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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a condition where you continually doubt your skills and success. Overcoming imposter syndrome is important in being able to improve your executive functioning skills. Regardless of what it looks like to the outside world, you don’t feel like you deserve your accomplishments and you feel like a fraud. Imposter syndrome is often tied to having a fixed mindset, and as you know, if you want to change your life, you need to have a growth mindset and believe such change is possible.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome - woman holding a sign with a question mark in front of her face

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological term that describes a pattern of behavior of self-doubt. If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you don’t believe in your skills and abilities and you don’t think you’re worthy of success. These doubts often lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.

While imposter syndrome isn’t a diagnosable mental health condition, it’s still very real for many people. And if you are neurodivergent, chances are you experience it more than others. You’ve spent your life being different and trying to fit in, so when you succeed, you don’t attribute it to your own hard work.

Everyone experiences self-doubt on occasion. Self-doubt in and of itself doesn’t equal imposter syndrome. The key difference between the two is frequency. However, some studies show that around 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome, so it’s pretty common.

Someone who experiences self-doubt doesn’t believe they can accomplish something. If they power through and do it, they can usually step back and acknowledge the hard work they did and be proud of themselves. On the other hand, someone suffering from imposter syndrome will accomplish something and still be afraid that they will be exposed as a fraud. They don’t think they deserved the success—it must’ve been a fluke.

Imposter syndrome can get so bad that people who experience it might engage in self-sabotaging behavior, such as procrastinating, which will lead to proof that they are a fraud. These people are also often extremely self-critical and can’t accept compliments.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can manifest differently in different people. It can vary depending on the environment or the task at hand.  Here are some of the ways imposter syndrome manifest:

The Perfectionist:

We’ve talked about perfectionism in the past and how paralyzing it can be. Someone who is a perfectionist feels like anything less than perfection is a failure. They can’t accept mistakes or “good enough.” These people often procrastinate under the guise of getting it right, but they end up missing deadlines altogether.

The Superhero:

These people feel like they have to do it all (and be perfect) in order to be successful. They create impossible standards for themselves to live up to and accepting help or delegating tasks means they aren’t up to the job. This is a sign of failure for them. They believe they need to be the best at everything or it doesn’t count.

The Expert:

These people feel the need to be the expert in a particular field in order to be successful. They are constantly consuming information and knowledge in order to be the best at what they do. They are intimidated by tasks that don’t fall under their umbrella of expertise and are unlikely to take risks.

The Natural Genius:

These people are firmly tied to a fixed mindset. They believe that success is supposed to be easy and if something is difficult, then it’s a sign of failure. They don’t see struggle and hard work as being necessary to success.

Impact of Imposter Syndrome

As mentioned, imposter syndrome often leads to increased anxiety, low self-esteem, and possible depression. Someone who experiences imposter syndrome is less likely to take risks or try new things out of fear of failure. This can cause them to stagnate in life. They don’t apply for promotions or new jobs because they assume they won’t be able to get them.

Imposter syndrome can also lead to burnout because of the high standards set. In an effort to prove they are capable, they don’t ask for help.

Tips for Recognizing Imposter Syndrome

Many times, people throw out the term imposter syndrome whenever they experience any level of self-doubt. As mentioned, self-doubt is a component of imposter syndrome, but frequency and intensity are the defining factors. In order to recognize when you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, you need to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, as that is where imposter syndrome is rooted.

Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings:

  • Imposter syndrome is usually rooted in negative thought patterns. When you are mindful of how you think about and talk to yourself, you can recognize when you are slipping into imposter syndrome.
  • If you often find yourself worrying about being “found out” as a fraud, you’re experiencing imposter syndrome.
  • You attribute your success to luck instead of hard work.
  • You find yourself seeking validation from someone else. It’s not enough for you to feel like you’ve succeeded; you need an authority to tell you that you have.
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Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Once you’ve learned to recognize when you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, you need to implement strategies to change it. Here are some strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome:

Reframe negative thoughts:

This is one of the most powerful ways to combat imposter syndrome. Any time you find yourself having a negative thought, rephrase it to be realistic and positive. Instead of “I’m horrible at this,” tell yourself, “I can learn to do this.” It takes practice and conscious effort, but the impact is huge.

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Identify your strengths:

Keep a list of things you’re good at. You might feel silly doing this at first, but if you have a written list (or typed on your phone or computer), you have a reminder that you’re not incompetent and that you have skills. This can help when you’re stuck trying to reframe some negative thoughts.

Ask for help:

For some of you, this might feel impossible. For you, asking for help is a sure sign of incompetence. However, this is a sign of strength. You can work with someone who can help you make and keep realistic expectations. In addition, getting feedback can improve your work. A trusted person can help you gain perspective and listening to them can help you feel less alone.

Acknowledge your successes:

It’s so easy to focus on mistakes and failures. But it’s important to recognize when you’ve done something well. This will help boost your confidence and fight off the imposter syndrome. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small.

Focus on the Present:

Part of imposter syndrome is worrying too much about the future, which is unpredictable. You can only control what is within your power to do, like the effort you put into something. You can’t control other people or what will happen in the world, so you need to let that go.

Give Yourself a Break:

We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. You need to show yourself the same compassion you would show a friend. If a friend makes a mistake or does something less than perfect, do you go out of your way to make them feel bad or stupid? Probably not. So don’t do it to yourself.

Embrace Learning as a Journey:

We spend a lot of time looking at the end goal as a sign of success; however, if we learn to focus on the process of learning as meaningful in itself, it might be easier to cut ourselves some slack. Making mistakes is part of the learning process and as we learn we get better at what we do.

Imposter syndrome is a common experience, but it’s important to realize that it can really hold you back. Learning to recognize the signs of imposter syndrome can help you combat it so that you can learn and grow as you work toward success. Overcoming imposter syndrome is something you have the ability to do. It starts with shifting your mindset and believing in yourself.

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