If you tend to doubt your abilities, have a fear of being found out, have a belief that you're "fooling" others, and often find yourself ignoring evidence of your success, Caitlin Harper, a communication strategist, says you're probably dealing with imposter syndrome.
Now, don't be fooled. Even if you're a confident person, you can still have imposter syndrome. "The interesting thing is you're usually good—and often recognized as being good—at the thing you have imposter syndrome about," Harper said in a recent webinar for Ten Spot. "People are saying you're really good at it or you're being promoted and moving up, and that's where these feelings come from."
Once you have imposter syndrome, it's really hard to break out of it. The cycle repeats itself over and over, and it feeds into itself.
One of the most effective ways to beat it is to talk about your imposter syndrome with someone else, which Harper says can help alleviate those feelings, as it "lessens that sense of isolation and the idea that you alone are a failure." You can work through the activities below.
Work Through These Activities to Banish Imposter Syndrome for Good
What Do You Have Imposter Syndrome About?
Harper recommends starting by writing down what you have imposter syndrome about, and being as specific as you can. Instead of just saying you have imposter syndrome about work, go deeper than that.
What Has Contributed to Your Imposter Syndrome?
Next, write down something that may have contributed to your imposter syndrome. "For example, this could be something that happened to you in your childhood, part of your identity, something a partner has said to you, or something that has happened professionally. Maybe you lost a job and internalized that," Harper says.
What Pattern Do You Get Yourself Into?
According to Harper, to protect you from the fear of being "found out" as an imposter, your brain has set up certain thinking patterns and behaviors. And in order to defeat imposter syndrome, you have to break them. "I split the protective and self-limiting behaviors into three categories: never do, don't do enough, and do too much," she says.
Harper says "never dos" don't fail or give themselves the opportunity to be rejected, so you'll never see them asking for raises or applying for promotions. Those who "don't do enough" may procrastinate or don't finish a project, job, or assignment. They do this because when they fail, they'll be able to use those behaviors as an excuse. Lastly, those who "do too much" work so hard that when they achieve something, it's something they think they only achieved because they worked harder for it than everyone else.
If you ever do happen to succeed in any of these situations, there's a thinking pattern for that, too: Your brain tells you it's because you fooled everyone again. See? It's a cycle. That's why, in order to break out, it's important to write down and acknowledge any patterns or behaviors you fall into.
What Happens If You Don't Break This Cycle?
Now, you have to break those behaviors and thought patterns. Harper says to write down the consequences of letting your imposter syndrome control your thoughts and behaviors. "What opportunities will you miss out on? What chances won't you take? What successes will stay out of reach?" she says.
Create a List of Your Wins
For this activity, list out your wins. All of them. "Awards, degrees, your best qualities, compliments—anything," Harper says. "You can even ask a friend or family member to help. Because imposter syndrome is in our heads, it's nice to have a second opinion about our success."
Write Down One Thing That Refutes Your Imposter Syndrome
Sometimes you have to prove yourself wrong, and that's what this step is all about. "Go back to the first activity where you wrote what your imposter syndrome is about, then write down one piece of evidence that refutes it," Harper says. You might be surprised at just how much evidence there is.
Reframe Your Last Failure or Mistake as a Learning Opportunity
Harper says you shouldn't look at failures as a bad thing and let them define you. "Instead, look at them as an opportunity to learn," she says. "Here, think of your last failure and mistake—or something that's stuck with you—and reframe it as something more positive that you can learn from."
Define What Achievable Success Looks Like
The last activity you can do to banish your imposter system is define what achievable success looks like. "You can do this by setting a goal around the subject of your imposter syndrome. Make sure it's specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound," Harper says. "It's important to define what success is, then accept when you have succeeded."
Once you do achieve one of your goals, celebrate it, then put a cap on that success and start another goal on top of it. It won't be long before you accept just how great you really are.