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Impostor Syndrome - the what, the why and the how

What is it, who it affects and how to manage it and thrive

Do you often compare yourself to others and feel inferior?

Discouraged if you weren’t “the best” or at least “very special” in situations that involve achievement?

Fear that important people may discover you are not as capable as you want them to think you are?

These are only some of the ways impostor syndrome manifests itself.

It affects 70% of the working population, and can manifest in areas other than career, such as academic studies or relationships.

It is described as an inability to internalise success and feeling the fear of being found out as a "fraud". In people with impostor syndrome, harsh self-criticism and perfectionism are on the menu daily.

Many famous successful people have admitted to symptoms of impostor syndrome.

"The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” - Albert Einstein

It predominantly affects high-achievers, and although there's evidence to support their accomplishments, they do not see themselves as deserving of their success and praise.

It often makes people feeling intellectually phony, feeling like they know much less than they should (and less than they think others know). They feel like they're fooling people into believing they're more knowledgeable and capable than they believe themselves to be.

It makes them shy away from praise and deflecting compliments, feeling they just got lucky, or it was no big deal, or they had to work way too hard so they really aren't as capable as others praise them to be.

It makes them overwork in fear of failing at a task or project. They often deliver over and above the expected standard though.

Accomplishments don't bring them satisfaction, only a temporary relief. After the first sigh of relief, the worry starts all over again. Will the next task be the one where everyone figures out that they don't really know what they're doing, and see them for a "fraud" that they are?

The pressure is on.

One way people with impostor syndrome respond to this pressure is to work extra hard, and getting gradually exhausted in the process, their health and work-life balance suffer.

The other way is they don't dare grabbing opportunities out of fear of being exposed. And they miss out on great opportunities that would allow them to progress in life.

It's really a no-win situation.

If you recognise yourself in any of the symptoms of impostor syndrome, job satisfaction probably seems like a distant fantasy, where instead of taking pride in your work and being excited about a challenging opportunity, you just keep ploughing through and hoping you can keep your impostor feelings and your perceived shortcomings hidden from the world. But there's the catch - these feelings are often bound up in shame, and shame thrives on secrecy.

The trick is actually in being honest with yourself and finding a way to talk about this in a safe space. This brings me to

A few tips on how to deal with impostor syndrome:

1. Understand and commit. Being honest with yourself, assess to what extent impostor syndrome may be affecting you. Learn more about it as that's the first step to changing anything - awareness. Then consider the negative impact it is having in your life, and commit to making a change. This will fuel your motivation to keep going.

2. Share it with someone. This way you are dismantling shame around it. By speaking with someone you trust about the things you feel vulnerable about (and our perceived faults certainly are a vulnerable topic) will gradually dissolve the feelings of shame. You will likely find out that you're not alone, and also will get your impostor feelings challenged since other people often have a more objective (higher) opinion of us and our abilities.

3. Challenge the critical inner voice that is fuelling your impostor thoughts and feelings. Realise that you don't have to believe every thought you think. Our mind always acts with intention to protect us, keeping us away from pain and discomfort. But that's not always in the interest of our growth, since keeping us way from discomfort can keep us stuck in our comfort zone. It's about convincing your mind to support you rather than hold you back.

4. Practise. Every change takes practise, and so does developing new habits of thought. It really is your choice how you want to think. Your mind will believe you once you tell it something often enough, and once it found the evidence to support what you're saying. There's a general belief that it takes a minimum of 21 days to change a habit, although I've recently read that this could be even longer, taking around 66 days to embed a new habit. It takes persistence and repetition but over time you will start feeling the new way of being as your new normal.

I hope this overview of impostor syndrome and how to start tackling it has helped you see that you have options. That it doesn't have to be a no-win situation, and you don't have to live with this for the rest of your life, hoping it will go away once you've achieved enough.

Unless you learn to dialogue with your mind better and develop a more positive relationship with yourself, impostor syndrome will likely stick around and keep you stuck for much longer than it needs to.

By learning about what's really going on under your impostor syndrome, and learning how your brain works so you can use it to support you rather than hold you back, you can start to dis-engage from the self-doubt and self-sabotage at the heart of impostor syndrome and start owning more of your brilliance.

I'm working with people 1-to-1 as well as running an online group programme to overcome your impostor syndrome and thrive.

The group programme is based on my 6-step process to disengage from the self-doubt and self-sabotage and own your brilliance - more details are here.

If this is of interest to you, let's jump on the call and find out how you can start managing your impostor feelings and get more from your life!

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