Having occasional bouts of self-doubt (Bouts of the Doubts as I like to call it) or periods of time where you feel unconfident, and perhaps even teetering on unworthiness is something that happens to everyone at some point, or season, in their lives or another. It’s actually pretty normal.
But when these feelings persist, and you continually doubt your abilities and worth, despite honing your skills and gathering expert knowledge in your field, or receiving accolades and recognition for the work that you do, something else is usually at play here. And that ‘something else’ is known as Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter syndrome may sound like a made-up diagnosis, but psychologists estimate that around 70% of adults will experience imposterism at least once in their lives.¹
This is something that I have battled quite regularly throughout my life, but it is only in recent years (and to some extent, recent months) where I have taken back ground as far as this imposter is concerned. Yes, I still have Bouts of the Doubts, but the full-blown imposter attacks have been greatly reduced.
So, in the event that you, too, have felt like a fraud, and seriously doubted all you can do, and have just discovered it may very well be imposter syndrome at play, today, I’m sharing eight strategies I’ve used to help me win more times than I lose when I do encounter that pesky imposter.
Check them out below.
1. Unmask The Imposter
Ever had thoughts like these, “They’re going to see right through me!” or, “I only achieved this because of luck/good timing/fill in your own blank.” Or this big one, “It’s just a matter of time before they realize they made a mistake hiring me.” While these probably feel very “true” and very real when they’re swirling around in your head, there is likely very little base in reality. They are likely just the by-product of a case of imposter syndrome. But one of the first steps to overcoming this imposter is recognizing that there is an imposter…and then unmasking it!
If I’m being honest, just learning that imposter syndrome is an actual “thing” was a huge relief! Being able to put a name to this weird, persistent feeling that I was never quite measuring up, and identifying it, gave me power of it, as I could then take actionable steps to overcome it.
So that’s why the first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is simply unmasking the imposter. Know that it exists, it’s real, and by knowing its name – by unmasking it – you can then take the next steps to overcoming it.
2. Recognize the Symptoms
Now that you’ve unmasked imposter syndrome – you know that it exists – the next step in overcoming it is being able to recognize when it’s happening to you. And this is important because without this knowledge, you could go on believing all sorts of lies about yourself, thinking that they are true! So my next step in conquering impostorism is knowing the symptoms.
I now know that when I catch myself being particularly hard on myself, feeling like a complete failure, or seriously questioning my value in relation to my work environment, it’s likely that I’m under the influence of imposterism, and I can act accordingly using the other strategies I’ve learned. Just knowing what to look out for puts a check in place, which then serves a loud alarm to get yourself back on the right thought path sooner rather than later.
Related read: How Do I Overcome Unhealthy Comparison?
3. Remember You’re Not Alone
One of the greatest aids to overcoming imposter syndrome is realizing that you’re not alone. (Remember the above statistic of 70%?) This was a massive help in my own battle. Once I understood imposterism existed, and then finding out just how many people, from all walks of life, in all fields, and at all ranks experienced feelings similar if not exactly the same as what I was feeling, I can tell you there was a definite lifting of a rather heavy weight.
So, let me pay it forward and ease the load for you. You are not alone! Imposter syndrome is very real, and can affect anyone! No matter how seemingly confident a person may seem, no matter their experience or level of expertise, or even their recognized level of prestige within their subject area, anyone can fall victim to imposter syndrome. And just remembering that you’re certainly not alone in these feelings is a giant step towards shaking yourself free from its clutches!
4. Arm Yourself With Knowledge
In the battle against imposter syndrome, I found that one of your greatest weapons you can wield is knowledge. And specifically, current, up-to-date knowledge about your area of expertise as a whole, as well as all the latest on your focused niche topic. “Knowledge is power” as they say, and sound knowledge about your subject area is a powerful remedy for all those negative thoughts imposter syndrome is saturating your mind with!
The reason why knowledge is so powerful in conquering imposter syndrome is because it’s something solid you can turn to when you’re doubting yourself. You can look in the mirror and know all that you know. And through reminding yourself of how far you’ve come in your journey, and much you really do know in your area of expertise, the typical imposter syndrome-esque thoughts of, “You’re a fake and a fraud,” will have very little chance of taking root.
A word of caution: Remember, you’re not putting the time into learning all there is to know about your niche to become a “know-it-all!” Certainly not! You’re putting the time and energy into mastering your topic so that you feel secure in the knowledge and insight you bring to the table. But conversely, by arming yourself with knowledge, you’ll also become secure in the fact that there is so much to know, and you’ll never know it all! And that, in it’s own weird way, is also comforting, as you can then take some of the pressure off yourself to know it all!
5. Just Accept the Compliment
This sounds like a weird way to overcome imposter syndrome, right? I get it! But bear with me just for a bit…
If you are often plagued by feelings of self-doubt, chances are high there is a lot of negative self-talk going on upstairs. And so when you achieve success in any area, but particularly in those areas where your work or your passion is concerned, more often than not, it doesn’t really sink in. And any compliments or praise you receive, you probably brush off, without letting these really mean anything to you, or worse, you downplay it by saying something like, “It was just luck.” Or “Anyone could have done it.” You’re so quick to disregard the good things people are saying because you’re so used to finding excuses for your success.
But “No more!” I say! Just accept the compliment! Let someone else’s kind words of congratulations and encouragement, their praise for a job well done sink in for a change! Take it in and just say, “Thank you.”
Not only because the more you allow the positive talk to accumulate in your mind, the quieter the negative thoughts become, but also because downplaying a compliment is actually like being ungrateful for a gift! Ouch! But true!
So the next time someone takes the time to congratulate or compliment you on an achievement – just accept it for the kind gift it is! And don’t find ways to downplay your hard work or brush it off. It’s both detrimental to you, as well as unkind to the other person. And neither of these are the results we’re after!
6. Watch Your Mouth
We’re talking a lot about watching the way we speak, but that’s because words are so powerful!
And part of the crippling power of imposter syndrome is all that negative talk going on in your head. You know what I’m talking about. You spent hours on that pitch, NAILED IT! And landed that great client, but in your head, all you hear is, “I don’t know why they picked me. Maybe I was just lucky…this time.”
Stop! Stop all this negative talk! Whether it stays in your mind or comes out your mouth, it’s got to stop! (Please?) The thing with negative talk is we’re often not really aware we’re doing it. We’re not consciously trying to verbally beat ourselves up or knock ourselves down. We’ve just got into the habit of being a little unkind to ourselves with what we say and think about ourselves.
So the solution? Watch what comes out of your mouth and pay attention to your self-talk. Do this for a week to start, and each time you catch yourself in a negative loop, stop, and replace that thought with something positive about yourself. While not always directly related to imposter syndrome, negative talk is one of the avenues it most commonly takes. But if you make said “Negative Avenue” the road less travelled, it will be that much easier to stop imposter syndrome in its tracks, before it knocks your confidence again.
7. Make Peace with Falling Short
This is probably the strategy that’s been the hardest to implement – making peace with falling short. I’ll be super honest, I don’t like making mistakes (but then again, I guess no one really does?) but my aversion to falling short was almost chronic. But then, as I was learning more about imposterism, I found that this was a fairly common trait. And this is because when you’re functioning under imposter syndrome, you’re putting a whole load of pressure on yourself to not make mistakes, as you fear that one tiny slip-up will be all that is needed for you to be unmasked as an incompetent fraud! Yikes! That really hit home!
But you have to make peace with making mistakes, missing the mark, and even not meeting your own expectations! The fear of making mistakes can keep you from taking those risks that could lead to something amazing! And it was this realization that helped me begin to make peace with the fact that I will fall short! I will mess up, and I will make mistakes. But I don’t want to let the fear of that rob me of some grand adventures!
8. Cancel the Perfection Mindset
Lastly, in the war waged against imposterism, another key component of your battle plan should be cancelling your perfection mindset. But this is often easier said than done. And this is because you may not actually even be aware you’re constantly striving for perfection.
One of the detrimental side effects of experiencing imposter syndrome – particularly when you are unaware you’re under its spell – is that in order to combat this feeling you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, and push yourself to work harder and better in your bid to try to keep these feelings at bay. But rather than build your self-confidence, this habit of striving for better actually forms a perfectionist mindset – something that is not desirable or healthy at all!
With a perfectionist mindset, ironically, nothing you do is ever really good enough. You analyze every decision, every outcome, every successful project for places you could have done better or worked harder. And this has to stop! Like yesterday! You need to cancel the perfection mindset and replace it with an “I can only do my best” mindset. With this mental framework in place, you evaluate the work you’ve done, and if you know you’ve done your best, you celebrate the win! And that’s where you leave it! No more, “but if only I had done this part better, or said this better,” you did your best and that’s it.
But what if, when you’re evaluating your results you know you didn’t do your best, for whatever reason? Well, this is when Strategy 7 effectively comes into play. You make peace with missing the mark this time – remember, you’re only human after all! – and learn from the missteps this time round. And you give the next shot your best shot.
Imposter Syndrome has been defeating your confidence for far too long! But not anymore! You’ve now got the tools to defeat the sucker! But one last dose of real talk. Even though I’ve worked through all the above points, there are still times – particularly when I’m tired or a little stressed – that I still fall victim to the imposter and it’s tricks. I doubt my worth, my abilities, and worry about how long it will be until I’m discovered as the fraud that I am.
But! These thoughts don’t plague me for nearly as long as they used to! And I can only attribute that to working through these points. And then working through them again whenever I realize I’ve walked into the trap again. Just knowing the symptoms, and then arming yourself with knowledge, can really make all the world of difference.
And for me personally, just learning to watch what I think and say about myself, replacing those with positive thoughts, and making peace with the fact that I will make mistakes or miss the mark – no matter how hard I try not to – and being at peace with that, has really eased and even reduced the number of Bouts of the Doubts I experience.
My final piece of advice when it comes to overcoming that pesky imposter syndrome is this. Remember, you are unique. No one else can do what you specifically can do. No one has your temperament, your unique mix of talents and gifts, or even your smorgasbord of experiences – the good and the bad. All of these make what you bring to the table, whether in your work environment, your friendships and relationships, or even in your side hustle passion project, something that is highly valuable, worthwhile, and that is something no imposter can take away from you!
1. Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/imposter-syndrome