What is imposter syndrome and what are the best ways to deal with it?

What is imposter syndrome and what are the best ways to deal with it?

Imposter syndrome can range from annoying, niggling, self-deprecating thoughts – all the way through to a deeply ingrained mindset that prevents us from progressing and developing in our careers. Because of the nature of imposter syndrome, people often don’t realise they are even suffering from it. It can be often be an invisible, built in part of our mindset and it is incredibly self-limiting.

The biggest impact of imposter syndrome is your mind stopping you doing things. For instance, you might believe there’s no point in putting yourself up for that award or for going for that job interview because the imposter syndrome part of your brain is saying “there’s no point in doing it - you won’t get it anyway”. In this way, it’s prevalent in your brain even before it’s become a conscious thought. You’ve already rejected those opportunities because deep down imposter syndrome is making you think you’re not good enough. Yet you don’t even realise it is imposter syndrome stopping you. It’s a vicious circle in the truest sense of the term.

When imposter syndrome thoughts do pop into our conscious thinking brain - which they often do - that is when we can start to address them. You might be surprised that we can actually train our brains to reframe that imposter syndrome feeling, so it becomes something that we recognise and almost welcome. You will first have to force your brain to look at it positively though, which will feel incredibly unnatural, but it is indeed possible. 

The key here though is to understand the triggers. Imposter syndrome almost always manifests itself when we go outside our comfort zone. Going outside of our comfort zone is, however, a very good thing. It’s when we stretch and grow, and this is vital to our self-esteem and development. This is therefore not an excuse to avoid pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, rather it’s to stress that we can use that trigger to start reframing how we think about imposter syndrome. Know it, deal with it, overcome it.

Or if you fail to do that, well just try to welcome it. Try where possible to celebrate the positives. Ultimately, you’re going beyond where you’ve been before and reaching new heights which is an amazing accomplishment. I regularly advise people to shift their mental approach to imposter syndrome, forcing it to become something they just accept and instead of trying to avoid it, stressing the need to welcome it. Ultimately, I always try to remind people that imposter syndrome is a symptom of growth, both personally and professionally.

And if all that sounds like too much of stretch, and you’re at a stage where you believe your imposter syndrome so much it seems impossible to see it as a positive, then there is an alternative – acceptance. Remember it is just a thought or a feeling. It can’t physically hurt you. It is there because it is trying to protect you from something it perceives as danger. It may be triggering the fight, flight or freeze and saying not to do something that would risk you. But you can, and will, move past it. Accept it is a part of who you are.

It is not always best to ‘logic it out’. Some people like to read multiple self-help books and articles or go on courses to help with their demons. But unfortunately, with imposter syndrome, it seems to be that the more you use logic, the more you will struggle with it. Rather try to look beyond the thinking aspect and focus on the feelings. Remind yourself that these feelings come and go. Recognise and accept that it is just a feeling and cannot hurt you.

Here are my five top tips to help when imposter syndrome strikes: 

  1. Recognise that imposter syndrome is just a feeling. You are being hijacked by a belief that is unfounded. When those negative thoughts come up hold them to account. Question them.
  2. Admit it to yourself. Don’t keep pushing those feelings and thoughts down deeper- they’ll only grow and become more difficult to overcome.
  3. Talk about it. Getting practical and pragmatic feedback from other people can be really reassuring. Ask the people you work with, clients and colleagues what they think your key strengths are. When praise comes from other people our brain is more likely to believe it. Go back over this feedback regularly to help build up your self-esteem.
  4. Remind yourself of your capabilities. The likelihood is that you have done something like this work, or challenge that has triggered imposter syndrome before. You have been successful is the past, you will be successful in the future.
  5. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Have the courage to leap because you’ve done the hard work all throughout your career to date. The chances are, you’re going to be fine. Once you know you it’s just imposter syndrome, you can actively ignore it, or do the opposite of what it is suggesting.