting passed over for a promotion or falling short of a big goal.

That’s why I think every leader needs a personal highlight reel. 

It’s like a catalog of your life’s most successful moments that you can turn to when you need a reminder of what you’re capable of. 

I learned this strategy from my good friend (and co-author) Jason Goldsmith. He’s a performance coach for world-class athletes, including golfers like Jason Day and Justin Rose.

He coaches his golfers to make a mental highlight reel of their best shots, club by club. They think of their best drive, putt, five-iron shot, and so on. They write down each one, along with a few details about when and where it happened. 

Here’s why. At some point, that golfer will have a five iron out and hit a poor shot with it. When that happens, Jason coaches his players to rely on their personal highlight reel. He wants them to recall the time they excelled with that club in their hand, instead of dwelling on what just went wrong. That’s the positive mindset that will help them move forward and win.

And this strategy is just as powerful for leaders as it is for golfers.

A personal highlight reel gives you an injection of confidence right when you need it the most.

When you can easily bring to mind your best moments and biggest wins, you’ll find it’s easier to navigate tough moments and self-doubt.

It can also be a tool of self-discovery. You’ll unlock insights into the factors that have driven your success, whether it was your mindset, your process, or something else.

Best of all, creating a personal highlight reel is easy and fun. It’s simple enough to accomplish this week if you block out a little bit of time. Here’s how it works. 

Write down a list of successes you have had in your life. 

To create your personal highlight reel, reflect on the most successful moments in your life. You’ve got a couple of options here. You can write them down in whatever order they pop into your head, or you can go chronologically through your life.

But I do want you to consider your whole life, as far back as childhood or as recent as last week. What are your standout moments of success? Your list might include things like:

  • Hitting a big goal
  • A moment of recognition
  • A significant moment with a loved one
  • Winning something that mattered to you
  • A creative effort
  • Overcoming a tough situation
  • A turning point in a relationship
  • Work you were proud of
  • Kind words someone said to you
  • Something else entirely! 

Anything that comes to mind, write it down. Don’t worry about whether it’s a “big” enough moment. Believe me, if it popped into your head, it’s significant. Just write everything down.

If you get stuck, ask a partner, a parent, or a trusted friend what they think your biggest successes in life have been. Listen and make notes. This will help you see yourself with some objectivity and kickstart your own thinking.

Go deeper.

Once you have made your list, it’s time to get curious about these moments and what you can learn from them. To do that, pick one success and expound on it. Picture yourself back in that moment again and ask yourself questions like:

  • What were the details?
  • What did you do that contributed to that success?
  • What roadblocks did you face?
  • How did you move past them?
  • How did you feel at that moment?

Repeat that process of exploration for another moment on your list. Keep going for as long as you want or need to.

This process will help you more fully remember yourself in your proudest moments. The more you reflect, the more confidence you’ll have that you’re capable of delivering even more great moments.

You’ll also find some similarities and connections. That synthesis can help you better understand the factors that correlate with your successes.

Make this list easy to reference and add to.

When you’re done, put your list of successes somewhere that’s easy to find. Store it as a note on your phone. Or just give it its own special file in your desk drawer. I want you to put it somewhere handy, and here’s why.

The next time you encounter a roadblock … or whenever you feel that sense of belief in yourself waning, just take out your list.

Read over it and remind yourself of all the great things you’ve accomplished and the obstacles you’ve overcome. I can promise you, it’s the boost you need to go out there and do it again.

Plus, I want you to keep adding to it! When you have a personal highlight reel, you start to pay closer attention to the good moments in your life and career.

It will shape how you see yourself. And you can draw on that belief whenever you wonder if you’re up to a big task. It will empower you to take more risks because you understand just how capable and resilient you really are. 

Want more? See how great leaders overcome self-doubt. 

A personal highlight reel is a great way to learn about your own life. But another rich source of insight is other successful leaders. If you want to see how top leaders deal with self-doubt and imposter syndrome, it’s a lot easier now with my new app, How Leaders Lead.

We’ve got a growing library of short insights from the world’s top leaders—and they’re all SEARCHABLE! 

Download the app and search for “imposter syndrome,” and you’ll instantly have a curated playlist of relevant insights from top leaders like NPR’s Guy Raz, former NFL CMO Dawn Hudson, and tennis legend Andy Roddick.

Go try it for yourself and get even more insights that will help you overcome self-doubt and bring a healthy sense of confidence to the work you do.

When you create a personal highlight reel, you give yourself a secret weapon you can rely on in times of adversity or self-doubt. You remind yourself that you've overcome challenges before, and you can do it again.

Remember, your personal highlight reel is about more than a list of achievements. It's about recognizing the capable leader you are and carrying that confidence into whatever big successes are yet to come! 

Now, it’s your turn. Do you have a system to help you reflect on your successes? Or is there another strategy you use to overcome self-doubt?