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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

Understanding and dealing with Impostor Syndrome (I prefer the o to the e)

In almost all of my coaching conversations, the theme of Impostor Syndrome crops up. It is often at the root of many professional problems as it creates an innate lack of confidence which stops you fulfilling your potential.

Essentially it is you saying to yourself “I can’t do this, I should not be here, others do it better than me.”

Academic research indicates roughly 1 in 2 people experience it at some point, though some research puts it at 82%. My feeling is it may be higher than that so my guess is that at some point you have experienced impostor syndrome. You are definitely working with people who are experiencing it so I think this is a valuable topic to explore.

It’s as common as the flu but can be dealt with in a straightforward manner. The key is to recognise it and understand what is the root cause of your impostor syndrome.

Typically it occurs when you are stepping into a new role or have been given additional responsibilities which may leave you feeling anxious, depressed, frustrated and stressed, thinking “Can I even do this?”

So what can you do?

Step 1 – Understand what is causing your impostor syndrome

There is something happening which is making you feel ill at ease so what might it be? Here are some starting points:

  • Has anything changed? Is there a new situation you don’t feel able to deal with?

  • Do you know people who effortlessly achieve far more than you whilst you work your butt off just to stand still?

  • Do you feel marginalised either socially or because you come from a particular background?

  • Do people talk a different language or approach things in a completely alien way leaving you feeling out of place?

Step 2 – How is impostor syndrome affecting your ability to perform?

You may actually be doing ok but it doesn’t feel like that or you may actually be underperforming and don’t know what to do about it. This might stem from these types of issues:

  • A fear of failure

  • Doing things wrong

  • Not understanding what is required

  • Feeling vulnerable

  • You are overworking to feel on top of things

Step 3 – Identify what type of impostor you are

The expert will not feel satisfied until they feel that they know everything about the subject. The time spent searching for information can make it hard to complete tasks and projects.

The perfectionist experiences high levels of anxiety, doubt, and worry, especially when they set themselves extreme goals that they are unable to achieve. A perfectionist will focus on areas where they could have done better rather than celebrate their achievements.

Natural geniuses master many new skills quickly and easily, and they may feel ashamed and weak when faced with a goal that is too hard. Learning that everyone needs to struggle to achieve some goals may help.

The soloist, or “rugged individualist,” prefers to work alone, fearing that asking for help will reveal incompetence. The person may turn down help in an attempt to prove their self-worth.

Superheroes often excel due to extreme effort, as in “workaholism.” This can lead to burnout, which can affect physical and mental well-being and relationships with others.

You may be a combination of some of these and only in specific situations so think about the times when you feel like an impostor and apply these models to you and your responses.

Step 4 - Reframe to build unconditional positive self-worth

Impostor syndrome kicks in at situation where you do not have positive self-worth. Try applying these basic principles to your situation based on evidence which proves to yourself that you are capable.

Step 5 - Create a positive emotional anchor and talk!

Spend time creating an emotional memory which will dispel your sense of impostor syndrome. Go back to a time when you were supremely confident and root yourself there and connect that emotion with where you are now.

Its best to do this with someone else as once the feeling is externalised it can be dealt with much more easily.

If you’d like further help on this get in touch.

Best wishes


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