If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like a fraud who’s totally undeserving of your own success, then chances are high that you’ve dealt with imposter syndrome.
It’s likely a term you’ve heard before—it’s garnered plenty of buzz in recent years.
But, what exactly is imposter syndrome and how can you kick it to the curb?
Well, shutting down that negative self-talk and those overwhelming feelings of inadequacy isn’t always easy. However, it’s definitely doable.
Eager to know more?
We’re covering everything you need to know right here.
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What Exactly is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome was first described in a 1978 study by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.
Within the study, they said that those who are dealing with imposter syndrome “maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
Put simply, people who struggle with imposter syndrome feel like frauds.
Despite being successful, they feel as if they aren’t worthy of the things that they achieve and live in fear that they’ll be exposed as imposters who are undeserving of their status and accomplishments (hence why the word “imposter” appears in the name).
Sound familiar? You’re in good company.
Nearly everybody has dealt with these emotions from time to time—although, research shows that women are more likely than men to attribute their success to external factors (like luck) as opposed to their own talent.
Even so, nobody is immune to imposter syndrome.
Need further proof?
Plenty of famous, influential, and high-achieving people (from Sheryl Sandberg to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz have admitted to dealing with imposter syndrome.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Oddly enough, imposter syndrome is often rooted in a new achievement or recent success.
Imposter syndrome often begins with an accomplishment, like a new job, completion of a degree or another competency or milestone,
-explains Cara Maksimow, LCSW, in an article for NBC News authored by Danielle Page.
The person who achieved this level of success begins to have negative thoughts that the success was not really earned,
-Maksimow continues in the article,-
These negative thoughts, which are often referred to as ‘cognitive distortions,’ are based on fear and anxiety and not based in objective facts.
Think about it: When a new opportunity presents itself, that’s a rewarding experience.
But, that new challenge or recognition can also quickly inspire feelings of inadequacy, because you’re worried you won’t measure up to people’s expectations or live up to the qualifications that earned you that honor in the first place.
What Are the Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome?
We all have bad days—it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious or inadequate every now and then.
But, while the symptoms of imposter syndrome can vary from individual to individual, generally they’re more persistent than just a single day when you’re feeling low.
With that in mind, here are some common symptoms of imposter syndrome to look out for:
- Repetitive negative self-talk
- Struggling to accept praise and recognition
- Obsessing over mistakes and failures
- General feeling of never being good enough
- Overwhelming anxiety of being “found out” or exposed
Again, the exact experience can differ based on unique personalities and scenarios. But, these signs generally appear for people who are struggling with imposter syndrome.
How Imposter Syndrome Hinders Your Progress
Imposter syndrome doesn’t sound fun, right?
After all, nobody constantly wants to feel like they’re coming up short.
However, imposter syndrome comes with numerous other dire effects that can not only impact your confidence—but also your career.
So-called imposters think every task they tackle has to be done perfectly, and they rarely ask for help,
-clinical therapist Carla Lundblade explains in that same NBC article authored by Danielle Page.
That perfectionism can lead to two typical responses. An impostor may procrastinate, putting off an assignment out of fear that he or she won’t be able to complete it to the necessary high standards,
Or, he or she may over-prepare, spending much more time on a task than is necessary.
How to Combat Imposter Syndrome: 7 Must-Know Steps
Needless to say, while imposter syndrome is normal, it’s not something you want to have to deal with on a constant basis.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to keep those negative thoughts at bay and feel more self-assured—and less like a fraud—at work.
1. Acknowledge imposter syndrome.
It’s tough to change something if you don’t recognize the fact that it exists. So, it’s important that you’re able to understand when you’re dealing with imposter syndrome.
Keeping an eye out for the signs and symptoms we mentioned above will help you recognize those circumstances when you’re being far too hard on yourself.
In those moments when you feel particularly unqualified? Journaling can be a helpful activity.
This exercise is beneficial for a few reasons. First, writing things down helps you better process your emotions (more on that in a moment!).
Secondly, seeing your thoughts jotted down on paper like that forces you to look at your circumstances with a more practical and objective eye—increasing the chances that you’ll realize that situation doesn’t deserve as much anxiety as you’re currently feeling.
Regardless of whether you start a journal or not, it’s important that you figure out how to determine when you’re experiencing imposter syndrome (as opposed to just a bad day)—so that you can put the rest of these tips to work.
2. Write down your strengths and accomplishments.
We’ve already mentioned that writing things down can be helpful.
But, aside from just scribbling your analysis of your emotions and specific circumstances, it’s also wise to document things like your strengths and your key accomplishments.
From that industry award to that compliment from your boss to the fact that you’re the only one in your department who has mastered a particular task, write down anything and everything that makes you skilled and qualified.
Keep adding to that list when you think of things!
That way, when you feel any sort of negative self-talk starting to whisper in the back corners of your brain?
You can return to that list and remind yourself of all of the things that do make you intelligent, valuable, and worthy of your own success.
3. Talk to someone.
It’s easy to get all tied up in your own head when you’re stuck feeling like an imposter. You obsess over your own feelings and your own assumptions—and ultimately send yourself even further down that black hole of self-doubt.
Instead of keeping your emotions bottled up, it can be beneficial to talk it out with a trusted friend or colleague. Tell him or her exactly how you’re feeling and what’s causing those emotions.
While straight up venting and complaining isn’t always productive, research indicates that putting your own feelings into words can actually produce therapeutic effects in the brain.
In addition to the brain chemistry, it’s likely that your friend or co-worker will offer some compliments and reasoning behind why your feelings are irrational or unfounded.
Those sentiments can serve as a nice confidence boost when you’re feeling particularly low!
4. Accept your flaws.
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are closely related, since people often fail to live up to the lofty goals and ambitions they set for themselves.
However, if there’s one thing you take away from all of this advice, make it this: You don’t have to be flawless to have value or be considered successful.
Mistakes and failures are to be expected—and, even further, they’re a big part of how you’ll learn, grow, and improve moving forward.
So, make an effort to stop expecting absolute perfection and give yourself at least a little bit of breathing room.
Ultimately, you’re only setting yourself up for increased anxiety if you continue to be so rigid with your goals.
The more realistic you can be with your expectations, the less you’ll feel like a failure when you can’t meet those impossible objectives.
5. Stop comparing yourself.
In most cases, seeing how you measure up against others is a counterproductive and disheartening activity.
In fact, Millennials are the most likely to struggle with imposter syndrome—which is partially owed to the fact that they grew up in the age of social media comparisons.
Comparing yourself to others is all too easy and tempting to do today.
But, it will only discourage you. Remember, you’re only getting everybody else’s highlight reel, meaning you’re unable to make a fair judgement about how you stack up against him or her anyway.
Approach your career like a marathon runner:
Concern yourself with topping your personal bests, rather than occupying your mind with when everyone around you is crossing the finish line.
6. Pinpoint how you played a role in your own success.
People who have imposter syndrome often fail to internalize their own success.
They believe that their achievements and accomplishments are a result of luck or other external circumstances that have nothing to do with their own skill, work ethic, and expertise.
To combat this tendency, look at each achievement and pinpoint the exact ways that you played a role in your own success.
Why did you earn that big promotion?
It’s not because you were in the right place at the right time or you have everybody else fooled.
It’s because you were always willing to take on new projects, you landed that big client, or you repeatedly proved that you could be counted on to handle challenges and sticky situations.
Step back and identify how you contribute to your own accomplishments. Doing so will help you combat the feelings that you just lucked into your success.
7. Understand that you aren’t alone.
If you think feeling like an imposter makes you the exception, think again. It’s actually far more normal than you’d anticipate.
Pretty much everyone has felt like this at one point in their life—it’s human nature to doubt your own capabilities every now and then.
And, while recognizing that you aren’t alone in your imposter syndrome struggles doesn’t do much to address or solve the issue, it is helpful and reassuring to know that you aren’t the only one who feels a little paralyzed by that negative voice in your head.
It happens—but, it’s how you move past it that really counts.
Speaking of moving past it, that’s important. Imposter syndrome is normal, but it can be detrimental if you don’t find a way to get over that hump and move on with a little more confidence.
Fortunately, the tips we discussed here can help you do just that.
To recap, the steps to overcome imposter syndrome that we touched on include:
- Acknowledging the times when you’re feeling like an imposter
- Creating a running list of your strengths and accomplishments
- Talking with a trusted friend or colleague about your emotions
- Accepting your flaws and giving up on perfectionism
- Avoiding the trap of constantly comparing yourself with others
- Pinpointing exactly how you contribute to your own success and accomplishments
- Understanding that you aren’t the only one who deals with this
Put those tips into play, and you’re sure to feel less like a fraud and more like a self-assured professional. Good luck!