Ever feel incompetent and on the brink of being exposed as a fraud at work or in your business? Welcome to the club. Research published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science suggests that up to 70% of the population struggles with this problem. It’s known as imposter syndrome and, yes, it’s a real problem. But if you’re sick of never feeling good enough, here’s everything you need to know to get over imposter syndrome once and for all.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter (or impostor) syndrome is a type of self-doubt. Those affected usually doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud. Despite the grand name, imposter syndrome isn’t an actual disorder. It’s more like a belief system that leads to specific thought and behaviour patterns.
There’s no test for it, but if two or more of the following statements resonate with you, you may have imposter syndrome.
- Most of my accomplishments are down to luck.
- I don’t really deserve any of the success I’ve had in life.
- I often downplay my achievements because they aren’t as impressive as people pretend they are.
- I often worry that I will not live up to expectations.
- I struggle to accept compliments.
- I tend to avoid taking on extra responsibilities.
- I don’t feel as accomplished as people seem to think I am.
- When I’m rewarded for my work, I often feel like a mistake has been made and the reward may be taken away at any moment.
What causes it?
Researchers have been investigating this question for years and now agree that certain types of people are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome than others.
The naturally gifted
People who are naturally talented at everything they turn their hand to can experience an overwhelming crisis of confidence if faced with a task they struggle to do well. Being a beginner can be unnerving for an all-rounder, especially if the challenging task becomes an integral part of their job.
Perfectionists are also at risk of crippling self doubt because nothing is ever good enough for them, especially their own performance. The type of small mistake or oversight that the average person can easily dismiss will make a perfectionist feel incompetent.
Extremely self-reliant people are also prone to imposter syndrome. That’s because they often believe they have to figure everything out for themselves and when they can’t, they feel weak and incapable.
Finally, certain changes at work, such as getting a promotion, moving to a new department or starting a new career, can also trigger imposter syndrome. The combination of an unfamiliar environment, lack of specific experience in a new position and a desire to look deserving of the new position is perfect for triggering a crisis in self confidence.
How to get over imposter syndrome
If you have imposter syndrome, don’t panic. It’s entirely possible to get over it. Here’s how.
The first step involves talking openly about any feelings of incompetence you may have. It’s extremely normal to feel out of your depth, but if you never talk to others about it, you’ll never realise that you’re not alone. We’re all making life up as we go along. The only difference between those with imposter syndrome and everyone else is that the latter do not dwell on their shortcomings.
Once you have begun to realise that how you feel is normal, the next step involves questioning your beliefs to determine which are true and which are grossly exaggerated. When you have imposter syndrome, you tend to focus on your shortcomings and ignore your strengths and successes. To overcome this, you need to start acknowledging your successes and there’s no better way to do this than to keep a ‘success box’.
Whenever someone makes a positive comment about you, note it down on a piece of paper and place that piece of paper in your success box. Visit the box at least once a week to remind yourself of how others view you. As the number of compliments in your success box builds, reflect on them and remind yourself that all those people can’t possibly be lying or mistaken about your talents.
The final step involves countering your negative thoughts. The quickest way to get rid of self-deprecating thoughts is to counter every negative thought you have with three positive ones. Seriously. Over the next seven days, make a concentrated effort to pause every single time you have a negative thought about your abilities. Instead of dwelling on your negative thoughts, think of three things you have done well recently.
The only difference between those with imposter syndrome and everyone else is that the latter do not dwell on their shortcomings.
Before we leave you to start putting these steps into action, it’s worth mentioning that you need to be kind to yourself throughout this process. Imposter syndrome arises from a deep-seated belief system that is unlikely to magically disappear overnight. However, while it can take time to get over imposter syndrome for good, it is entirely possible.
Join our insider club
Ready for a gutsy career move? Sign up to get alerts about game-changing career opportunities, such as work abroad opportunities and exciting jobs for career changers.