Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

How to turn self-doubt into an asset

Self-doubt is a painfully common experience for a business owner. From hitting “publish” on a post to developing a new product to holding your hundredth discovery call, even C-level executives have been quoted expressing a continued struggle with feeling like a fraud. The struggle is so real that all the way back in the late-70’s researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes gave it a name –> Impostor Phenomenon. It is now estimated that around 70% of people will experience impostor phenomenon at least once.


As a business owner, there’s good reason to feel like a fraud. As you seek to grow and you step into roles you never imagined for yourself, personal growth becomes mandatory. On a near-daily basis (depending on where you are in your business) you are operating at the edges of your capabilities — an intensely vulnerable place to be. Unfortunately, without an effective response to self-doubt, you can find yourself losing motivation, drooping in creativity, and spending a lot of time on stuff that doesn’t really help your business.


Because doubting yourself is so common and so problematic, this post is all about how to see your self-doubt in a new light. And because I want you to effectively step into your business and keep pushing the edges of your comfort zone, I’ve made a cheat sheet for you to keep on hand for when self-doubt strikes. We’re in this together, ok?

Self-doubt gets a bad rap. But you're the boss of your brain so you get to decide -- will self-doubt crush you? Or will you put in the effort to turn it into an asset? Creatives, bloggers, and business owners rely on creativity + productivity to make a living - unchecked self-doubt derails both. So read on and download the free cheat sheet so you can get started using your self-doubt to your advantage. More at

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What science says about self-doubt

Clance and Imes describe impostor phenomenon as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” What they saw happening in the women they were studying was that despite great capability and high motivation for achievement, they lived in fear of being “found out.” Sound familiar? Yea, me too.

Self-doubt is stressful. It’s extremely difficult to focus on a task when your brain is telling you that you 1. have no right to be doing it and 2. you’re going to be found out. That is a threat to your security and you are biologically wired to avoid that kind of threat. Your body’s stress response is designed to go nuts at this point to give you the energy you need to get to safety.

But we’re not in the savannah running off on our own from the rest of the tribe and therefore at risk of getting mauled.

A new business adventure may not sound all that revolutionary but for your brain, it’s different than what is status quo. And therefore a threat. Your brain chemicals are quickly transitioning to a stress response in order to prime you for action – to run from the proverbial lion.

When you’re publishing new, high-value content, developing a new product, or consulting with a new client, your brain is looking at the possible outcome and responding based on prior experiences (imprints – like that time you were called a know-it-all in middle school). It then goes into automatic survival mode. A droop in chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin give you that feeling of fear and loneliness while cortisol spikes your heart rate.


In essence, your brain perceives a need for a safe place amongst safe people and your biochemistry is responding appropriately to get you moving in that direction.


Now let’s talk about why you should not move in that direction and what you should do instead.


Reacting vs Responding to self-doubt

So we’ve talked about what happens in your brain when you try something new, but what about behavior? That’s the stuff we can actually look at in our everyday lives. So what happens when someone is experiencing self-doubt?

  • excessive gathering of informationreading tons of blog posts on mistakes new biz owners make, listening to another podcast about sales funnels, signing up for one more ebook about how to land new clients


  • focusing on the urgent + unimportant taskschecking social media again, reading email without taking any actions or responding, investigating who unfollowed you, checking up on the competition,


  • easily distracted by unrelated mind chatterwhen was the last time I washed my hair? re-organizing your office space, spending excessive time styling a new photo for social media, ruminating on something someone said last week


  • preoccupation with your title (even Marie Forleo talks about this one) – rewriting your about page / social media bios over and over again


The list goes on. Day-in and day-out these behaviors indicate something is going on beneath the surface. You may be unaware of your self-doubt to some extent but as it continues to build up it will become obvious. Because you’ll be literally telling yourself, “You idiot, what makes you think you have any right to do this?”

What you shouldn’t do

  • Blindly listen to the shame gremlins.If you abandon every idea, project, or opportunity that you don’t feel 100% capable of doing (from meeting new people to launching a new product), you’re life will be spent watching everything Netflix has to offer. You’ll be constantly seeking to numb yourself to avoid shame and the deep longing to do something important with your time. But you are strong, brave, and clever. So don’t just walk away, ok?


  • Cover over the gremlins with inspirational quotes.There is inspiration that points us back to truth and grounds us in a bigger purpose beyond our own comfort, and there’s “inspiration” that is completely devoid of meaning and like putting a child-sized bandaid on a gunshot wound. Words like “you got this!” are pointless if they don’t point to concrete evidence.Trying to deceive yourself into doing the work will more likely serve to reinforce the feeling of self-doubt, and possibly even make it true.

What happens if you just ignore self-doubt?

Suppressing internal messages will lead to increased internal pressure. Increased pressure can lead to explosions. Many people talk about the cycle of depression, anxiety, greater loss of self-confidence, frustration, and loss of interest they experience while attempting to build a business. It’s burnout. When you fail to respond to what your body is telling you, your body makes you respond by first shutting down your ability to focus and be productive, followed by real health issues like insomnia, headaches, depression, anxiety, etc.

What you should do

Mindfully approach your self-doubt, seeking to understand why it is there and to learn more about yourself through the process. Mindfulness is a neutral look at your thoughts, feelings, and environment. You’re an observer of what’s going on, gathering information, and taking appropriate actions.

Observations to help you slow down the stress response and choose how you want to respond:


  • “Welcome, old friend”Pema Chondron talks about smiling at fear and welcoming it. You should expect it to be there – you’re being creative and gutsy. You can’t expect to just shoo it away or that you will grow out of it – instead you can let it be a sign that you are daring to do something new and let it sit while you ask more questions. You can say to yourself, “I must be pushing the edges of my comfort zone.” That’s good. As a creative entrepreneur, that’s what you want.


  • Your brain is giving you space to do a gut checkLet’s remember that it is entirely possible that you are an impostor (gasp!). People claim to be more capable than they are all the time. Sometimes it’s with malicious intent and other times it’s simply because they lost perspective.For example: Maybe all the people you follow on Twitter have been blogging about a certain topic – like landing pages – and you decide to do the same. Except that it is a little out of nowhere compared to the rest of your blog content. That feeling you have that makes writing the post hard or makes you feel a little extra self-conscious? That’s a good thing. You’re getting a chance to decide if that’s a direction you want and should take your business or if you got a little bit of copycat syndrome and need to scrap the idea. Our minds get hijacked all the time by the things we see making other people happy. Acknowledge you got distracted and just move on.

    Your brain could also be telling you that you don’t have enough information. Strangely enough, you could be endlessly surfing web pages because you do indeed need more information. But it’s not likely that reading 20 versions of the same post is going to get you what you need. If you’re developing a course for other graphic designers and you realize your understanding is a little shallow in an area, you need to problem solve, not consume more blogs.


Actions to take:

  • Assess your current capabilities and that which is required for the task or project at hand. If you need more information for your course on design, don’t just binge-read Elle & Co blog posts (it’s fun, I know! And I’m not even a designer!), reach out to Lauren and talk shop. That way you can get a better feel for another designer’s process and swap sources.
  • Seek effective support. More than just an instagram post or a “you got this! #girlboss.” Go to one of your favorite Facebook groups and ask a question. Get on the phone with someone and talk about what’s going on. Work with a coach who will encourage you + help you see the path.
  • Take note of your common indicators for self-doubt. What are your specific triggers? What does the downward spiral tend to look like?
  • Never stop learning. You will always have space to grow. You set yourself up for failure when you start to believe you’ve got this girlboss thing figured out. So surround yourself with people who push you to perform at a higher level and make a habit of seriously learning. This is more than scanning blog posts that catch your eye. I’m talking keep a list of problems you keep running into and actually seek to understand the issue. Some things you’ll get to delegate – bless your soul for not needing to know everything yourself. But some things (like understanding “how do people learn best” for that course you’re outlining) are vital to the efficacy of your work.

Did I miss something?

I’m a scientist at heart. The specific behaviors I’ve indicated here are not exhaustive and I’m always gathering more in order to help people (including myself) understand why they do what they do. I also love supportive evidence.

So tell me in the comments – what do you start doing when you’re doubting yourself? What helps you move through it?


Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior Raising Capable Kids

3 things you should know when you work with people

We all want the people around us to leave satisfied. When you work with people, whether personally or professionally, there are a few basic characteristics of human nature that you need to keep in mind.


Around here, I’m subject to the needs of tiny people. Tiny people who don’t think the same way I do. Because they are tiny (read: they have an undeveloped brain, lack a lot of knowledge on how the world works, and have very little life experience).


You might be subject to the needs of your clients and maybe even your own tiny people. I empathize. Working with and amongst other people is one of the best parts of life – there is so much we can do together. It’s also really tough work. We get in our own way when we forget that we are all different, with different levels of understanding and different life experiences. And we forget that those differences are a good thing.


With your clients, you are more knowledgable + experienced in the skills and cluster of concepts surrounding your craft. Their lack of understanding is not wrong (it’s why they are paying you). As the professional, learning to read your clients and probe for their level of understanding + how they feel about the experience is essential. How else can you ensure they are having the best experience possible and will LOVE the outcome after working with you??

When you work with clients, you need to know a few things about how the average person works. Save yourself the headache and read these 3 facts about people. More at



A few things to be aware of when you work with people:

  1. How we feel about something often matters the most
  2. We all have blind spots
  3. Most of us have control issues


Now let’s look a little closer at each of these.
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How we feel about something often matters the most

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The part of our brain that controls emotion – the limbic system – often overrides our logic + reasoning. This is the “I do what I don’t want and what I want I don’t do” conundrum. We have to expect the people around us have this same issue. Your clients may react a certain way or have a gut feeling about your work that they can’t articulate better than “I don’t like it.” Their level of self-awareness will determine how they handle this experience. This is HUGE because it’s here that distance starts to creep between you and your client. What they need is for you to use your knowledge + experience to help them process that gut feeling into a more helpful form of feedback.


You may be able to proactively give your clients the information and language they need to provide helpful feedback. With Grace and Gold does a great job of this with their blog. Recently, I got a lot of value from this post on color theory where they gave me the language to describe how color schemes make me feel.


Whether it is before a client books or in the midst of working with them, give your clients the language they need to effectively work with you. The better their tools for communicating their needs, the better they will feel about the experience.


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We all have blind spots

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As a mom, I get the opportunity to ease the stress of trying to understand everything at once. When my kids are crabby, tugging on me, or struggling to control their bodies, they don’t really know why. Their brains still have a lot of developing to do and so much of their world is new – all they know is they want what they want NOW.
I call these my children’s blind spots (actually, I just came up with that while writing and really liked it. So now I’m going with it).
As un-PC as this may sound, your clients are the same way. If we think about your skills on a scale of developmental stages, your clients are most likely novice level. They don’t know why they are hyperfocusing on the perfect shade of peach – they just know something is wrong and they want what they want NOW.

You can step in to your clients’ blind spots. Just as I have to have a mental list of my children’s needs, so must you. Take stock of your experience – where are the gaps most often popping up for your clients? My photographer friend, Kirsten of K Solberg Photography, sends out a prep email before a shoot with important tips and reminders. Prior to a styled shoot I did with her, she eased stress I didn’t know I had by providing details on what I should do to prepare. All I had to do was show up because she didn’t expect me to operate in my blind spots. (And I didn’t even throw a tantrum!) This is why I LOVE working with her and recommend her to anyone who asks.


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Most of us have control issues

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As humans we have a basic need for certainty. In survival terms, that’s security in the sufficiency of people and resources around us. In our modern world, it also includes fulfilled expectations. The best way to ensure certainty is to personally control the situation, right? Especially where we feel most vulnerable. Like our wedding day or our brand identity.


Anyone relying on another person is going to feel vulnerable – and most (just because I can’t confidently say all) will be tempted to try to control the situation. Think micromanaging. So those emails you get late at night with more questions, instructions, or another “I changed my mind!” (while frustrating) are most likely data: your client is struggling with an expectation that feels very, very important. And they are having trouble handing it over to you.


Following the previous tips, you can increase certainty by preparing your clients with accurate expectations + anticipating where they might have trouble. In addition, setting guidelines for your clients can reduce their uncertainty. For example, there is a commonly recurring tip to set business hours. This protects you from the stress of answering emails as soon as they come in (at 11pm) but also, when stated, give your clients certainty of when they can reach you and when to expect a reply. In our culture with so many things vying for our attention, it becomes common practice to over communicate because we expect we are being ignored or forgotten.


Lastly, while the extra work can be frustrating, remember that it’s a big part of your job to build trust with your clients. That’s a whole other blog post so I’ll leave it at a specific tip: schedule a call or in-person meeting with them. Actively demonstrate that you want to hear them and address their concerns. This doesn’t mean you are bending to every demand – it actually shows confidence to proactively engage a difficult client. By meeting with them, you get the opportunity to convey confidence in your abilities and also probe more for their expectations (so you can give them a more accurate outlook or adjust your plan).




You get the pleasure of spending your time and effort on a better human experience for the people around you. That’s not an easy task but it is a worthy task. Keep these characteristics in mind and build systems that decrease uncertainty for your clients.


So let’s hear from you.

  • What’s your favorite way to improve client experience?
  • What blind spots are you covering?
  • Whose doing it well? (I’d love to get more examples of creative girlbosses rocking their client experiences!)


Mindfulness and Cognitive Science Neurobiology and Behavior

When vulnerability makes you feel like crap

Sometimes, self-awareness reminds us that we are not as awesome as we wanted to believe.


I have a very specific tell in group settings – a typical behavior that indicates when I am feeling self-conscious. After sharing something or posing a question, I quickly take a drink of whatever I have in front of me…even if the cup is actually empty. Because my worth is, at times, wrapped up in the thoughts and reactions of the people around me, it is shame-inducing to try to measure up and be found wanting. Even if it’s by my own (mostly ridiculous) standards + assessments. So I try to hide myself behind an empty coffee cup.


Discovering and digging down to the root of this tell is one instance where increasing my self-awareness really sucked. I didn’t want to know the amount of shame I experience on a daily basis. I didn’t want to know how much I didn’t like myself (and that that’s a big reason I was (/ am) so judgmental).


Self-awareness is about getting to know ourselves so we can begin to influence our behavior. And that includes all the stuff we’ve been avoiding – like the real reason we want to lose weight or succeed in business or have well-behaved kids. We don’t always come out looking pretty when we really get down to the underlying beliefs that shape what we do.



Vulnerability is a skill. Brene Brown tells us it's essential to the creative process but what do you do when that "process" leaves you feeling awful? Seeing yourself as you are - someone who always has room to grow - requires remembering these three things. You got this, girlboss. More at:

I’ve recently been going through another bout of lightbulb moments shedding light on my habitual behavior that brings up a lot of not-enjoyable feelings. I’m going to give you 3 reminders (based on primary research) today that I look back on during these stressful experiences. I hope they can serve you when you start feeling all those hard emotions and you’re tempted to get rid of them any way you can.


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The better you know yourself, the better your decision-making

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Recently my sister applied for a job. She walked into the business and introduced herself to the manager explaining she had sent in her application online. The manager then told her it was a system error – they weren’t actually hiring. When I talked to her later she told me how she felt stupid for making the mistake. However, in terms of job hunting, she did what she was supposed to – she put herself out there to make a personal connection with the person who might hire her. Turned out she had the wrong information – but why should she feel ashamed over that?


When we know our own tendencies – our internal beliefs of unworthiness or expectations of personal perfectection or never being an inconvenience – we can identify moments quickly when we start to hide from the world. My sister had enough self-awareness to identify that she was feeling stupid for making a mistake. She could have blindly walked into a really unproductive day but instead she recognized the hard emotion and subsequently was able to move on. I’ll talk about the one other really good thing she did in a couple minutes.


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Your brain chemistry gives you a genuine capacity for hope

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Self-awareness enables you to identify signs of stress. When you can sense or predict a stressful moment, you can decide how you will respond. Battling feelings of unworthiness or shame is very stressful. Soon after making a social blunder you can find me snapping at my kids or deflecting all conversation with really bad jokes. But it doesn’t have to be this way – we hold within ourselves (literally) a genuine capacity for hope, optimism, and peace and we can bring it out during times of stress.


In this case, I’m talking about serotonin. (Seriously, the body is so cool). Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can be released in the brain during times of stress to help us manage the stress in an effective way. These chemicals are responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Let me explain by simulation:


Remember the tell I mentioned? I finally told people about it. In a group of around 15 women (some are close friends) when I was supposed to be leading a discussion about body image, I caught myself going for my empty coffee cup. And right there I told everyone that I do it when I feel inadequate. I was laughing about it but it was terrifying to admit. And I kept reaching for my cup. But now that the “tell” was out in the open, I had the support I needed to sit in the feelings of imperfection. Throughout the conversation I received a lot of those blessed “me too’s” and also a lot of affirmation that the thoughts I had in my head and that feeling of inadequacy just weren’t true. So even though I still feel them when I talk in a group, I can counter the emotions with my own response where I choose to not believe I am less worthy or valuable as a person and where I choose to focus on my capacity for growth.


So when you are feeling all those hard feelings because you started paying attention to the way you react to the world around you, you can simultaneously feel hope and joy. The Bible tells us the same thing – and the reason for it is the same too. When our identities are rooted in something other than our performance, we can get frustrated by our mistakes without getting the wind knocked out of us. We can continue to hope for a better outcome in the future and maintain our joy because we know that our underperformance does not alienate us.


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You are wired for human connection

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Vulnerability is difficult. And admitting to yourself and to others that you feel shame or unworthiness is definitely vulnerable. But we are wired for human connection. Something amazing happens when we reach out. There is a hormone, known as oxytocin, that is released during times of intimacy between two people – sex, breastfeeding, birth, and during times of stress are a few of these instances. It is released in the brain and promotes feelings of wellbeing, trust, and generosity.


Research has shown that in some people, simply writing a letter to a trusted friend or family member increases oxytocin levels and brings about feelings of wellbeing. From personal experience, bringing trusted people in on the story playing in my head, while frightening, gives me what I need to take action or release the grip of shame.


In my story about my anxiety in a group setting, once I told those I was with, I still kept reaching for my cup. But in the midst of it, I could make eye contact with a friend and though the compulsion was still present, I could sit with it and be reminded again that I didn’t need to hide. The compulsion is much weaker now – and I’ve also improved in my ability to hear and process my need to growth in clear communication. =)


Similarly, with my sister, she reached out to me after the hiring mix up and that gave me the opportunity to remind her she did everything she should have done given the information she had – in fact, she did a vulnerable thing in putting herself out there. We were able to walk through the result together because when she felt the hard feelings, she didn’t just let them roll around in her head and heart passively. She processed them effectively.



Prior art:

Brene Brown researches the impact of shame on relationships and the non-obvious antidote – vulnerability.

Dr. Shelley Taylor has done monumental work over the past 30 years to uncover how our brain chemistry impacts our social lives.