Everyone struggles with self-doubt from time to time. It manifests differently for each of us. Some people obsess over their choice of words in an email. Others feel anxious about working in groups. Self-doubt is totally natural, but for some of us, the struggle runs deeper than occasionally second-guessing ourselves. For some of us, feelings of inadequacy or fear of failure are an overwhelming battle we fight on a near-daily basis. Some of us just don't feel like we belong where we are.
Imposter syndrome is a generalized term for the inability to internalize one's own accomplishments. Psychology Today describes imposter syndrome as "a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud...despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remain convinced they don't deserve the success they have."
More than self-doubt, people with imposter syndrome believe their accomplishments result, not from talent or hard work, but from mere coincidence. They balk at the notion that they've achieved success on merit, and they live in perpetual fear that they'll soon be revealed as "a fraud". Imposter syndrome afflicts students and professionals alike, and while initial studies examined its effect on women, men often experience it, too.
You can see how imposter syndrome leaves us constantly on edge—unable to take pride in ourselves or enjoy our experiences in school or at work. Eventually, it can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem, and even depression.
Overcoming imposter syndrome is about more than just changing your mentality—which is itself so much easier said than done. Training yourself to believe that you're not a fraud requires sincere effort, continual self-affirmation, and reinforcement. To that end, we've got five tips for helping you overcome imposter syndrome.
1. Make a list of accomplishments, skills, and positive affirmations.
It sounds simple, but it can be enormously effective in reminding yourself that you are worthy of all you've achieved. People with imposter syndrome are unable to internalize their successes, so keeping a list helps you quantify everything you've done to get where you are.
What have you learned this week that just clicked for you? Did you complete a major task or receive positive feedback on your work? What are your favorite things about yourself? Writing these things down forces you to reflect on them, and over time, you'll realize that, despite what you might tell yourself, there's still so much to be proud of.
2. Establish a strong support system.
If you’ve ever felt like a fraud, you’re not alone. And it’s important you know that. One of the most effective ways to overcome imposter syndrome is to build a network of support. You might be hesitant to confide something so personal to someone else, but more often than not, you’ll find that so many other people have experienced the very same thing.
Find somebody you can trust—a colleague, a classmate, a mentor—to share what you’re feeling. Confide in a friend or relative if you're uncomfortable speaking to somebody about this in an academic or professional setting. Building a network of people who have felt the same way before—and who can provide an objective perspective on your performance—goes a long way in normalizing your feelings and getting the validation you can’t always give yourself.
Too often, especially in our culture, we're told that we need to take care of our own feelings—the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is all too real. But imposter syndrome can make this feel impossible. It's okay to get a little help every once in a while.
3. Solicit ongoing feedback.
Feedback is essential to growth and development for all of us, but for someone who suffers from imposter syndrome, it is especially crucial. Whether seeking feedback from a professor about your performance in class or asking a manager for insight into what kind of job you're doing at work, feedback gives you perspective.
Different than simply building a support system, soliciting structured, formal, and periodic feedback is a chance to receive a meaningful evaluation of your work. It allows you to identify strengths and opportunities for growth, and to craft a strategy for moving forward in a way that allows you to feasibly achieve your goals.
Most managers will provide periodic evaluations of your performance, but if you find yourself wanting to check in more often, there's nothing wrong with letting your manager know that this kind of feedback is what works for you—that it is essential to your professional growth and improvement.
When your internal voice is consistently telling you that you're failing or that you're not doing enough, an objective, outsider's evaluation of your work is an important affirmation. It's also important, if you do suffer from imposter syndrome, to brace yourself for constructive criticism. Receive critiques with an open mind. Remember that the person from whom you're getting feedback is not there to attack you, but rather to help you.
4. Celebrate the little things.
We all deserve rewards for the good work we do. In the professional world, recognition for our work may come in the form of bonuses, promotions, prizes, or even formal awards. But when you turn every victory into a cause for celebration yourself, this can motivate and reassure you.
Did you meet an important deadline on time? Did you go above and beyond for a certain project, or find a solution to a problem? We achieve things in our jobs or studies almost every day, and it's important to treat yourself on occasion.
These positive affirmations can take any form that you find works for you: a glass of wine after work, or something from your Amazon wishlist. It can even come in the form of a quiet night away from your responsibilities—an exhilarating jog in the park or a binge of your favorite television show. All that matters is that you associate the reward with a job well-done, and remind yourself that you've earned it.
5. Open a dialogue with yourself.
Most of the advice you read about overcoming imposter syndrome charges you with vague and somewhat unwieldy tasks like, "changing your mindset," or "quieting your inner saboteur". That's so much easier said than done, which is why we've tried to focus our advice on the tangible steps you can take on a daily basis to gradually shift your way of thinking.
Nonetheless, a component of this does involve understanding the way you're thinking and exploring ways to soothe those self-doubts. It's important to ask yourself where you think these thoughts come from. How did they start? When did they start? What triggers your most intense feelings of fraud?
Take some time to actually ask yourself those questions, and try to find the answers. It takes hard work, patience, and a great deal of self-care, but getting to the root of your imposter syndrome is one of the most nurturing things you can do for yourself.
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