"You don't belong here."
"You're a fraud."
"It's only a matter of time before everyone realizes."
That is the voice of Impostor Syndrome. People with Impostor Syndrome often feel that their achievements aren't based on merit, but sheer luck. Thoughts like, "I have no idea what I'm doing," or, "The hiring manager made a mistake, I'm not qualified for this job," are common, in spite of all the evidence supporting their abilities and competency. Ironically, Impostor Syndrome is more common among highly intelligent, highly successful people.
Impostor Syndrome is not the same as self-doubt or lack of confidence. It’s an inability to accurately assess your own abilities, especially in comparison with others. The result is, you box yourself in, limit yourself based on your own inaccurate self-assessment, and fail to live up to both your current abilities and full potential. You don’t even consider taking on certain projects or job opportunities because it never occurs to you that you’re capable. It keeps you from fully participating in discussions or volunteering your ideas because you think that if you do everyone will see you're out of your depth.
Not only are you holding yourself back, you're depriving others of your unique perspective and contributions. Successful teams and businesses need everyone running at 100%, not holding back due to feeling inadequate or self-conscious. Next time Impostor Syndrome starts whispering in your ear, use these 14 strategies to shut it up for good.
7 Effective Ways to Beat Impostor Syndrome
1. Know that you're not alone.
According to a study by the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70% of us feel like impostors at work. That means almost 3/4 of the people around you also feel that they're not qualified when comparing themselves with you. It's easier to strip Impostor Syndrome of its power when you know everyone else feels exactly the same way, even those colleagues you admire most.
2. Recognize Impostor Syndrome for what it is.
Acknowledge Impostor Syndrome as something that affects you, so you can start adjusting your attitude. Instead of thinking, "I haven't accomplished anything, and what I have done has just been luck," say to yourself, "I have a hard time recognizing my accomplishments and abilities." Stop thinking of yourself as incapable. Impostor Syndrome is simply an inability to internalize success, not an inability to achieve success.
3. Watch your self-talk.
Impostor Syndrome is rooted in your habits surrounding how you talk to yourself. Luckily, bad habits can be broken and good ones built in their place. The next time your inner voice starts undermining your abilities and accomplishments, get out of your head. Take 5 minutes to call a friend and say, "I'm fighting the sneaky hate spiral today — here's what happened." Oftentimes saying what's going through your head out loud is enough to help you snap out of it, and if not, good friends can help us see through the haze of negativity.
4. Don't dismiss praise.
When someone says, "Great job!" don't shrug it off. Instead of responding, "Oh thanks, I got lucky," just say, "Thanks!" It's easier to accept and internalize your accomplishments when you stop brushing them off or explaining them away.
5. Act before you feel 100% ready.
Thinking about doing something without ever actually doing it is a large part of what makes you feel like a fraud, especially when surrounded by people you see as more authentic. So let go of perfectionism, just get started, and work on continually getting better from there.
6. Remember that being wrong isn't the same as being incompetent.
In addition to downplaying their achievements, people with Impostor Syndrome tend to fixate on failures. Everyone makes mistakes — even Hall of Fame athletes strike out, throw interceptions, and miss free throws. Perfection is not one of your job requirements!
7. Embrace lifelong learning.
There's a difference between feeling inadequate and recognizing opportunities for growth and improvement. We are all works-in-progress. If we can accept that and push ourselves to keep improving — while also recognizing how far we've come — we stop feeling like permanent frauds and start owning both our weak points and our accomplishments.
Quick Tips to Try Today
Keep track of your wins.
Any time you get an email saying, "Nice work!" or your manager mentions the positive results of your efforts, write it down or archive it in a special folder. When the little voice in your head starts going on about how you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before you’re found out, open that folder and remind yourself of how capable you actually are.
Change your perspective of failure.
Remember that a large part of doing good work and being successful actually involves failing, trying something new, and failing again until you find something that works. One of the biggest advantages “experts” have is that they understand this and keep working at the problem, and they've accumulated more tricks to try from their past experience.
Encourage your teammates.
When a teammate helps you out or makes a valuable contribution to your work, tell them. Managers: don't save positive feedback for annual reviews or wrapping up big projects; make it a regular habit. Remind your team members that they're contributing in ways that matter and that you've noticed their results, and if you can, prove it by showing them numbers.
Boost your confidence through body language.
How you carry yourself isn't just about how others perceive you; it has a profound impact on how you view yourself. Just a few minutes of altering your posture can affect your brain chemistry and make you feel more confident and less likely to let those self-sabotaging thoughts creep in.
Keep learning and building on your strengths.
Recognizing what you're good at and adding new skills around those strengths gives you more confidence in the form of tangible certifications, as well as practical working knowledge that you'll be able to use in the workplace. And when that knowledge proves useful on the job, you'll see time and again that you do offer value to your team.
Pay attention to how other people handle setbacks.
No one's perfect, and even the colleagues you think highly of make mistakes from time to time. Watch how they approach these situations to remind yourself that everyone is still learning, no matter how much of an "expert" they are, and pick up new, more productive ways of responding to setbacks.
Ask for help.
Instead of constantly comparing yourself to colleagues, ask them for help and advice. If possible, find someone you admire to mentor you. You'll learn something new, build meaningful relationships, and get insights into how the other person grew and overcame their own self-doubt.
Fighting Impostor Syndrome
How have you overcome Impostor Syndrome? Share your stories in the comments below and let's give each other some encouragement!