Lessons, musings and advice from the author of ‘The Life I Won’
I can honestly say, hand on heart, there are few women I meet that have not felt like they didn’t deserve the ‘good stuff’ at some level. It may be hard to spot at first, after all they have become so good at hiding it, but it is usually there.
‘Imposter Syndrome’ (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.
Note my emphasis on the word internal.
This is because imposter syndrome is an internalised belief system created by external forces, opinions and expectations of others and society which causes us to think this way. It can be linked to other mental health conditions or it can occur in the perfectly well and high functioning individuals whom many of us admire and look up to. It is the feeling that others will ‘find you out’, that you are a fraud and have only experienced success due to luck and not your talent or education.
We live in a society where every single activity is visualised to determine what looks good, from the food we eat, the clothes we wear, how our face and body should look to how we should run our business. These images fed into our brains 24/7 create a set of expectations in our subconscious thinking and we compare ourselves. You see, our brains are like computers. We store images, feelings and experiences so that we can draw on them whenever we are faced with something new. They give us a reference of how to act or behave in any given situation.
Particularly affected are ‘perfectionists’ who beat themselves up for the 1% they don’t achieve and they fail to recognise the 99% they did.
Also ‘experts’ who feel like they need to know every single piece of relevant information on their subject and collect qualifications yet are afraid to speak in a meeting or classroom in case they are asked a question that they cannot answer.
‘Introverts’ who like to accomplish tasks alone and rarely ask for help can be affected and then there are the ‘Supers’ – those men and women who think that they are perfectly infallible and work so hard to prove their worth that they place undue stress and pressure on themselves.
So many of my clients did not follow their dreams or even seek help for a long time due to feeling this way, so I wanted to help by sharing some of my top tips to helping you to move past ‘IS’ when it shows up.
I have found a great practice is to give your imposter syndrome a name and a visual identity.
Mine is a little green fellow called Gordon.
When the feelings come over you, acknowledge Gordon. Say hello, I am aware that you are there, thank you for giving me perspective, but I don’t need you right now because I’ve got this. The act of acknowledging the feeling, observing the thought instead of engaging it and then letting it go can feel empowering.
When you feel empowered, you feel powerful enough to mitigate the thought.
Learning to re-frame the thought and convert it into one that serves you can be a life saver, but this is an ongoing practice. Like anything, training your brain to serve you better takes time.
My advice is to start by asking a quality question, so instead of asking ‘is this true?’ ask ‘is this helpful?’ So, if you are thinking you are not good enough because ‘IS’ has shown up, ask yourself, is this helpful, what evidence is there to confirm that this is the truth, what else is happening right now that could be causing this thought?
Just because I answered a question incorrectly once, does not mean I will every time.
How many times did I actually get a question right? Look for positive evidence. You can also re-frame your language to help you to ‘see’ yourself differently and lessen the occurrences of ‘IS’.
FROM I am too messy to succeed
TO I love to use varied methods to achieve my goals.
FROM I am selfish
TO I want to make the most out of every moment in my life.
Be kind to yourself and ease up on your own expectations. And don’t answer ‘easier said than done’ to that, reframe it to ‘I am going to try new ways to treat myself well.’
Writing down your thoughts and feelings when they occur creates pathways to improvement.
Notice that feeling of anxiety in the pit of your stomach and write down exactly what you are thinking when it occurs. It is difficult to take action on guesswork, capturing thoughts as they occur, gives you the power back.
The power to change, to analyse, to change situations or conversations that can be triggers. When you have written down your thought, ask yourself what advice you would give to a close friend if they had told you that this was their thought? As you compile a documented analysis of your thoughts, when they occur and how you can change them, you are teaching yourself to think differently.
Even the act of writing something down with a pen on paper increases your chances of understanding the thought better by about 30%.
This can be particularly difficult if you already feel like a fraud but finding someone to talk to like a trusted friend or mentor, someone who maybe has more experience than you do, can make it all feel less scary. Someone who has experienced this themselves and learned how to deal with it can help you to feel reassured that what you are feeling is perfectly normal.
When you feel like you are not alone, you will instantly feel more equipped to face those feelings in a more positive manner.
You don’t have to take your ‘IS’ thoughts and completely flip them to a positive.
It is OK to take baby steps.
You don’t have to ‘find the bright side’ or the ‘silver lining’ you just need to find meaning. Let’s take the pandemic as an example. I listen to people saying that their lives have been ruined, money is tight, and they will never recover, their children’s early years lost, and some of that may have some truth. But truth is a spectrum, like so many other things.
You don’t have to seek the definitive positives, just glimmers of gratitude and hope that feel realistic to you in your current situation.
If you are experiencing ‘IS’ from a place of perceived privilege compared to others, it can be as damaging to negate that thought as much as it can to dismiss it in any other situation.
For example, someone who has lost their job may say, ‘well at least I still have my health’ and this may make you feel bad for not losing your job. Instead of feeling guilty and experiencing IS, you can take some action to help yourself.
You are entitled to not have lost your job, and it is OK, but maybe you could support others by offering to help with covering letters or CV’s?
Taking action that helps you both equalises things and will enable you to allow yourself to have what you have without experiencing guilt or anxiety.
Most people experience moments of doubt, it is part of the human condition.
The important thing is to not let the doubt control your actions, but to learn the skills that will enable you to talk yourself down faster.
It is better to have an imposter in your head for a moment and be able to acknowledge them and talk them down than to have one there for life. Goodbye Gordon, on your merry way!