Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.
Mon, 22 May 2023 19:00
We all have times when we feel like a fraud. In the latest installment of our Success 2.0 series, we revisit a favorite 2021 conversation with psychologist Kevin Cokley. We'll explore the corrosive effects of self-doubt, and how we can turn that negative voice in our heads into an ally.
This is Hidden Brain, I'm Shankar Vedantam. At the Olympic Games in 2021, one athlete arrived in Tokyo with a mountain of expectations on her 4'8 inch frame. 5 medals in real, 4 of them gold and could do even better than that this time around here in Tokyo. If you don't think that that's hard, then you really don't understand gymnastics. People didn't just expect her to win gold medals in gymnastics. They expected magic. She has just set herself so far apart from the rest of the field and not just on the competition floor. 4 days into the games, Simone Biles pulled out of the competition. I've just never felt like this going into a competition before and I tried to go out here and have fun and warm up in the back when a little bit better but then once I came out here I was like, no, mental is not there. The world was stunned and athlete with seemingly other worldly powers was struggling. From the outside looking in, it seemed hard to understand and it raised a question. If a world champion can be toppled by these emotions, what does it mean for the rest of us? This week on Hidden Brain, in the latest in our success 2.0 series, we examine the voice inside our heads that says, the world may think you are amazing, but you're really afraid. It's hard to see ourselves clearly. This is true in all manner of situations, but it can be especially true when we are confronting a challenge. At such moments, many of us start to doubt ourselves. We think we are unequal to the task. For the University of Michigan, Kevin Cochley researchers the psychology of self-doubt. He studies the corrosive effects these doubts can have on our well-being, but also how we might turn our internal misgivings into an ally. Kevin Cochley, welcome to Hidden Brain. Thank you for having me. Kevin, you're a psychologist who studies the phenomenon of self-doubt, but you yourself have not been immune to such doubts. I want to take you back to when you were 29 years old, you had just completed your PhD, you had begun teaching. Can you describe the fears that went through your mind as you prepared for class each day? Yes, I was a young assistant professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. And I can recall very vividly the feeling that I had walked into hallways at the psychology department there and seeing on the walls these publications by my new colleagues, very accomplished colleagues. And I had come out of graduate school having only one publication. I believed that I was hired on the basis that people saw potential in me, particularly in terms of my teaching, but I knew that I had a lot to prove in terms of research. And so when I was walking those hallways, I had this sense of wow, like, can I do this? And it was incredibly stressful. It sort of had me doubting whether, in fact, I belonged, whether I deserve to be there. And I was aware that I was one of only a few black professors at the university. And so I did not want to do anything that would result in students seeing me or believing me to not be qualified to be the professor. So I made sure that I wore sports coats and wore ties to class every day. I had a briefcase that I bought because in my mind, a professor carries a briefcase. And so I was really working hard to project an image of expertise and authority that I imagined professors needing to represent. I understand that one way yourself doubt manifested was that you were worried about misbeaking in class, saying something wrong. And I'm wondering when you imagine making a mistake like that, what was the worst case scenario that ran through your head? Speaking in front of a large introductory class, psychology class, I thought, man, I cannot stand here and mispeak. I need to make sure that I'm conjugating my verbs correctly. I need to make sure that I'm enunciating every word exactly correctly. And so for me, the worst case scenario would have been to be lecturing and to say something incorrectly and then to have my students questioning my authority and ability to be an effective professor. So for me, that was a worst case scenario. You've been a professor for a while now. You clearly know what you're doing. You have a lengthy publication record. Have yourself doubts gone away? You know, that's a good question. It depends on the day that you ask me the question. When I'm speaking to people and when people are introducing me and they're reading my accolades, on the one hand, I feel pretty good about what I've been able to accomplish. But there are still some days when I find myself doubting what I have the expertise to be able to speak in front of people. And when I talk to my students about this, they find it amazing because they have Dr. Kevin Cochlear on somewhat of an academic pedestal and when I tell them that even Dr. Cochlear sometimes still suffers and still wonders about my deservedness to be in the position that I'm in, they are surprised. So I do still have those experiences. So Kevin, it looks like you yourself are a walking example of this phenomenon that you have studied for many years. In popular culture, it's called the imposter syndrome. Now you think that term is overly clinical, you prefer the term imposter phenomenon. Can you describe for me what the imposter phenomenon is? The imposter phenomenon is basically the sentiment that one is being intellectually fraudulent. It's the idea that individuals who are very accomplished, very competent, very intelligent people, nevertheless feel like they are fooling people. They believe that they are not nearly as smart and competent as their accomplishments would suggest. So we're going to talk about the factors that produce these kinds of self-doubt and what we can do about these misgivings. But I want to start by looking at the different dimensions of self-doubt because when you start to peel this onion, it turns out to be a really complex phenomenon. I want to play you a clip of the actress Viola Davis talking to the CBS program 60 minutes. I don't know if it's healthy or not. I'm just saying that it's something that I recognize and all the artists I've worked with. It's in all of them. So I know the language of the artist and the language of the artist is someone's going to find me out. I may not be as great as people think I am. I may not be as great as people think I am. So one dimension of self-doubt here is that you worry that others might have an inflated sense of how good you are, that you might not be able to live up to those expectations. Yeah, that is one of the hallmark traits of imposter feelings. When you have friends and colleagues telling you how great you are and saying all of these nice and wonderful things about you, you find yourself just wondering, can I live up to these lofty expectations and you can't help but sort of feel that I can't live up to that. Byola Davis made those remarks, it really sort of represented some of the classic hallmark signs of imposterism. So I'm wondering if this might be especially acute for an actor, but I think all of us might experience some version of this. When you're shooting a movie, they don't show the audience all the takes when someone flubbed the line or made a mistake. So byola Davis thinks that we, the audience, associate her with the perfection of the role she's playing on the screen, what we see on the screen, she on the other hand knows the whole picture, the, you know, all the mistakes, the off days, and she worries that our picture of her and her picture of her might not match. You are absolutely correct. What we see is the sort of perfected version of who she is as an actress. What we don't see are, as you said, the many outtakes, you know, that I'm sure she's had to go through in order to get finally the, the perfect scene. Again, I mean, it's the idea that, you know, one needs to try to be perfect because you believe that people sometimes see you as being perfect when you know that to not be true about yourself. Hmm. So why would a Davis was asked to play the role of Michelle Obama in a showtime series titled The First Lady? And she described Michelle Obama as a goddess. I would look at the next dimension of self-doubt and play you a clip. Here is Michelle Obama talking about a question that goes through her own mind all the time. Am I good enough? That's a question that has dog me for a good part of my life. Am I good enough to have all of this? Am I good enough to be the First Lady of the United States? And I think that many women and definitely many young girls of all backgrounds walk around with that question. And I still feel that at some level, I have something to prove because of the color of my skin, because of the shape of my body, because of who knows how people are judging me. So I feel like Michelle Obama is speaking to another dimension of self-doubt. And perhaps this is similar to your own experience with self-doubt as a 29-year-old assistant professor. And this one of self-doubt is not that other people think too highly of you, but the fear that other people might think that you're a fraud. Yeah. And I found myself smiling because that is the exact clip that I use in every imposter phenomenon I talk that I give. I was actually saying the words along with her as she was saying it. But yeah, no, you're right. In this instance, she's talking about the feelings of self-doubt that she has about herself, but that are really rooted in, I would argue, societal views about people who look like her, people whom she would represent. Now you might think that one form of self-defense against these feelings is to just simply prove to yourself that you're very good. But it turns out that doesn't always work. The poet Maya Angelo won three Grammys for her spoken word albums. She was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and won the presidential Medal of Freedom. So she had never written another word in her life, her reputation would have been secure. But Maya Angelo was still plagued by self-doubt. She talks about having published 11 books and still finding herself wondering, oh, they're going to find me out. And when I talk about her, I say, look, she is Maya-Freakin' Angelo. She's one of the greatest fortices that we've ever experienced. And yet even Maya Angelo has had these feelings of being found out that she is somehow fraudulent and fooling people. And so she is a beautiful example of someone who has achieved at the very highest level, nevertheless still feelings that they are fraudulent. You know, I'm struck by the similarities between self-doubt and conspiracy theories. Go along with me for just a second here. And on the surface, these are very different ideas, but one thing that unites them is that if you're plagued by self-doubt or you subscribe to a conspiracy theory, the evidence does not disabuse you of your belief. So in the case of a conspiracy theory, you find ways to discount the evidence that contradicts the theory. And in the case of self-doubt, no amount of past evidence that you're talented seems to convince you that your fears are not warranted. No, I mean, that's absolutely right. In fact, it almost kind of reminds me of that social psychological concept or confirmation bias. You know, you are more oriented toward finding evidence that supports the contrary, that would support the idea of you not being competent, even though, again, your accomplishments would suggest otherwise. So I can actually see the connection. There's one last dimension of self-doubt that I want to place on the table. The actor Tom Hanks has long been one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Like Viola Davis, he has said that he also worries that he is soon going to be found out. No matter who we are, no matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, how did I get here? And am I going to be able to continue this? When are they going to discover that I am in fact a fraud and take everything away from me? It's a high wire act that we all walk. And I do this in the work that I do because there are days when I know that three o'clock tomorrow afternoon, I am going to have to deliver some degree of emotional goods. And if I can't do it, that means I'm going to have to fake it. And if I fake it, that means they may catch me at faking it. And if they catch me at faking it, well, then it's just Doomsday. What strikes me in this clip, Kevin, is another dimension of self-doubt. And we've discussed this elsewhere in Hidden Brain. Many of us subject ourselves to the kind of scrutiny and criticism we would never dream of aiming at other people. When you talk a moment about the harshness of our inner critic, are you yourself harder on you than you are on other people? I think that's a really good question. And I know that certainly I can see elements of that in myself. When I've done something that is noteworthy for which I should be proud of. And nevertheless, I can still find reasons to be critical of it, to find reasons to not be as happy or by the or excited or too embrace it as a worthy accomplishment. And so being our own harshest critics, that's something that I see that I can hear in what Tom Hanks said. And certainly I can see elements of that in myself. Yeah. There's a theme that runs through many of the examples of imposter phenomenon that we've discussed. Maya Angelo, who's sort of written Levin Books, thinks that she's a fraud. The writer John Steinbeck is supposed to have once written something very similar. He wrote, I'm not a writer. I've been fooling myself and other people. And even the physicist Albert Einstein is supposed to have once called himself an involuntary swindler. Now, on the surface, all of this seems incomprehensible. You know, you've written amazing books. If you've reinvented the world of physics, how can you think of yourself as a cheat and a swindler? Why do you think it is that people who are plagued by self-doubt cannot see the brilliance that is playing for us to see when we look in from the outside? You know, I mean, I think that's the million dollar question. I mean, that's something that we are still in many ways trying to figure out. But what I will say is that if you've come from environments where you were sort of complimented on things unrelated to your intelligence, let's say that you were someone who was very socially skilled, let's say you were someone who was very sort of, you know, athletic. And all you ever heard from people, family, and friends was about your prowess in those areas, but you never received feedback, you know, about your intelligence. Then part of that can result in you internalizing this idea that, you know, maybe you're not that smart, you know, maybe, you know, your talent is lie elsewhere. That's part of the origins of these feelings. And the most successful people among us doubt their abilities from time to time. Self-doubt can be so powerful that it makes us feel like frauds in our own lives. When we come back, the origins are self-doubt and what we can do about that negative voice in our heads. For listening to Hidden Brain, I'm Shankar Vedanta. This is Hidden Brain, I'm Shankar Vedanta. Lots of smart, talented, accomplished people harbor self-doubt. They worry they are frauds and impostures. Even when they have ample evidence, there is no need for such fear. At the University of Michigan, psychologist Kevin Cochley studies the psychology of self-doubt and the imposter phenomenon. Kevin, the psychologist Pauline Clans and Suzanne Eims first used the term imposter phenomenon in a 1978 study and they focused on high achieving women. Can you describe that study for me and what they found? These were women who were all incredibly accomplished women. It was interesting because when they worked with them, they kept repeatedly hearing these feelings of self-doubt in spite of the accomplishments that they had as individual women. They led them to theorize that this idea of the imposter phenomenon was something that they believed at the time salient among women because again, this was the population they were working with. Now, the examples of people like Tom Hanks or Albert Einstein and you yourself, Kevin, might suggest the imposter phenomenon doesn't just affect women. Is that data to back up the anecdotes? That's absolutely true. In my own work, I have published studies where in one study, imposter feelings were certainly more prevalent among women than men. But in another study that I published, there was no difference between men and women. What we know from the accumulation of work that's been done in this area is that there has not been any consistent findings of women experiencing higher and positive feelings than men. Now, that being said, and I talk about this a lot, I do believe that with women, the implications of imposter feelings are a bit different than among men. I point to one of the studies that I published where I was looking at factors that predict GPA. What I found in that study was that even though there were no differences between men and women in terms of their imposter feelings, imposter feelings had no link to GPA for men. It did not impact their grades at all. But for women, imposter feelings were in fact linked in very clear ways to their GPA. You can say on the one hand that there were no differences in the reporting of imposter feelings amongst both groups, but the implications of those imposter feelings were quite different for men and women. What about racial differences here, Kevin? We've talked about several prominent black people who experienced self-doubt, but you've conducted studies looking at racial differences in self-doubt. Some of the results are both revealing and surprising. What do you find? In the initial study that I published, we had a very diverse sample of college students consisting of Asian Americans, African Americans, and Latinx Americans. We went into the study thinking that we would see evidence of higher imposter feelings among African Americans and Latinx Americans. We believe that because of what we understand to be some of the ideas and beliefs surrounding African-American students and Latinx students around intelligence and around their deservedness to be in some predominant white educational spaces. But what we found, in fact, was quite the opposite. We found that Asian American students in our particular sample reported higher feelings of imposterism than both African-American students and Latinx students. This was counterintuitive to what we expected to find. We tried to explain it somewhat speculatively on the idea that Asian American students have to deal with that modern minority myth in ways that exacerbate those feelings. It might be a little bit like what we discussed earlier about Viola Davis basically saying, other people think that I'm perfect, but I know I'm not perfect. That creates a kind of dissonance in my mind. Yes, absolutely. You hinted at something a moment ago, and I'm wondering if we can explore this a little bit more, which is there seems to be a connection between highly competitive environments and the internal generation of self-doubt. You talk, for example, about walking down the corridors at your first job and seeing the publications of other professors in the wall. In some ways, having this be a reminder for you that you had not done as much. Can you talk about the link between being in a competitive environment and the experience of self-doubt? When you are in environments that are stressful and that are particularly competitive, these almost become incubators for these imposter feelings. Again, if I use myself as an example, the story that you shared about me being a 29-year-old professor, straight out of graduate school, it was an important thing. A competitive environment. Part of it, I think, may have been just my own internalization because it wasn't like I had my colleagues come into me and constantly reminding me, you know you are in a competitive environment, you know you have to do this. No, it wasn't anything so explicit. But it was just the subtle reminders that you are now a professor in a very productive, competitive environment, and they didn't have to say anything to me. I was reminded by those publications that I saw on the walls. You know you've talked about another idea about how we communicate with young people, especially in educational settings. If you communicate to a young person, I think you are a genius, I think you are a prodigy, I think you are special. In some ways we might think that we are communicating encouragement to the person, but we are also putting expectations on that person. So when that person doesn't do well in a study or doesn't do well in a test, I mean, you know, they are now comparing their performance with what they believe you think of their performance and they feel like they are falling short. Is there a risk in some ways in overinflating, you know, the student's sense of how good they might be or how good they ought to be? I think there is a risk. I mean, and certainly there is nothing wrong with offering encouragement. I think all students need encouragement. To your point, I do think that one could go overboard with the praise and set students up for struggling with these sort of feelings of self-doubt if the level of praise exceeds what they either believe about themselves or maybe even exceeds what they have actually accomplished. I mean, I think that the deliverance of praise should be appropriate to the level of accomplishment and not do so, you know, in an exaggerated manner. So sometime ago we had the psychologist Claude Steele on Hidden Brain. It was in an episode titled How They See Us and he talked about the phenomenon of stereotype threat. When you believe you are the target of stereotypes, those fears can be a source of worry and that worry can undermine your performance. There seems to be some overlap between your work on the imposter phenomenon and Claude's work on stereotype threat. I was having this conversation two days ago and I was asked this very same question, you know, so it's something that I thought about for a while. And the way that I describe it is this. When you think about Claude Steele's work on stereotype threat, you know, it's this idea that individuals are aware of stereotypes that exist about once, you know, a particular social identity group, whether that's based on race or gender or whatever. And you don't necessarily believe the stereotypes that exist about that group, but you are a word of them and it's the awareness of that stereotype that ends up disrupting your performance. That's different from imposter feelings because within posit feelings, we talk about individuals who have internalized these beliefs that sort of lead to self-doubt. You found that self-doubt can be a predictor of stress, especially for minorities in educational settings. How did that work? Yeah. So, one of the most common types of studies that you see done with the imposter phenomena is looking at two outcomes related to mental health. You know, I tend to look at symptoms of depression and anxiety as my outcomes. And what we have consistently found is that individuals who experience imposter feelings have elevated symptoms of depression and have elevated symptoms of anxiety. They are certainly linked consistently. Is it accurate to say that women and minorities in the workplace or educational settings might be especially prone to this correlation? I believe that to be the case, absolutely. And I approach my work with the belief that for women and for bipock individuals that this sort of association between mental health and imposter feelings is especially prevalent. Self-doubt can keep us from seeing ourselves clearly. It can prompt us to downplay our accomplishments and underestimate our skills. It can cost us in terms of mental health and in terms of our willingness to take on new challenges. But there is a deep paradox here. Even as lots of people suffer from needless self-doubt, many also suffer from an absence of self-doubt. Many people who ought to doubt themselves seem filled with blight self-confidence. When we come back, how to combat the imposter phenomenon, but also how to make room in our lives for the gift of self-doubt. You're listening to Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantam. This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantam. Even the best of us can sometimes feel we don't know what we are doing. We worry that we will fall short of other people's expectations. We worry that we will be called out as frauds and shallotans. At the University of Michigan, psychologists Kevin Cochley studies the imposter phenomenon and what we can do about it. One technique you've suggested that people use to reduce self-doubt is to remind themselves of their accomplishments. You say that you sometimes stalk yourself. What do you mean by this? Yeah. One of the things that happens with people who experience imposter feelings is that we don't acknowledge accomplishments to the extent that they should be acknowledged. We sometimes just minimize them. I have jokingly said that I stalk myself. What I mean is that I hope people out there listening don't judge me too harshly. I go on Google almost every day and I Google myself. I look up my metrics surrounding my publications. How many times I've been cited, how many publications I have. Those numbers don't change day to day. I find myself looking at them every single day because I need to remind myself that people think that you're a big deal for a reason. That you actually have done something of note as a scholar. That's my way of just reminding myself that you are deserving of the attention and the accolades that you have received. If I didn't do that, then it would be easy to forget that I have accomplished this as an academic. Yeah. I suppose it's the way you can Google yourself every day in order to stroke your vanity. But I think what I'm hearing you say is actually something quite different. It's almost like a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention because your mind is not automatically remembering all the things that you've done well or your mind is coming up with self-doubt by actually going and looking at the evidence every day. In some ways telling your mind, look, the belief that I have that I'm not worthy or that I'm not up to the stask, this belief is untrue. In some ways, it feels almost like a form of therapy that you've come up with on your own. Well, it is. I'm so glad that you mentioned the word vanity because I fear that what I just said come across as just someone obsessed with himself and seeing what he's accomplished. It's really not that although I can understand how it might sound that way because in my case, I really truly sometimes find it hard to accept the fact that I am somewhat of an authority on the impossible nominat. And so when I go and look up sort of what I've done, I sometimes actually forget how much work I've done in the area. And I hope that people don't sort of take that to be someone who's just unduly vain about his work and read me in that way because I'd like to think that it is not that. Yeah, I'm not hearing that at all, Kevin. You know, you said a second ago that you find it hard to accept sometimes that you're an authority on the imposter phenomenon. You do see the irony here, right, Kevin, which is you're an expert on the imposter phenomenon who finds it difficult to accept that you're an expert on the imposter phenomenon. I do see the irony in that statement, yes. There's another idea that in some ways is a related idea, which is, you know, there are people whose accomplishments are not public. You know, they don't have publication records, they don't have awards. But in some ways, these people can mind the same idea that you're talking about with something called a work diary. Can you explain that idea to me? Yeah. So, you know, one of the other suggestions that I give to people is is to keep a work diary where you essentially document those successes that you've had in the work environment. What ends up happening for people who experience imposter feelings is that it becomes very easy for us to just sort of either forget or to minimize or marginalize those things that we've done well during the course of a day, during the course of a week. And so sometimes we have to be intentional about documenting those little successes that in the aggregate, you know, are pretty impressive. So Kevin, we've talked about ways that individuals can manage their self-doubt. Are there things that organizations can do that can also reduce self-doubt? Yes. There certainly are things that organizations can do. And the example that I like to give involves individuals who are managers, you know, you know, or supervisors. And what you can do as a manager or a supervisor to really sort of mitigate these sort of feelings of imposterism amongst your subordinates is being transparent in your own vulnerabilities and to be open and sharing this with their employees. It really helps individuals who are afraid to own up or to sort of say, I've made a mistake. It makes them feel like, you know what, if my manager or if my supervisor can talk openly about making the mistake, then it's okay. It's okay for me to make a mistake. And I don't have to be perfect. And I think that goes a long way towards helping to assuage any feelings of imposterism that an individual might be experiencing. Researchers have also looked at ways to dismantle the imposter phenomenon in schools. At Stanford University, Greg Walton looked at the problems that incoming freshmen were facing. And he found that when the experience setbacks, many of them drew global conclusions like, you know, I don't belong here or I don't deserve to be here. And he felt like blacks were especially likely to feel like they were frauds. And so he set up an intervention that helped black students see setbacks in the proper perspective. So a bad test result or a bad interaction with a professor didn't mean that they were frauds. It didn't mean they were imposter. It just meant that they were having, you know, a bad day or a bad week. Here's a clip of Greg describing the effects of his intervention. What the intervention did was it prevented students from feeling that they didn't belong in general when they had negative experiences. You can then imagine how if you're feeling less vulnerable to threats, you are better able to connect with other people, to peers, to teachers and build the kinds of relationships that actually sustain performance over a long period of time. Kevin, I'm wondering if you can weigh in on this. Is one solution to self-doubt in some ways not, you know, blowing things out of proportion, blowing setbacks out of proportion? I love that and I'm thank you for sharing that study. You know, as a council psychologist, I would sort of refer to that as almost like I'm simply reframing it and not sort of internalizing it as being indicative of a trait about yourself. People aren't perfect. And we have to sort of get beyond this idea that making mistakes is somehow indicative of you being not smart, not competent, not belonging. The most accomplished people in the world have all experienced failure at some point. And so we need to sort of help students in particular understand that when you failed a test and I could have been benefited from this when I was a student, it would have been so helpful if I would have had a professor who would have pulled me to the side and to help me sort of manage the feelings that I was having around my initial sort of early poor performance. It's okay. Just don't let it be defining of who you are and what your potential reality is and I think we don't have enough of that taking place in schools. You know, Kevin, we started this conversation talking about some of your own insecurities and self-doubt. When you are plagued by self-doubt, even today, you say that you have a go-to solution and it involves effort. Can you explain what you do maybe with a specific example? Yeah. Well, and I'll start off by, you know, going back to Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama says that what she does is essentially, you know, she works hard. She works harder. So whenever I doubted myself, I just told myself, let me put my head down and do the work and I would let my work speak for itself. And I still find that I do that. And I really identify with that because that has been the way that I try to address my feelings of imposterism. When I think about those early days of my being an assistant professor, I would work late in the evenings. I found myself working on the weekends because I needed to prove to people and I think probably most importantly to myself that I belong. So I just, I worked incessantly. Now I will say that hard work without having a way to sort of balance that with play is not necessarily a good thing. But what I will say is that hard work oftentimes, you know, can result in achieving an accomplishment in ways that you would hope would help mitigate whatever feelings of imposterism you might be experiencing. Do you still do that even today, Kevin? Is this your response when someone asks you to give a talk or you have to make a big presentation and you're and you're plagued with self-doubt? Do you respond to that by doubling down on the amount of time you're spending in preparation? You know, there are elements of that. And Pauline Clansis, Suzanne, I think it was really Pauline Clans, she talked about the imposter cycle and she talked about these two pathways that people take, you know, the pathway of over-paradness and the pathway of procrastination. And I am the person who goes through the pathway of over-paradness. And for me, what that means is, you know, when I am giving a talk on the imposter phenomenon, a talk that I have given more times than I can count. I still prepare as though I have never given the talk before. And it's because I want to make sure that when I give the talk that people hear me and experience me as being an expert and leave no doubt in their mind that I know what I'm talking about. So yeah, there are still elements of that in me even today. You know, I'm struck by what you just said, Kevin, because when I listen to that clip of Viola Davis talk about, you know, feeling like an imposter, I didn't play the whole clip for you. She goes on to say something really interesting, which is, you know, she doesn't say, you know, what was me, I have all these insecurities, feel sorry for me. She talks about how she uses her insecurities as a driver, as motivation. Anybody who even wants to be great has that. Anybody, any filmmaker, any writer, any actor. But what it does on a healthy level, it keeps you humble and it keeps you working. I'm hearing almost exactly what you said to me a second ago, Kevin, which is that in some ways, you know, not believing the good press about you turns out to actually be a powerful motivator for you to actually put your nose to the grindstone, if you will, and not take anything for granted. You know, Viola Davis is so insightful. I mean, she is absolutely correct. And I would say that what she has said definitely applies to me. I think humility is very important. And if I ever got to the point where I lost my humility, I would be brought back to earth by my wife, who is also what I could do. She would quickly revive me up. I knew you win. And I think that's necessary because I never want to get to the point where I have forgotten that I was that younger sister professor with one publication and full of self doubts started my career. I never want to forget that person because that person is still inside of me and it continues to fuel me and motivate me to being the best academic that I can be. I'm wondering in some ways, Kevin, whether this might be at least a partial solution to the paradox we identified in the first part of our conversation, you know, we looked at how many brilliant people like Maya Angelou or Albert Einstein have been plagued by self doubt from the outside that looks bizarre. But is it possible that we actually have mixed up cause and effect? They are not plagued by self doubt, in spite of being great. That greatness is being driven at least in part by the fuel of self doubt. Hmm. I think you're right. I think that is very much a possibility that their self doubt in part fuels their greatness. I think there's an argument to be made for that. I'm wondering if it might be helpful almost for a moment to think about what would happen if we lived in a world without self doubt. I'm thinking back to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, you know, the Bush administration said the invasion was necessary because Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. And one press conference, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was told that the Iraqi government had denied possessing weapons of mass destruction. Let me play a clip of that press conference. What do you make of the statement made by the Iraqi government yesterday that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and is not developing it? They're lying. No, they have them and they continue to develop them and they weaponize chemical weapons. They know that they've had an active program to develop nuclear weapons. So they, it's also clear that they are actively developing biological weapons. So as we know, Kevin, Iraq did not possess those weapons. And I'm wondering if you can talk a moment about what seems like this paradox. How is it that some of us are plagued with self doubt while others could use a little more self doubt? You know, that is a very good question. And it immediately sort of reminded me of the same pride fallet before the man. And I think about what happens when hubris gets in the way of our ability to make reasoned and reasonable sort of decisions. And I think that having a bit of self doubt could save us from really bad situations such as unnecessary wars. Among other things. And so it certainly would have been nice if Rumsfeld had exhibited a bit more humility than his response indicated. But no, I mean, I think I like the way that you sort of connected that to real war implications. And to me, it does sort of go back to this idea of people not feeling so overly confident in themselves in ways that are unhelpful and are unhealthy. I can't say enough about how in my own life the need to be humble, to even have feelings of self doubt, have been helpful. Because if I did not have those feelings of self doubt, then I think that that would one make me probably an unbearable person and not very pleasant to be around. But it also has kept me, I think, hungry to continue to work hard to prove myself. And I think, you know, when you get to the point where you stop wanting to prove yourself and when you're no longer hungry and motivated, I don't think that's a very good place to be. So I feel we're in very deep waters here, Kevin. I mean, on the one hand, we've seen how experiencing discrimination, being an outsider, this can increase the risk that you will experience the imposter phenomenon. And that's clearly unfair. You know, feelings of self doubt can cause people to drop out of school, cause them to quit professions that they would be great at. On the other hand, lots of people also turn their insecurity into a superpower like yourself and they use it as fuel and a lack of self doubt, especially when you wield great power can produce terrible harm. So I guess I'm left wondering, is self doubt a bad thing or a good thing? Self doubt can be a good thing when it is used as a source of motivation to achieve, to excel. But it can come at great cost to one's mental health and to one's physical health. And so, you know, the challenge then is to sort of figure out how to use oneself doubt in ways that don't result in there being any sort of compromises to your mental health or physical health. And so, you know, I, the example that I, you know, sometimes share with people, you know, comes from African-American psychology where we talk about the John Henryism hypothesis. And, and this comes from a story folklore story of an individual named John Henry who was a steel driver who was essentially put in a situation where he was competing against, you know, a machine to perform. And the short version of the story is that he wanted to prove that he could outperform this machine. Well, he worked and he worked and he worked and he eventually did beat the machine. And so, his achievement was quite high because he won, but it came at the cost of his life because he ended up dying from the exertion of effort that he gave. So we want to be careful that we don't achieve such incredible feats of accomplishment that also we result in harming our mental health and our physical health. In your own life, Kevin, have you come to think of self-doubt as a friend or as an enemy? Oh, my goodness. That's a, you ask really difficult questions. Self-doubt, I think for me, I would say, probably has been more of a friend than an enemy for me. I do try to take care of myself. I work out. I try to be healthy, but I have certainly used self-doubt in ways as a constant source of motivation to make sure that I am not complacent. So I am aware of the things that I need to do to provide this sort of balance and that I continue to strive to be the best academic that I can be. So I think in my case, it has probably been more of a friend than an enemy. Kevin Cochley is a psychologist at the University of Michigan. He's the author of the myth of black anti-intellectualism, a true psychology of African American students. Kevin, thank you for joining me today on Hidden Ray. Thank you for having me. If you have questions or thoughts about our conversation with Kevin Cochley, and are willing to have those questions shared with a larger Hidden Brain audience, please record a voice memo on your phone and email it to us at ideasat HiddenBrain.org. 60 seconds is plenty. Please remember to include your name and a phone number where we can reach you. Again, email the question to us at ideasat HiddenBrain.org and use the subject line in posters. Hidden Brain is produced by Hidden Brain Media. Our audio production team includes Bridget McCarthy, Annie Murphy-Paul, Laura Quarelle, Kristen Wong, Autumn Barnes, Ryan Katz, and Andrew Chadwick. Tara Boyle is our executive producer. I'm Hidden Brain's executive editor. Our unsung hero this week is Hwana Marello. Hwana is a graphic designer who created the Hidden Brain logo in 2015. When we launched our second podcast, My On Sung Hero, we knew we wanted to work with Hwana again. She has an amazing eye as you will see if you take a look at the My On Sung Hero logo. More than anything, Hwana cares deeply about what she does and that shows in her work. Thank you so much, Hwana. Next week, we conclude our success 2.0 series with a look at creativity and how we can spark innovation in our own lives. Talent doesn't really seem to be the whole story. Maybe a little bit of it, but not the whole story. I'm Shankar Vedantam. See you soon.