Have you ever felt like you’re not good enough to do the job you’ve been hired to do and that your boss might figure it out at any moment? That everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing, but you feel lost? You have this fear that the people around you are eventually going to figure out that you don’t know what you’re talking about and expose you as a fraud.

Surprise, most other people have felt this way too!! Everyone else in the world is also “winging it”, figuring things out as they go.

No matter how much evidence there is that we’re successfully navigating our lives, jobs and relationships, many of us hold false beliefs that we aren’t actually as capable, or smart as others think we are. This is called imposter syndrome.

This is not a diagnosis or a medical problem but rather a “pattern of thinking” that can lead to self-doubt, negative self-talk and missed opportunities. This pattern of thinking was created or even inherited, in the identity formation stage of growing up and it can be identified and managed.

The worst part about imposter syndrome? It can easily turn into a cycle with seriously negative consequences and thought patterns. But distinguishing it from the background and recognizing the triggers and patterns along with having the right tools to get through it can stop you from getting in your own way and getting down about it.

One study estimated that 7 in 10 adults experience it at some point or another. The original imposter syndrome study in the 1970s revolved around high-achieving women who had trouble attributing their own success to themselves, however today, most men and women feel it.

Interestingly, it’s most often people who are the hard workers, high achievers and perfectionists who are most likely to feel like frauds, including many doctors, lawyers, academics and senior leaders. Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in many ways, including:

  • At work: People with an imposter mindset often attribute their success to luck rather than their own abilities and work ethic, which could hold them back from asking for a raise or applying for a promotion. They might also feel like they have to overwork themselves to achieve the impossibly high standard they’ve set.
  • At home: Any parent can probably remember a point in time when they’ve felt clueless, incapable and totally unprepared for the responsibility of raising a child. If these feelings go unchecked, parents may struggle to make decisions for their child out of fear they’re going to mess up their child’s life.
  • At school: Students might avoid speaking up in class or asking questions for fear that teachers or classmates might think they are clueless.
  • In relationships: Some people feel unworthy of the affection they get from a significant other and fear that their partner will discover they’re not actually that great. 

At the core are feelings of self-doubt and issues with self worth that can stir up a lot of fear, anxiety and stress. Imposter syndrome can lead to a drop in job performance and job satisfaction while increasing burnout and it has also been linked to anxiety and depression.

Tips on how to overcome imposter syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome starts with distinguishing the thought patterns, becoming conscious of them, then recognizing your own potential and taking ownership of your achievement. Dr. Albers offers these suggestions:

  • Separate feelings from facts: Chances are, you’ll feel imposter syndrome creeping in at some point in your life. Be ready for those feelings, observe them, bring consciousness to them and learn to practice mindfulness in those moments. These thoughts occur in your head and exist only in language, so recognize that just because you think these things doesn’t mean they are actually true in a physical sense, or for others. Learn to catch these thoughts and choose to create another, more positive thought. Then look for evidence of that new thought.
  • Take note of your accomplishments: In moments where you feel less-than, it can be helpful to have a tangible reminder of your successes, so keep a document of all your accomplishments. When your manager sends you an email recognizing your excellent work, save that email in a special folder. 
  • Stop comparing: Focus on measuring your own achievements instead of holding them up against others. Comparing your own life to someone else is a trap for feeling like you don’t measure up. When you see someone else’s results and achievements it leaves you with a “perception” of that person, which is a distortion and not necessarily the other person’s reality. We tend to live in perceptions and distortions about other people and what they think, what they do and what they have.
  • Turn imposter syndrome on its head: Remember that smart, high-achieving people most often deal with imposter syndrome. So the very fact that you recognize it in yourself says a lot about you. True imposters don’t have this feeling!! 
  • Talk to others: Sometimes, a good chat with someone who knows you and supports you can help you realize that your imposter feelings are normal but also irrational. Talk to the person you are comparing yourself to and actually ask them about their experience and view and if it is true. Be honest and authentic about how you feel.
  • Talk to a coach: A coach can help you recognize feelings associated with imposter syndrome and create new behaviors to get past them, especially if it is getting in the way of experiencing life and taking actions, then a coach is the more appropriate choice. However if you are dealing with depression, then a therapist is the better choice. Action really helps overcome this. It’s about not getting stuck in the thought of ‘I can’t do this’ but making sure that you take action and move forward.

Self-doubt can be paralyzing. But now that you know how to recognize and deal with these feelings, you can make efforts to move forward instead of getting stuck in the imposter cycle and a great coach can help you move through it and take the appropriate actions.