Have you ever felt inadequate? It turns out we’re not alone. Studies show that seventy percent of us suffer from Imposter Syndrome. The tendency to doubt our abilities and feel like a fraud was first observed by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1970. These two clinical psychologists found to their surprise that imposterism was most common in high performers.
Maya Angelou, the legendary poet, admitted, “I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, confessed, “I am an involuntary swindler.”But why is this? Achievers tend to set loftier goals than the average person. As a result, they experience a disproportionate amount of failure, forcing them to face their shortcomings.
Thus if you feel “I’m Not Enough” voice in your head, you’re stepping up to a challenge. Use the techniques below to overcome your doubt:
Recognize If You Have It
The first step is to consider if you suffer from imposter syndrome or a short-term lack of confidence. The former is chronic; the latter is temporary. When starting a new career or endeavor where you lack knowledge or expertise, it’s normal to lack confidence. That humility can be valuable if it prompts you to get the help you need. But if you feel persistent inadequacy, even in areas where you’ve found success, it’s a problem. It’s diffuclt to objectively self-diagnose, so I recommend taking an online Impostor Syndrome Test to see if you’re at risk.
Personify Your Critical Inner Voice
Your inner critic is the subpersonality that judges and demeans you. Everyone has self-doubt, but this voice shouldn’t be ongoing and debilitating. It shouldn’t contradict facts and objective reality. The trouble is that most of the time, the voice sneaks under our radar. It manifests in a subtle hesitation to speak up or to introduce ourselves. Our critic can be so faint that we might question if it even exists.Don’t let it hide – personify your inner critic. How does it look and sound? What are the insidious ways that it tries to undermine you?
Consider the Impact on Your Life
Real change occurs when “should” turns to “must.” If you think you “ought” to get in shape, shore up your finances, or start dating again, you won’t. The work seems more painful than the consequences. But what if you flipped it around and started recognizing the pain of doing what you’ve always done? Consider how the imposter experience has held you back and kept you from the life you desire. What opportunities have you neglected? What experiences have you missed because you felt unworthy? What regrets might you have in the future if your life continues this way? The purpose of this reflection is to build an ironclad will to overcome impostorism.
Ask Yourself This Question
Once you’ve identified your inner critic, call it out. Let’s say it whispers in your ear, “You don’t know enough to get started.” Start by asking yourself: is this self-criticism genuine, and does it matter? Often, ignorance can be helpful when it’s paired with humility. It can lead to better questions, more listening, less preconceived notions. You also can typically learn things as you go. When I started my blog, I knew nothing about creating a website, marketing, or editing. If I had taken a course beforehand, I probably would have forgotten most of it. See how I reframed that weakness as a strength? The next step is to ask yourself: are my inner doubts productive? Even if the suspicions are valid, are they getting you any closer to your goals, or are they just noise?
Avoid the Perfectionism Trap
Impostorism is closely related to perfectionism. The perfectionist sets a near-impossible standard for themselves in most activities. It’s essential to do your best, but recognize that you’ll never be or do perfect work. If you can never pass your bar, you’ll look at every effort as a failure, creating a negative feedback loop. Your inner critic will chide, “I told you so. You’re not cut out for this.” Give yourself a break; allow yourself room to fail. Do that, and you’ll find that your fear of failure will start to subside. The excitement of learning and growth will take its place. Another technique is to focus on the process instead of obsessing on the product of your efforts. You can control your habits more than the end product.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” – John Steinbeck
Strengthen your Mind
If you wanted to get stronger, you would go to the gym and lift weights regularly. The same type of strength training works for our minds. Take time daily to visualize your success in the future as vividly as possible. It can also be valuable to cherish your past victories. Most of us reflect on what didn’t work out in the past; the tough breaks, the losses. Instead, think about the times you accomplished something hard for you at the time. It doesn’t have to be grandiose – it could be the first time you rode a bike or drove a car. Or perhaps you aced a difficult test, graduated from a challenging program, or got a promotion. The point is that you proved to yourself you could stretch beyond your limits, and so you can do it again.
Don’t Go it Alone
Remember earlier when I mentioned that 7 out of 10 people suffer from imposter syndrome? If you’re honest with yourself and others about this issue, they’ll likely empathize because they’re going through it too. They probably could use your help! Don’t hesitate to ask for help, and don’t wait to give it to others. Build a team around you that can support you and uplift you. There are plenty of places to find support: online communities, mastermind groups, mentoring circles. If you prefer 1:1 help, seek out coaches, mentors, and close friends. Hollywood glamorizes the lone wolf, a rags-to-riches hero that does it all themselves. It sounds cool, but no one succeeds alone. Every high achiever had a team that have helped them along the way, build yours.