Our inner battle with feelings of inadequacy.
We have all experienced moments of self-doubt. Even the most confident amongst us have wondered if they are truly good enough – if our achievements are a result of our efforts or just luck. These feelings are normal, but what happens when the voices telling you that you don’t measure up increase in volume and frequency? At what point do you admit that you suffer from imposter syndrome?
What Exactly Is Imposter Syndrome?
The concept of imposter syndrome was first identified in 1979 by Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. Their ground-breaking research was able to put a name to something that so many of us deal with every day – the intense and persistent feeling of inadequacy felt despite overwhelming evidence of success.
There is a general misconception that low self-esteem and imposter syndrome are directly related. However, an overwhelming amount of research points to the contrary. Studies indicate that imposter syndrome is more directly linked to perfectionism than self-confidence. There is evidence to suggest that imposter syndrome can also be a result of the labels that we were given as children and which we now have to live up to. Being told from a young age that you are “the smart one” or “the hard-worker” creates a yardstick by which we measure ourselves – and often fall short of.
With an estimated 70% of us experiencing imposter syndrome during our lifetimes, this ‘syndrome’ is more common than many of us would think. Allowing your feelings of doubt to go unchecked could have a detrimental effect on your success and your happiness.
What Should I Look Out For?
Imposter syndrome is, in its most basic form, a feeling that results from a pattern of thinking. Here are three of the most common thoughts and feelings that should raise red flags for you:
- “I was just in the right place at the right time.” Attributing your success to luck or other external factors.
- “It’s no big deal.” Downplaying your success or the hard work and effort that you put in.
- “This has to work.” Placing incredible pressure on yourself to achieve because failing would mean that you aren’t good enough.
How Do I Overcome Imposter Syndrome?
We spoke to Anne Swart (Academic Manager and qualified business and life coach at Chartall Business College) about practical tips and exercises that can help you overcome your feelings of self-doubt. She suggests the following:
- Take ownership of your success. Be objective about what you have achieved in your life and make a list of your personal success stories. (If you find it difficult to do this ask a friend or a family member to help you – often, others see things that you don’t.) Now, having made the list of your successes, do the same with your competencies and personal qualities that you feel helped you to achieve your success.
This exercise will help you uncover the contributions that you have made (which you may have overlooked, rejected or given others credit for) and help develop a strong self-awareness of your strengths.
- Separate feelings from fact. There will be times when you will feel less than worthy. Remember, just because you feel this way, doesn’t mean that you are. Whenever these negative feelings present themselves, acknowledge them for what they are – feelings, not truths. We all feel negative emotions at times, but it is what we do with these feelings that matters. As Maya Angelo said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Learn from your feelings. Understand what made you feel that way. Move forward and do better.
- Visualise success. Imposter syndrome is characterised by one’s inability to take ownership of one’s success. Visualising your success is another way of taking ownership of what you have achieved because it lays the foundation for your success. It is common practice for athletes, entertainers, and entrepreneurs to use visualisation techniques to reach their goals.
The following are five basic steps to help you focus and visualise your success:
- Write your goals down. This makes them more tangible and measurable.
- Talk to yourself. Keep yourself focussed and cheer yourself on.
- Imagine your goals from your personal perspective.
- Don’t leave out any juicy details. The more specific your goals are, the better.
- In order to keep yourself motivated, visualise short term, medium and long-term goals.
Consider creating a vision board for yourself. Use it to bring your goals to life by pasting pictures, words and other creative items and hanging it where you can see it daily. Doing this helps you focus your thoughts and take ownership of both the process of achieving the goal and the success that follows.
- Self-affirmation must become a practice. You deserve all the amazing things in your life. You truly ARE worthy! When you find your thoughts becoming negative, write down affirmations such as: “I am worthy; I am enough; I am talented; I deserve this.” Write these down and read it countless times each day.
How can we help?
Why not have a look at our Meaning, Purpose and Contribution course? This online short course will take you through a set of steps and activities to help you find your purpose. You will get to explore why making a difference could still leave you empty, and if living your purpose means giving up your job or not. You will also look at building a legacy and what contribution means for you.