5 Tips for Breaking Free from Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of success.
Of course, it’s not an actual disorder; the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. They found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have. Despite having education, experience, and training, many have never been able to break free of doubting their worthiness and step into any a higher level of success. They experience a regular negative voice in their head – like a self-critic on steroids.
While it can happen to anyone, the research literature shows that women report experiencing impostor syndrome more frequently than men. It’s also more likely to happen to women of color and women in the LGBT community. One reason for this? Research shows that we are more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or who have a similar background succeeding in our field.
That never-ending critical voice can do damage both professionally and personally. I’ve seen this first-hand in my coaching practice. I’ve also seen my clients learn to transform how they respond to this negative voice and while the inner critic may never completely go away, you can absolutely learn to quiet the voice and reframe it to support you.
Here are five tips and techniques for doing this:
Talk to someone: Talking about your imposter syndrome is the first step to dealing with it, rather than suffering in silence. Build a support system of mentors and allies; people who support you and who you can share your feelings with. You’d be surprised how many of your colleagues might have had similar thoughts.
Name your inner critic. This is a classic technique from Psychologist Rick Carlson. Give that negative critical voice a name. This helps you distinguish his/her voice from your real authentic self. You want to learn what she sounds like in your head; recognize the way she talks to you. I had a client who had 2 different inner critics. She named them Gertrude and Nancy. Gertrude was the one who told her she’d never be good enough, always comparing her to other people. Nancy was the one who told her she was already super successful and didn’t need to work so hard going after greater success. Both voices had the same goal – to keep my client in her comfort zone. After naming them, she was able to quickly discover when they showed up and knew how to quiet them and not let their voices block her progress.
Discover what the voice is trying to teach you. Inside of every challenge, there is a unique lesson for every person. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt do not show up in the same way for everyone. I worked with a client who had received 3 promotions in 5 years, always got top performance reviews, was considered a top performer, but she literally felt like she was always on the verge of being fired. She would get a vague email from her manager asking for a meeting, and she’d be consumed with fear that this was it – she was finally going to get fired. It was wreaking havoc on her mental health and well-being at work. What we discovered when we worked together is that her imposter syndrome voice was a projection of what she really wanted – to leave the company. Turns out her job had evolved to a place where her role and the culture were out of alignment with her values. She was unhappy working there, but she had not been able to admit that to herself. She ended up leaving and found a new position at another company and didn’t hear that negative critical voice anymore.
Adopt a growth mindset. Stop measuring your accomplishments and start measuring your learning. Imposter syndrome occurs when you tell yourself you aren’t good enough, smart enough, don’t have enough experience to be as successful as others. It operates with a fixed mindset according to Carol Dweck’s influential work on growth vs fixed mindsets. A fixed mindset says that your intelligence, character and creativity, your capacity for success, is fixed and static and you cannot change it in any meaningful way. So, you constantly feel like you need to prove yourself. A growth mindset says everything is malleable. A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as an opportunity for growth, learning and for stretching your existing abilities. Rather than trying to rack up success stories to “prove” your worth, consider measuring how often you are learning valuable lessons. With a growth mindset, a failure that might have sent your inner critic into spasms of “I told you so”, is an opportunity to be delighted with joy that you just learned a valuable lesson that will further your growth.
Create your own metrics for success that align with your values and purpose. About measuring and comparing, my final tip is to create your own metrics for success. Of course, in any corporate job, you have metrics that you’re measured on, and that’s important for your performance. But what about your own metrics? To do this, you first need to identify what your goals are, what is the purpose you are striving for. I knew a woman who worked in a hospital as a radiology technician. Her job measured her based on her accuracy and customer ratings she received. Her metric – how many clients could she get to laugh while they were in her presence. She identified with the value of spreading joy which made her insanely happy at work. Of course, that also helped her customer service metrics as well.
It's common to have a self-critical voice in our heads; when this voice begins to interfere with your well-being and with accomplishing your career goals, it’s a sign there might be something there for you to work on and learn from.
Interested in exploring a coaching engagement? DM me or visit AmyLewisCoaching.com and schedule a complimentary discovery session to learn how coaching can support you.