Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not smart enough”? Or maybe you’ve led a project, thinking that someone is going to figure out that – despite that fact that you are qualified – you don’t really know what you’re doing, and you shouldn’t be there. If any of this sounds familiar, you may have experienced imposter syndrome.
What is imposter syndrome? According to the American Psychological Association, “Imposter Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity and incompetence, despite evidence to show you are skilled and successful.”
Simply put, it’s a little voice inside your head that doubts your abilities, even when you’re well qualified. And it happens at all levels of an organisation. Eighty-two per cent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, and 75 per cent of executive women experience it despite performing at a high level. In addition, we know that times of transition (such as becoming a parent, caring for a parent, living with health-related changes or dealing with workplace change) can trigger or increase the incidence of feeling like an imposter.
While these stats can bring some comfort to those of us experiencing imposter syndrome, it doesn’t help address the issue.
First thing is to recognise when imposter syndrome shows up. Start by noticing your thoughts. Are you:
Next, be curious about those thoughts, and think about them external to you. For example, “I’m noticing I’m feeling anxious” rather than “I am anxious”. Remember, your thoughts don’t need to define you, but it’s good to be aware of when they’re happening and observe them.
A good way to tackle imposter syndrome is to start challenging that negative self-talk. For example:
James says to himself, “I’m not good enough to be leading this project. It’s only a matter of time before they realise I don’t know enough, and fire me.”
First, James needs to notice this negative self-talk. Next, he needs to reframe things.
He could, for example say to himself, “I was asked to do this role because I have the skills and strengths to do this well. I don’t need to be perfect. I can start the work, and ask for feedback as I go.”
Research suggests that self-talk focused on effort, rather than outcome improves performance.
Whether you’ve achieved something big or small, take time to celebrate your wins. Don’t dismiss or minimise your contribution to success. Pause, celebrate, and own the role you played in the win.
You may want to think about writing your successes down. It can be useful to reflect on these when that negative self-talk begins to whisper in your ear.
Instead of focusing on what’s ‘not good enough’, focus on what’s ‘good for you’. Dr Kirstin Neff says self-compassion means giving ourselves support and encouragement rather than being cold and judgement.
So, what does that look like in practice?
You might want to ask yourself, “What would a friend say to me in this situation?”, “Am I the only person in the world who has ever made this mistake?”, or “How are my thoughts making me feel right now?”. This exercise of reframing can be a really powerful tool in combatting imposter syndrome.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix or button you can press to combat imposter syndrome. This work takes time. But the good news is, it’s not impossible. You can work through it.
Want to learn more? Unpack imposter syndrome and gain practical strategies to overcome it in our newest workshop, Building Confidence: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, part of our Thinking Differently @ Work series. Find out more here.