Business psychology

Six tips for naming and taming your imposter syndrome

- March 13, 2024 3 MIN READ
Imposer syndrome: man holds up a replica of his smiling face revaling nervous face beneath it.

 

Imposter syndrome is commonly thought of as the feeling of being inadequate and a fraud despite a reputation for success at work, explains Charlotte Blair, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We all have moments when we think ‘I shouldn’t be here’, whereby your brain conspires against you, making you ‘feel’ like you are out of control, and you end up catastrophising things.

Dr Gail Matthews, professor of psychology at Dominican University of California, conducted research on the prevalence of imposter syndrome and found that about seventy per cent of respondents experienced imposter feelings at some time in their lives. Fortunately, there are ways to combat this.

Imposter syndrome: Name it and tame it

The 2015 Pixar movie Inside Out is a comedy adventure set inside the brain of Riley, an eleven-year-old girl. Riley is upset about her parents’ decision to move states, which involves her changing schools and leaving her friends. In the film, Riley’s emotions are played by five characters: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. Riley bounces back and forth between these emotions, with the film focusing on the interplay between these ‘characters’.

Think of the cast in your own head, it might be the know-it-all, the naysayer, the judging self, the people pleaser, the bossy self, the perfectionist, the attention-to-detail self. The cast within your head can be large.

Each of these ‘characters’ has a gift, which you need to acknowledge. The perfectionist, she is trying to make sure everything is the best it can possibly be. However, if she takes over, she could slow things down. Instead, thank her for the gift of trying to ensure things are the best they can but think instead, ‘It’s okay, we have this, but done is better perfect.’

Take time to identify your cast give them names, and talk to them (just watch out if you do this in public, as you might get funny looks). Kate Morris, the founder of Australian online cosmetics retailer Adore Beauty calls her imposter self Kevin. ‘Oh, that’s just Kevin. Thanks for that, Kevin. Now just zip it.’

Life is easier with an awareness of your cast. If you understand yourself better, by recognising the roles they play, you can be kinder to yourself and braver. The key is to name them, thank them for their contribution in trying to keep you safe, but ultimately recognise that safe is not always where things grow and flourish.

How to unleash your personal strengths for business growth

Here are some other tips to try when your imposter feelings start getting in your way:

  1. Remember there is nothing wrong with you. Remember, more than seventy per cent of people struggle with imposter syndrome at some point (and I’d say some of the others are lying!). It’s as normal as breathing, yet we don’t say I have breathing in and out syndrome.
  2. Recognise that feelings are not facts. Both are helpful and sometimes one gets in the way of the other. In this instance, looking at the facts and the evidence then ask if you are the best person to judge than evidence. Seek input from others.
  3. Expect to make some mistakes and learn from them. We learn more from studying our successes, but our failures are growth zones, too. If you are someone who lovers learning, embrace this.
  4. Create a brag file. When you get feedback on something, maybe it’s a presentation you have given or a workshop you’ve delivered, what do you normally focus on? Is it the one negative comment, not the ninety-nine positive ones? Feedback is a gift, but we focus on the wrong things sometimes. Try keeping two files – one with all the positives comments you get, the things you have done well, and another with all the negative comments. When you are having that moment of doubt, go look at the files. Which is bigger?
  5. Be brave and take action. Seth Godin, in his Akimbo podcast, states that the biggest gatekeepers are the voices inside your head. Instead of waiting in line for someone to pick you, what if you pick yourself
  6. Seek support from a coach who can help you develop future thinking strategies to navigate a path forward.

Navigating imposter syndrome in your career can be daunting, but it’s a common challenge.  Remember you are in charge; you are the director of your own Career and life journey.


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