The first time I came across the term 'imposter syndrome' was in a conversation. After looking it up, I was quite surprised to see that there was a well-known label to a feeling I have had throughout my career. Today, it is a much more common phrase that I hear in conversation when people are describing themselves.
If this is the first time you have come across it, let me explain it. It is the feeling that you are not as good as the people around you. The belief that all that you have done to date is average or below average. For some reason even though people compliment you about the things that you have accomplished. You only hear a version that focuses on what could have been better. It is also the feeling that you don't deserve your position or compliment or award you received.
Despite a lot of evidence that you are doing well, you find it hard to acknowledge your wins as wins. For me, it was a moment of frustration that pushed me to want to change the way I felt. I can't say I am on an expert on this topic yet. But I am improving, and I also love helping others in their imposter feelings. I distil imposter syndrome into two parts.
Internal - Where your struggle to validate yourself internally against your own set of standards.
External - Where you struggle to validate yourself externally against a set of standards you have made up to compare yourself to others.
I would like to share the six tips that I do to help me pause my imposter's voice. Long enough to write and publish each article. And to give me the confidence to ask for something or take on a new challenge.
One. Recognise your imposter. You need to reflect on your feelings over the last week, month or year. If you have always felt like you are not good enough. Felt like someone is going to discover that you are an imposter and don't belong here. Then it is time to accept that you have imposter syndrome. I hope reading this article will be your first of many steps to improve how you deal with that kind of self-doubt. One of the first steps of recognition is to tell someone how you are feeling. It can either be someone close to you or speak to your manager. Your manager is an excellent place to start as they are in a prime position to help you through this.
Two. Don't be your own anchor. When you set unreachable standards on yourself. You create a negative framework that is not in line with a growth mindset. Some examples could be "My work is not good enough", "This isn't ready to submit", "I need to do it a lot better" etc. Remind yourself that this isn't the first time you have felt this doubt. The standard you are holding yourself to is likely above the expectation. The exceeding expectation is a good thing, but it needs to feel like you are exceeding it. Exceeding an expectation while feeling you are below average can be taxing. Becoming more aware of the gap between your expectations and the real expectation will free your mind for more productive work.
Three. Are you sure you can't do that? At times you will see something that you might want to do or try, but your imposter holds you back. You get the feeling of self-doubt or a sense of not knowing where to start. How many questions have you wanted to ask or tasks you have wanted to take on. Only to keep quiet and carry on with what you are doing. There is an excellent book called The Art of Possible by Kate Tojeiro (link). In the book in it talks about things that limit people's ability to believe in themselves. One of the points is around how people have a reluctance to be uncomfortable. When you are not sure if you will succeed in something new your imposter voice will pull you down to your comfort level. To help progress past this and take on the new challenge you need to remind yourself of the last 3 things that you didn't think you could do and now can. Switch the negative fixed thoughts to growth thoughts. Why don't you think you can do it? If you pretended you could do it for a moment what are the steps you need to learn to achieve success? It comes down to having a growth mindset and then applying effort so you can do what you want to do.
Four. Are you keeping score? One big thing I found with myself is since I was focusing on my improvements all the time. I would forget about my wins. So I decided to write my wins down. I didn't base them on my self-standards and just wrote down anything I did well. It didn't have to be a grand win. It could have been as small as handling a difficult conversation better than the last one. You don't have to show the list to anyone as the goal is to change your mindset. Looking back at my list several times a year helped me recognise my wins more. You will see that in the record that some of them are actually big wins and you should feel proud. When the next opportunity came, and my imposter started whispering doubts. I read my list and felt better that this was not the first 'new' thing I took on and completed well. Don't get caught up on needing only to write perfect wins and get started writing.
Five. Create a small win ritual. I am not the type of person that runs around a room screaming in glee when something good happens. I am more of a quiet fist pump in the silence of the night alone in front of my laptop. And I am okay with that. Although I found I was not pausing for long enough to let the win sink in and get stored in memory. So I needed to form a new habit to ensure I register the win so I can recall the feeling at a later time. This would help battle the imposter when it comes up again. I can't say I have mastered this, but I do two things. One is simple, I stop and go for a walk and tell myself that I did something right and I am allowed to feel proud of it. Ensure I am mindful enough to embrace the emotion. Second, is a give myself a treat. It can be as simple as a chocolate doughnut or buy something I kind of want but don't really need. I know they are still not grand gestures but they work for me and it is a work in progress.
Six. Change your language. Something I observed in myself and noticed in people around me. Are we are comfortable in saying we don't know something. That is ok as you are being honest. The issue with it is that it keeps you where you are. All you need to do is add one word "yet" to the end of the same sentence. So it now sounds like this. I don't know how to do that yet. It changed the way I thought about the task. I know it is achievable now and I need to invest time to get there. Saying or thinking fewer negatives is an excellent tool in pausing your imposter before embarking on something new.
I hope these six tips help pause your imposter long enough to feel good about yourself and take on your next challenge. I don't think you can completely remove your imposter. In a way, your imposter can be used to drive your excellence. But I know I feel much better just being able to pause my imposter a few times a month and be grateful for those small and significant wins.
Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.