Overcoming imposter syndrome in your work and life

Do you ever feel like you're not smart enough to be where you are? That you're under-qualified for your job? That everything you write or say sounds ridiculous to the people forced to listen to you?

You may have imposter syndrome.

Best thought of as a a negative psychological phenomenon, imposter syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy or self-doubt, even when your successes are self-evident. You may feel like you're not as capable as others perceive you to be, that you've been wrongly promoted, or that any time you make a mistake everyone is judging an ridiculing you.

But imposter syndrome is not a disease. It's probably best thought of as closer to a feeling, something like anxiety, that can be managed and controlled. Although it may take some time to overcome strong feelings of unworthiness, we've thought up 5 good ways to make a start treating yourself with more compassion and recognising your abilities and achievements.

1. Realise that you're not alone

According to some studies, almost 40% of people in the UK experience imposter syndrome at some point, and for around 1 in 20 people this is as often as once a day! Feeling out of your depth or that any failure is completely catastrophic is something that many people can relate to, including people who feel confident, are in positions of power, or who often have to do something daunting like live speaking.

2. Reading about successful people

It may help you to know that even successful, famous people experience imposter syndrome from time to time, and even throughout their careers after they've become successful. When promoting her book, Becoming, Michelle Obama said "It doesn't go away, that feeling that you shouldn't take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is."

By reading books by other successful people who have overcome imposter syndrome, or just books about the topic in general, you can learn how to better internalise your success, and how to leverage it to push yourself further in your career or to achieve your dreams. Some books you may want to check out include Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Quiet by Susan Cain, and The Imposter Cure by Dr. Jessamy Hibberd.

3. Positive affirmations

Positive affirmations can help you counter negative thoughts and give yourself a self-esteem boost when you really need it. Whether you say them to yourself in a mirror in the morning or write them down in your journal at night, speaking to yourself kindly and encouragingly is a great way to push down the feeling that you might not be good enough.

Here are some affirmations you can use and tell yourself every day:

  • "I deserve to be in this position and to succeed."
  • "I am proud of my achievements and the progress I've made."
  • "I am worthy of respect and recognition."
  • "I am not defined by my mistakes, but my ability to learn from them."
  • "I'm enough, just as I am."

4. Practice reframing your thoughts

Try and spot when you start talking or thinking negatively about yourself and try and stop yourself in your tracks. If you let these thoughts continue unfiltered, your negative feelings will continue unabated. Instead, try and remember that you're in control of your thoughts and feelings, and you have the power to change the way you think and know your inherent worth. Focus 

Some examples of ways to reframe your thoughts:

  • Focus on your strengths and successes, and reaffirm them in your mind
  • Work through the fear instead of waiting to feel like you're 'ready'
  • Realise that you worked hard for the qualifications you have, and that they are recognised by others
  • Know that you are qualified to speak up at work or at home, and you wouldn't be there if you were not

5. Find comfort from those who love you

Having someone to talk to about how you feel may help you see how much you've been in your own head, and how the reality of the situation may not be as bad as you think it is. Surrounding yourself with supportive people who can provide encouragement and validation is great for your self-esteem and can support you when trying to reset your mindset and think more positively about yourself and your achievements.

In general, always remember that you're worthy, no matter what you have done or what you have failed to do. You have intrinsic value and that's enough!

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