Impostor syndrome has been described as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It is said to affect high-achieving people at a higher rate than others, showing up as discounting our skills and accomplishments.
Impostor syndrome affects both men and women alike, and research has shown that at least 70% of people have experienced it at some point or another. More specifically, according to Forbes, a 2020 study done by KPMG revealed that 75% of executive women identified had experienced impostor syndrome at various points during their careers- and 85% believe women across corporate America commonly experience it. Nearly 6 in 10 executive women in the KPMG study expressed that promotions or transition to new roles were when they most experienced impostor syndrome.
In addition to executives in corporate America, the impostor syndrome is prevalent amongst entrepreneurs as they struggle with launching their new business and selling their product or service as an extension of themselves.
So, how do you stop feeling like an impostor? The short answer is that you need to stop thinking you’re an impostor. Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, the more you change your mindset, the more you will create new neural pathways in your brain and transform your thinking. I know. This is easier said than done. Here are eight tips to help you:
1. Take stock in perception versus reality. When your internal fraud is screaming in your head, take a minute to determine if it’s the emotion or logic talking. Our emotions tend to convince our bodies that there is a real risk or danger, when our rational mind may say otherwise. Perhaps I am feeling like an impostor because I am a new coach, when in reality I have 20+ years of experience that I bring to my coaching clients which clearly says I am not as green as my fearful mind thinks.
2. Recognize your actual boundaries. We often lose sight of what we know, can do, have experience in, the significance of our accomplishments, etc., because we are told things like “fake it till you make it.” While there is certainly value in that idea, it is helpful to get clear on our boundaries to confidently determine where we excel and where we need to seek help, education, or time to find the answer. This enables us to embrace our sphere of expertise and our confidence in it.
3. Learn how to embrace failure and fail forward. If you can build the “failure muscle” so that you are less afraid of failing and more in tune with what you learn from the experience, you will reduce the level of insecurity you feel about taking risks and putting yourself out there. The fear of failure is at the heart of impostor syndrome, so learn to use it as a tool versus an obstacle.
4. Create a new soundtrack around your self-limiting beliefs. This can be as simple as reframing what the voice in your head tells you. For example, I once asked a coach how I quiet the “noise” of everything I see online, so I stop worrying so much about competing with everyone. He turned the tables on me in one short response: “What if you aren’t competing with them, but rather they are competing with you?” Boom. Reframe.
5. Talk about it. Sometimes just sharing your doubts and insecurities with a coach, mentor, or other trusted advisor helps you see the situation differently and can open your mind to the idea that you may be as capable and accomplished as you describe to the other person. It can help you realize that it’s fear talking and not your ego who knows better.
6. Rewrite the ground rules. We often feel as though we need to have an answer for everything and be able to do things without seeking help. Liberating ourselves from this notion can be done by practicing responses such as “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to look into it and get back to you.” Employing this practice takes the pressure off of the moment and, in turn, builds your confidence as you rely on your authentic self to find the answer.
7. Employ visualization techniques. Building the habit of envisioning our success, writing it down, revisiting it frequently, and putting in the work to get there is the powerful process that increases the chances of success in your goals. One of my favorite stories comes from actor Jim Carrey who, in 1997, shared with Oprah the story of writing himself a $10 million check and dated it for five years in the future. When he wrote that check, he had nothing to his name other than his work ethic and self-belief. (You can watch his amazing story here in this short clip.) Just before the check’s date was coming due, he received a $10 million contract for the movie “Dumb and Dumber”—perfect example of visualization leading to the successful fulfillment of a goal.
8. Lead with your strengths to ground yourself in confidence. Take out a piece of paper and list all of your strengths and achievements. Use this exercise to take stock in all you have done and the experience you can confidently own. Creating this list will then remind you of what you bring to the table and your confidence source. Rather than focusing on what you believe you don’t know or can’t do (yet), you lead with what you know well and the value you bring to the world.
Overcoming impostor syndrome takes time and deliberate effort. However, it truly is within your power to do so. The next time that the fraud monster in your head starts acting up, employ one or some of the techniques above and watch how the shift in your mindset helps you move forward with confidence.
All my best and more,