I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out. - Maya Angelou
Do you fear you'll be discovered as an imposter at any moment? You're not alone. An estimated 70% of the population struggle with owning their accomplishments and feeling like they belong. Imposter syndrome locks us in a cycle of questioning our abilities and downplaying our achievements. Instead of recognizing our successes and building confidence to pursue our goals, we shy away from opportunities and live in fear of being “found out." So how can we break the cycle of imposter syndrome and reconnect with our confidence and self-worth?
1. Get off Social Media:
Imposter Syndrome is embedded in our culture and context. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snap Chat) exhibits the high points of life, setting up unhealthy social comparison. Flipping through filtered, photo-shopped and carefully curated images, we begin to imagine that other people have perfect lives and that our own is inadequate. For example, one study linked frequent social media usage with high levels of anxiety and depression in young adults.
Stop playing the game of comparison. Get media savvy by reminding yourself that you are viewing personal branding efforts and edited highlight reels, not real life. Use the algorithms in your favour by unfollowing accounts that incite self-doubt and purposely following what sparks joy - inspirational quotes, hilarious dogs, sassy toddlers or nature photography. Pretty soon, you'll see a medley of merry memes instead of 'aspirational' twaddle. Still anxious? Step away from those apps altogether and notice how you feel.
2. Contemplate your Successes:
We all suffer from a negativity bias. Our brains evolved to scan for bad news, over-focus on it, overreact to it and over-remember it. If ten things happen in your day, nine neutral and positive events and one irritating or disappointing event, what might you guess you'll ruminate on all night? Our brain is Velcro for bad experiences and Teflon for good experiences. Because of this, we really need to help beneficial experiences sink in!
Keep track of your successes, large and small. Notice when something goes well and really take in any positive feedback you might receive. Write a compliment down, take a breath and drink it in. If this still feels challenging and unconvincing, try this exercise. It may help you internalize and connect more deeply to your abilities and strengths.
Identify a successful experience, however small. It may be something you did well, something that attracted praise or encouraging feedback and had a positive outcome of any kind. In your journal, complete the following sentence:
I was able to (whatever the successful experience was) ________________________
because I am _________________________________.
Write for three minutes. If a personal trait is hard to name, try writing about what you did to make the positive outcome happen - what action did you take? Notice how you feel inside as you reflect on your agency and success.
3. Act As If:
Have you heard the age-old advice 'Fake it 'til you make it?' You may think you have to fix yourself on the inside for change to show up on the outside, but this is not wholly true. If you Act As If you are capable and belong, if you put on a brave face and embrace the task at hand, you begin to change from within. Doing the thing that makes you uncomfortable influences your self-concept and begins to build that confidence you are waiting to feel.
If this is hard to imagine for yourself, think of a scenario that intimidates you and imagine a role model, hero or someone you admire, real or fictional, whose qualities and actions allow them to thrive in that situation. Now imagine that you embody those same qualities. Make-believe that you are this person and act As If you are thriving too. This small energy shift and the doing of the thing that scares you will evolve your identity and self-confidence. Try it and notice what happens inside.
4. Accept this Feeling as an Experience of Growth
Remember this - anyone who has attempted anything was a beginner first. Impostor Syndrome is what growth feels like - it is the feeling of growing into things you haven't done before. Feeling doubt and uncertainty is not proof of inadequacy. If you feel scared, like you're going to be found out, you're probably stretching yourself and growing into new abilities and outlooks. Perhaps Imposter Syndrome is really just Personal Growth Syndrome!
To test this idea, listen to an inspiring role-model speak about their life on a podcast or television interview. Notice how they describe the adversity they faced, rejections they encountered and the period of uncertain growth through which they evolved into who they are today. Anybody who tries to accomplish anything will feel like they are inadequate to the task and that even success is really just momentary - "Sure, I got through this one, but what about next time."
Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most impressive and celebrated among us have stepped into unknown territory, tried and failed before they succeeded. Instead of feeling as though you need to prove your worth, remember that self-doubt is a universal human experience. You are not alone in your fears. Give yourself permission to be flawed, offer yourself credit when it's due and hold your head high. We are all a blend of strengths and weaknesses, confidence and self-doubt. Expertise is won through risk and practice. And at the end of the day, remember this simple truth - you are far more capable than you think.
If you struggle with Imposter Syndrome and it is preventing you from engaging in meaningful pursuits, you may benefit from the support of a professional counsellor. To book an appointment with Robin Evan Willis visit www.counsellingwithrobin.com and click the booking portal.