Imposter syndrome is a debilitating pattern of thinking that inhibits optimal functioning. Not only does it undermine confidence, but it also produces a need to prove yourself by achieving unrealistic standards —standards that you, the person with imposter syndrome, create for yourself. In the process, imposter syndrome reduces creativity because the person sees taking risks or trying new approaches as threats to his or her image of being the best. At best, imposter syndrome creates stress and pressure. At worst, it builds to a level of dysfunctional anxiety.
So how can you learn to control imposter syndrome?
Most people believe imposter syndrome is a feeling. It is not. Imposter syndrome is a series of irrational and illogical thoughts. The beauty of this fact is you can learn strategies to control your thoughts and by doing so, you can reduce or eliminate imposter syndrome. Here are five steps to help you think, feel and function at your best.
1. Replace illogical thoughts with facts
Our brains will focus on what we tell them to focus on. With imposter syndrome, our brains are functioning from an illogical belief system and will search for any information to support the imposter syndrome. To eliminate the dysfunctional thoughts, we must replace those thoughts with facts, logic and evidence. Resumes, professional evaluations and concrete accomplishments are all sources of reality-based data to replace the thoughts creating the imposter syndrome.
2. Rely on established practices and strengths
For individuals with imposter syndrome, there is often the belief that they need to create new ways to accomplish tasks in order to be successful. They spend their time worrying about how to do things better or in unique ways to distinguish themselves. The reality is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Employing skills, behaviors and methods that have been successful in past situations can create success in current and future situations. Why not use validated success strategies rather than creating new ones that have no data to support their efficacy?
3. Talk to a trained professional
In many articles I have read regarding imposter syndrome, a common piece of advice is to talk to someone about your feelings. Often the articles reference talking to your boss, colleague or a friend, and this advice is faulty. These individuals might be valuable when you want to vent, but they are not trained in approaches to help you reduce or eliminate imposter syndrome, nor are they regulated by confidentiality guidelines. Seeking out an executive coach, trained in areas of brain or behavior functioning, will ensure you receive expert support in a safe environment.
4. Let go of perfectionism
Perfectionism is the energy source for imposter syndrome. The idea of being perfect or doing things perfectly creates some of the irrational and unrealistic standards that contribute to imposter syndrome and, ultimately, undermine goals. Some perfectionistic individuals focus so much energy and time on doing things perfectly that they never finish the goal at hand. Doing things well, using your strengths and accomplishing them within the designated time can be your focus and a way to reduce imposter syndrome.
5. Write down your vision of success
Writing down your goals is a strategy towards goal achievement, but it also clearly establishes your measurement of the goal. It creates the boundary to maintain your focus so it does not stray towards something bigger or better. By writing down your goal, it also becomes a tool to measure your success based on the stated goal, not something more perfect. If you compare your outcome to the written goal, it becomes the litmus test for success and can prohibit your brain from spinning in the direction of imposter syndrome.
For many driven and successful people, imposter syndrome is a common occurrence. Recognizing the signs and knowing you can control it allows you to prevent it from blocking your progress. By applying concrete strategies, and refusing to accept the illogical belief system as a habit or norm, you can maintain a level of optimal performance in your personal and professional lives.
Dr. Robin Buckley, CPC, is the owner of Insights Group Psychological & Coaching Services in Rye, NH. Robin is an author, public speaker and certified coach (drrobinbuckley.com). In her work as an Executive Coach and Couples Coach, she helps high-achieving individuals and couples thrive in their careers and relationships. Her proprietary coaching model uses a business framework and cognitive-behavioral strategies to support clients in executing concrete, strategic plans to achieve the professional and relationship lives they want.