imposter syndrome

What they say

If you’ve ever said the following statements to yourself, you may be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

I’m not sure why they would choose me over others.

I’m not nearly as qualified as others that are probably applying.

I don’t have the experience.

How do I interact in a situation with people who have much more experience than I?

What if I say something stupid?

What if they think I’ve asked a stupid question?

I don’t want them to think….. about me.

What if they find out I’m not as good as they think I am?

These are all the musings of someone with self-doubt, who may even hold a title of manager, Vice-President, COO or CEO. They wouldn’t dare share these thoughts with their colleagues or subordinates, yet they still have them.  It’s called Imposter Syndrome and people you would rate as highly successful have suffered from it as well. In the New York Times article by Jessica Bennett, she outlines stories from Maya Angelou, Tina Fey and Michelle Obama related to this specific issue.

Coaching Questions

This past month, I’ve had a number of clients who wanted help overcoming this type of internal banter. So through coaching, I would ask questions, such as:

  • What evidence have you seen that demonstrates you’re not as credible as others?
  • What qualifications would make you feel more qualified?
  • How good are you?
  • How do you look at others who ask questions?
  • What experience DO you have?
  • How have you gotten experience in the past?
  • Do you view others as imposters?

Of course they typically can’t produce any evidence other than the thoughts in their head, and they’ve made up multiple stories, which serve as barriers and keep them stuck in this mindset.

Ideas for Action to Alleviate Imposter Syndrome

As with any issue, it’s always best to try to elicit change from numerous angles. Therefore, here are several ways that can help eliminate the imposter self talk.

1. Replace the negative talk with something else.

In order to eliminate negative self-talk, intentionally replace it with something different. I challenge my clients to create their own substitution mantras that are empowering, true, and begin with “I am”.

I am a credible, capable and qualified team member.

I am a CEO who knows the business and finds answers to what I don’t know.

I am the queen of organization, discipline and methodology.

Once you’ve determined your mantras, write them out, post them in places where you’ll see them, and say them out loud to yourself in the mirror until you believe the person gazing back to you.

2. Change your posture. Walk the talk, sit tall.

Research has shown that sitting up straight and standing taller with good posture actually contributes to feelings of confidence and well-being. I challenge my clients to do THE WALK exercise.

-Walk normally for a good 5-10 steps in your space, turn around and walk back.

-Now walk with a little swagger, same distance and back (feel a difference?)

-Finally, walk as if you own the room and everyone should want to know you. (Wow!)

Moreover, just by walking and sitting with a different mentality, you can overcome that self-doubting voice and put it in ‘time out’ or vote if off the island entirely.

3. List your accomplishments

Take the time to reflect and catalogue your accomplishments and skills. You will most likely surprise yourself with the length of your list. Don’t leave anything off the list. This is for your eyes only.

4. Think of a time

Think of a time when you were most proud, and felt really good about an accomplishment. Close your eyes and remember everything you can about that moment, event or situation. How did it feel? Use this feeling to substitute for any feeling of self-doubt. Go back to that moment and use the feeling of accomplishment, pride, joy or whatever it was you carried with you as your emotional armor, into your next challenging meeting.

One of my clients remembered her wedding day as a day of pure joy and confidence. Now, every time she prepares to speak or join a high profile meeting, she takes a few moments to remember how she felt on that day.  That’s the energy she takes with her into the room.

5. Everyone else is doing it

Realize that your reality is living in your head, and not necessarily in the world. In other words, while you are worried about how you are being perceived by others, everyone else in the room is worried about themselves as well. It’s actually arrogant of us to think we are the topic of other people’s thoughts as much as we think we are. Yet, this storytelling we’ve made up about others is what keeps us consistently stuck and feeds our self-doubt.

Yes, sometimes we screw up, that self-doubt shows up again and we have to own up to our mistakes. And yes, sometimes others will judge us. We can’t control what others do. However, we can control our actions, and ensure we are always learning from everything that happens in our space, and moving forward. It’s the best we can do, while turning your back on the imposter.