Feeling like you’re a fraud and that whatever success you've managed to achieve came unearned can be debilitating. If you’ve ever doubted your achievements and were convinced it’s only a matter of time until people figure out you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re in good company.
About 70 percent of people have grappled with imposter syndrome before, according to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. It’s especially pervasive in high-achieving women, although it can affect anyone at any point in their lives. We asked an imposter syndrome expert (a real thing that exists!), self-help authors, psychologists, a neuroscientist, and a career coach how to overcome these troubling feelings. Here’s what they said. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Consider the source of these feelings
There are situational factors that can lead to imposter syndrome like being a student, working alone, or working in an organizational culture that fuels self doubt. There are also certain fields where people are more prone [to feel this way]––creative fields (writing, acting, producing, art), medicine, and technology. And there’s a strong intersection between imposter syndrome and diversity inclusion. That’s because a sense of belonging fosters confidence. Conversely, the fewer people who look or perhaps sound like you, for many people it can and does impact how confident you feel.
This is especially true whenever you belong to a group for whom there are stereotypes about competence. International students/workers, first-generation college students or successful women, people of color, people with disabilities all experience pressure to represent their entire group which can contribute to imposter feelings.
That in mind, the only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter. You do this by becoming consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head and then step back and reframe that conversation the way a non-imposter would. - Dr. Valerie Young, imposter syndrome expert, speaker and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women
Get healthy and speak out
I have seen clients in every industry and every continent experience this regardless of age, gender, wealth or level of seniority. Practice positive affirmations: replace any doubts or negativity with a positive statement until this becomes the default pathway in your brain. Keep your brain and body in peak condition with good quality sleep, nutrients, hydration, exercise, and mindfulness.
As we speak out loud (or write in a journal), we release survival emotions such as fear and shame. We also reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol through aerobic exercise and by taking magnesium supplements. I have written about imposter syndrome in a blog on LinkedIn and in my book Neuroscience for Leadership. Raising awareness of this in ourselves and our colleagues by being conscious of what it is and the effect it has on our performance is key. - Dr. Tara Swart, neuroscientist, executive advisor, and author of the forthcoming book The Source
Tally wins and don’t overcompensate
Check your receipts! Get a pen and paper and write down all the evidence that supports your greatness.
I think a mistake that a lot of people make when faced with imposter syndrome is overworking themselves as a way to compensate for a perceived deficit. You want to prove so badly that you're worthy that you might begin taking on extra projects, etc. That could lead to burnout and may actually make you appear less competent which is what you were afraid of in the first place. - Dr. Joy, licensed psychologist and host of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast
Exert effort and have gratitude
All that separates an imposter from a real person is the willingness to grow. As long as you push your comfort zone a little bit each day, you're never an imposter.
Most people overlook all the work they've put in. They think they're just lucky and they don't truly deserve their successes. Instead, they need to be mindful while they're putting in ANY kind of effort, big or small. Then they need to show themselves gratitude for the actions they've taken, regardless of outcome. As long as you're trying to push forward, you're the real deal.
Ask five people you respect if they've had similar feelings about themselves. You'll soon realize you're not alone. Everyone feels this way––even the people you'd least expect. The imposter syndrome is a collective fiction we all believe. - Nick Notas, dating and confidence expert
Embrace fears and examine beliefs
Fear doesn't have to mean you're not ready or able; it can just mean you're on a growing edge. Notice your thoughts when you get anxious or fearful and find evidence that they're not true. If you feel like an imposter, ask yourself when you've actually stepped up in the way you're afraid you cannot? Find evidence of the truth! After all, your mind is malleable and you can mold it as you choose when you become more aware of what's happening in it. I made a popular podcast episode on this issue. It was about worthiness in love, but it applies to this subject too. - Ashley Stahl, career coach and host of the You Turn Podcast
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