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Imposter Syndrome: What it is & how to stop it

Sep 3, 2021

So you’re at work. Someone asks you to do something you’ve done a million times before. But suddenly, for some reason, you can’t help but feel like you’re not doing it right.

What gives? Imposter syndrome, most likely. A 2019 review by Bravata, et. al. suggests that up to 82% of people have experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean you should be expected to just deal with it. There are ways around it, and we’re here to help you along that journey.

What is imposter syndrome?

Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term “imposter phenomenon” in 1978. Early studies focused on high-performing women, but observations of the phenomenon expanded to everyone as the years went on.

Imposter syndrome, as it’s now called, is the phenomenon of doubting your abilities or skills to the point of feeling like a fraud (or… imposter, of course). You might second guess yourself, compare yourself to others, and feel undeserving of accolades or praise for certain accomplishments. It can affect anyone, though it usually shows up most often in high-achieving individuals who are (ironically) actually very good at what they do.

4 Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

1. Identify triggers

Everyone can have different imposter syndrome triggers, as there are a lot of factors at play. It can happen when you start a new job, get negative feedback, or simply cannot do something you originally assumed would be easy to achieve.

Whatever the trigger(s) might be, take note of them. Call out moments you start second-guessing yourself and notice what’s going on around you when it happens. You’re not expected to do anything with that info yet. Just take stock in any patterns that you might come across and use that as a jumping-off point to get it under control.

2. Monitor your internal dialogue

Once you understand exactly *what* is making you feel this way, we can talk about the *why*. Triggers might start the domino effect, but it’s your reaction to those triggers that actually causes the imposter syndrome. When you get negative feedback or don’t get praise for something you thought you did really well, notice how you respond. Do you feel deflated? Not good enough? These knee-jerk reactions can lead you toward thinking you’re not good enough to do what you do.

3. Develop healthy responses to “failure”

Instead of focusing on mistakes you’ve made or the lack of praise you’ve received, focus on what you do well. Maybe you’re not the best at communicating data to clients, but analyzing data and creating a strategy from it is a strong suit of yours. Notice that you may not be the “best” at one thing, but you’re awesome at another. Instead of focusing on what you do wrong, try using your strengths to help develop areas you want to improve.

4. Use exercises to separate facts from feelings

Does your boss think you’re bad at presenting to clients, or did you just translate their lack of praise into them being disappointed in you? Chances are it’s the latter. One strategy for overcoming imposter syndrome is the court case method. Used as a tool to overcome anxiety (which is essentially what imposter syndrome is), the idea is to help separate the things we make up in our heads vs. reality.

Imagine the thing triggering your imposter syndrome is being discussed in court. Would the things that made you feel this way hold up in a court of law? For example, your boss didn’t give you praise after your presentation. Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s because you failed, or are there other things that could contribute to the lack of praise (they needed to go to another meeting, then went to lunch, etc.)? Chances are conclusions are being jumped to, and you actually have nothing to worry about at all.

5. Trust yourself

At the end of the day, the only way you’re going to be able to do the things you want to do is if you actually believe you can. Self-sabotage is real. So many people end up performing poorly for the simple reason that they think they’re going to. Trust that you know what you know. And if someone disagrees with you, you have not failed. You have simply created the opportunity for either a new learning experience or a healthy debate, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of those.




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