Every person alive have moments where they achieve something noteworthy. Perhaps is a college degree, an executive-level position, or finding success in your dream job. Maybe you written a book or created a small business that is successful beyond your wildest dreams? It seems like those moments should be the happiest of our lives, yet many of us our plagued with doubt during those times. Is this real? Did I really do all this? Am I deserving?
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where people doubt their abilities and accomplishments – sometimes to the point where they fear being exposed as frauds. It’s not as uncommon as many think, and it can be detrimental to one’s mental health and professional success. Given that, why don’t we discuss some strategies for dealing with this phenomenon.
#1: Embrace Your Achievements
Impostor syndrome is often rooted in a fear of failure, as well as a belief that our successes are based more in luck rather than talent or hard work. To combat this, make a list of all that you’ve achieved, both big and small. Reflect on the hard work and effort that went into each one, and remind yourself that you earned your successes.
This might seem like a silly or “no-brainer” step to take, but it’s easy to undervalue this tip when we haven’t given it enough time of day. The fact is that we live with ourselves on a daily basis, and rarely see the little changes that happen to turn us into someone different. We often feel similar to the person we were a week, a month, or even a year ago, and so we don’t recognize our own growth. Sitting down with these accomplishments and giving yourself the adequate time to change your mindset is often very helpful to remedy this.
#2: Reframe Your Thoughts
Negative self-talk can perpetuate impostor syndrome just as much as ignoring your accomplishments can. Try to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones. Instead of “I’m not good enough,” say “I’m still learning and improving.” Instead of “I don’t belong here,” say “I bring unique skills and perspectives to this team.”
One tip I learned from reading was to frame my negative self-talk in third-person rather than first-person, which is strangely helpful. Rather than saying “I don’t belong here”, say “Bob Smith doesn’t belong here” or whatever your name is. Adding that separation can sometimes help us view things more rationally as a person outside of the situation, which leads to more clear results.
#3: Seek Validation from Others
Although we should not entirely base our self-worth and opinions on the thoughts of others, there are times where it helps to call on those closest to us. Humans are social creatures, after all, and we would not have gotten to where we are without having some sort of support network.
Talk to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues about your feelings of impostor syndrome. They can offer support and perspective that can help you see yourself in a more positive light. You can also have them provide feedback on the work you are doing. Positive feedback can reinforce your sense of accomplishment and competence, at least until you can internalize those more positive beliefs within yourself..
#4: Embrace Failure
One of the roots of impostor syndrome is a fear of failure, which is perfectly valid given our cultural norms. Most of us are raised in systems that reward success and punish failure, so it’s expected that failure would trigger a negative response in our hearts and minds.
Failure, however, is a natural and necessary part of the learning process. Embracing failure as the opportunity for growth and learning that it is will help you overcome your fear of it. Reflect on what you can learn from each failure and use that knowledge to improve in the future. We have only truly ‘failed’ when we have chosen not to give something another try.
#5: Mirror Your External Compassion
Impostor syndrome is often fueled by self-criticism and a harsh inner voice. We mess something up or do something we shouldn’t and we immediately jump at our own throats with insults and aggravation. Do we really think that’s justified? If a friend or coworker came up to us and said “I only had time to complete 97 of my 100 assigned tasks, I’m so terrible!” would we really agree with them? Or perhaps we would console them and help them understand that they shouldn’t be so hard on themselves?
If you agree with the above assessment, then treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to that friend. Acknowledge that you are not perfect, and that’s okay. Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and they don’t define your worth as a person.
#6: Challenge Your Assumptions
Many of us have assumptions about the world that aren’t grounded in reality. Challenge these assumptions by asking yourself if they are true, and if there is evidence to support them. For example, if you assume that you only got a job because of luck, ask yourself if that’s really true, or if your skills and qualifications played a role as well.
Oftentimes, meditation can be very helpful in a task such as this. Many people who aim to be great almost never prioritize mental recuperation time like they should, and so it often gets put on the back-burner of our lives. Meditation is a great way to designate a small portion of each day to simply “stop” what we’re doing and take some time to just exist, let our minds process, and reflect on what’s been going on. Giving ourselves this time can often lead to the mind beginning to work the backlog of issues and problems that it feels exist. Although the process can be slow, it can also be incredibly beneficial.
#7: Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
Again, based on our cultural norms, it’s very simple for us to become obsessed with results and outcomes rather than the process. Parents care more about grades than study habits. Managers often care more about KPIs than the underlying processes that govern them. Even our kids want immediate results rather than to be patient and understand that they must focus less on the destination.
As such, is not uncommon for impostor syndrome to be fueled by a fixation on outcomes, such as getting a promotion or achieving a certain goal. Instead of focusing on the outcome, focus on the process of getting there. Embrace the learning and growth that comes with the journey, and remind yourself that success is not just about the destination, but also about the path you took to get there.
#8: Seek Professional Help
It’s understandable; we all want to feel like we’re in control of our lives. That base sense of control is what helps us feel grounded and stable in the chaos of life. While that’s an important goal to strive towards, we also have to understand that there are many thing that are also not under our control. It’s easy to take note of external things out of our control, but there is just as much internally that we can’t control as well. It could be genetics, our upbringing, or even just a very distorted mindset. At a certain point, if we can’t work things out on our own, it’s time to rely on those who have more knowledge and experience than ourselves.
If your feelings of impostor syndrome are causing significant distress or interfering with your ability to function, consider seeking professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you work through your feelings and develop strategies to overcome them.
Embracing a Better Reality
In a few short weeks, I will be celebrating my 29th birthday, which means that I’ve spent the last ten years as an adult (I don’t count my first year, because I hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on). Even though it’s been a long time and I’ve done many things since becoming an adult, it oftentimes doesn’t feel like I am actually that different from that naïve teenager I started out as. It’s not a long journey from “I can’t believe I’ve done these things” to “I’m not deserving of these things”, but it’s important to not let those thoughts into our head.
Impostor syndrome is a common experience that can be overcome with the right strategies and techniques. Recognizing your achievements, reframing negative thoughts, seeking validation from others, embracing failure, practicing self-compassion, challenging your assumptions, focusing on the process, and seeking professional help are all effective ways to combat impostor syndrome. With time and practice, you can learn to see yourself in a more positive light and achieve your goals with confidence.