Beating Imposter Syndrome: The Cycle of Experience

We want to be able to call ourselves coach and we want to be able to do it confidently. We want people to take us seriously.


A lot of folks use the word experience when describing whether or not they should take us seriously—and we certainly beat ourselves over the head with the word as well. When we feel as though we don’t have enough of it, and we are aware of that lack, a bit of warranted imposter syndrome creeps in on us. It’s important to do something about that—so we can be taken seriously enough to attract people to us and so we don’t bludgeon ourselves with our perceived shortcomings. But it’s about more than just internal and external perception.


Experience is necessary if we desire any significant measure of success. It’s the effort-laden outcome of growth. In fact, one could make a good argument that experience and growth are synonymous. Or maybe it’s just that experience is what helps us grow. The interconnectedness makes division difficult. The point is, it’s important.


Some folks use experience interchangeably with how much time they’ve been at an activity. It’s often heard that someone has twenty years-experience because they’ve been doing something for twenty years. But, in my observation, it doesn’t work that way. There are plenty of folks out there that have been at something for twenty years but haven’t evolved. It’s as if they have one year of experience, twenty times. They still make the same mistakes. Their thought process is myopic and disproportionately limited. They haven’t matured to see a grander vision. And, most devastatingly of all, the size of the problems they are able to solve has barely grown—if at all.


Then again, as I mentioned above, there are the times when we feel like an imposter. We are intensely aware of our shortcomings and we desire the necessary experience to be effective. But our lack of experience causes us anxiety–sometimes so much so that we completely fail to act. This is also bad. There’s no experience without action…so if we sit still a vicious cycle consumes us.


So, how does a lady or gent procure for themselves experience and do it consistently? There’s a simple cycle we follow.


  1. Learn (At Least a Little Bit)
We come at this experiential learning thing hard in the Faction!

I’d love to start the cycle with action, and I seriously considered it, but the truth is I can’t. A little knowledge, even if imperfect, is necessary to direct our actions with before we set our hands in motion. For example, it’s hard to write a training program without having at least a rudimentary understanding of how to structure one. Starting out you may not nail the right exercises for the person—if you’re individualizing, that is—but something structured, consistent, and done with focus is always better than randomness. You wouldn’t have been able to act, and beat that randomness, if you didn’t have a little knowledge about how to structure a program.


  1. Act and Pay Attention

Once we know a little bit, it’s time to get moving and put our knowledge to use. As we do that, we have to “remove” ourselves a bit from the process and pay attention to the outcome–meaning we can’t become too emotionally attached or think with too much subjectivity. We have to objectively observe our actions and the immediate outcomes.


Let’s continue on with the programming analogy—this is especially important because as an industry we tend to get too emotionally attached to our programming work.


You write a program for a client with the best of hopes and intentions. But rather than just delivering it with the absolute certainty that it’s going to work, you keenly observe it. Can the person safely and effectively perform the exercises you chose? Is the volume appropriate—can they recover or is it challenging enough for their body to prioritize adaptation? Are the proportions of the variables correct?


We have to act, experience isn’t the outcome of book knowledge. It’s the outcome of interacting in the real world. But the secret ingredient that folks all too often fail to mention is attention. And that attention is driven by a desire to improve. It’s also facilitated by mustering as much self-objectivity as possible and questioning whether or not what we intended to happen is happening. Keeping our mind in that place helps us avoid being overly attached to our work or to an outcome—which actually allows us to pay attention and harvest growth from our actions.


But this is action and attention in real time. What about when considering the longer-term?


  1. Reflect

Attention to our action in the short-term is important because it helps us stay objective and in touch with the reality of what we do and have done. But longer reflection is also necessary. This is time to recount on a grander scale once you’ve been totally removed from the moment of your action. This can be done with writing or simple thinking time—although writing seems to improve our cognition.


It’s as simple as asking yourself some questions and giving yourself the best, objective answers that you can:


What has happened?


What consequence did it produce?


Should I repeat or avoid the actions that I took to produce that consequence?


How will I act in the future?


Taking the time and effort do this type of concentrated reflection is so valuable to growth and accelerating your experience. It allows you to put your actions in context and make clear decisions about what was good, what was bad, what to do again, and what to leave behind. It will sling shot you into the fourth part of the cycle.

  1. Act Again (But Better)


Knowledge, action and attention, and reflection synthesize to produce a better version of who we are in whatever realm we are focusing on. Once we’ve created this synthesis, we act with an improved scope and produce better outcomes.


Action is so important. Book and academic knowledge is never enough to consistently affect positive change in the real world—we need the pragmatism of getting our hands dirty and actively working to influence our environment. It’s a deeper sort of learning that combines what we know in our mind with what the real world will accept as truly valuable. Besides, knowledge that is unable to direct actions and broaden understanding is useless. It’s just a bundle of nice thoughts, theories, and ideas. And while it’s nice to fantasize and live in theory land, it won’t bolster experience.


So, we take steps 1-3 in the cycle, synthesize it into a bigger and better understanding, and we act better.


Is it Always Cycled This Cleanly?


The answer is no. Sometimes you might only need steps one and two to produce number four. Other times two and three will get the job done to improve number four if you’ve already done enough content learning in one area. All of the steps are necessary, but they aren’t all necessary at all times.


Here’s the thing, this process can be condensed or expanded to fit a given amount of time. You might run through the whole thing in a matter of minutes or a matter of months. That’s the great thing about it—it fits no matter the timeframe and no matter what you’re doing. It applies to coaching a deadlift as much as it applies to learning personal finance.

Completing the Cycle


Act on the knowledge that you have, pay attention to what happens, ask yourself questions, and then act better. Most importantly, be an observer of your own behavior and don’t get too attached to a given outcome. If you can commit to this you’ll not only gain experience, you’ll accelerate your accumulation of it. You’ll more confidently call yourself “coach.”

Find this article helpful? Awesome. Strength Faction is designed to help YOU act confidently as a trainer and feel empowered in your programming, coaching, and career choices. Our coaching program is designed to help you put all of the pieces of the puzzle together so you can feel great about your training career and life the quality of life that you want.

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In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

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