People take small steps towards having courage.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Pen and Paper


  1. Talk to the participants about the fact that up to 70 percent of even the most accomplished people feel like they are frauds and impostors. If you are willing, you can confess some of your own fears, flaws, and vulnerabilities – times that you have felt like you didn’t fit in; times when it seemed like everyone around you was smarter, better, and more talented. This courageous confession is often empowering to so many participants who secretly have been feeling the same way. Open the discussion to anyone else who wants to talk about this.
  2. After discussing the impostor syndrome for 10 to 15 minutes, talk about how it gets in the way of many of us pursuing action; we feel like we are not good enough or not ready to take on challenges. You can lead a discussion about this, if you'd like.
  3. Ask people what would they do if they just had one percent more courage. Give everyone five minutes. On a sheet of paper, they can write down a list of “slightly courageous” things that they would do. The trick of this exercise is that people often take on challenges that are far more courageous than just one percent. (To be honest, it’s hard to measure 1 percent of courage.) They come up with plans for acting boldly.
  4. Then, put them into small groups to share a single bold action to which they commit. Then, issue the challenge: They have 24 hours to accomplish it. They just need to take the first step.
  • It’s normal if participants don’t want to admit their own vulnerabilities, fears, and flaws in front of a big crowd. That’s fine. As long as the facilitator is courageous enough to share his/her own story, it will make for a powerful session. In past years, many people have rated this as one of the most impactful activities that they have experienced.
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The next time that you meet with all the participants, everyone has to report about what happened when they dared to act with 1 percent more courage. There are usually quite inspirational stories. You can spend 20 minutes hearing people’s stories.

Then ask what they have learned from this activity. Often people will echo the research of Karl Weick (See Theory section below) in their answers: By achieving small wins, they felt like they could succeed in moving towards goals that seemed impossible and scary at first. They have a greater sense of self-efficacy.


Many people (most of us!) suffer from the “impostor syndrome.” Studies show that, even among the most successful people, 40 to 70 percent believe that they are frauds. This is a common experience in college, for example. Many people secretly think that everyone else is so much smarter than they are and that they don’t really belong. Thus most of us are reluctant to try to take on overwhelming tasks, thinking that we can’t accomplish them. That’s why, more than 30 years ago, Michigan Business School professor Karl Weick developed the theory of “small wins.” When people take on small changes and achieve them, it boosts motivation and self-confidence.


Judith Martinez, social entrepreneur, and founder of “In Her Shoes,” a nonprofit that helps young women increase self-confidence

Additional Readings

Sakulku, Jaruwan (2011). "The Impostor Phenomenon" International Journal of Behavioral Science. 6 (1): 73–92.

Weick, K. E. (1984). Small wins: Redefining the scale of social problems. American Psychologist, 39(1), 40-49.