What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

So, what does this mean?

Have you ever started something new: a new job, a hobby, a new chapter in your life and felt like you either don't deserve it or don't know enough to be able to do it well?

If so, you may be suffering from the well-researched phenomenon know as Imposter Syndrome.

The bad news is this could be holding you back from succeeding at your goals without you realising it, or even wasting your time looking at your accomplishments in a negative light.

However, the good news is twofold. Firstly, Imposter Syndrome is real, and surprisingly common, and actually a sign of intelligence and ambition. Secondly, and best of all, it's easy to overcome once we know some basic science and psychology.

So let's get back to why it is a sign of intelligence. In very basic terms, it takes intelligence, drive and ambition to realise that the more you know, the more you realise you don't know, or the more you would like to know about a certain subject.

Let's look at an example: Have you ever done any research into an area you don't know anything about, only to realise it was a lot more detailed than you originally thought? If so, then you now understand the concept.

On the flip side, and again in very basic terms, we could explain Imposter Syndrome simply as "Stupid people don't know what they don't know."

5 Simple Steps to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

So now we understand what we mean by Imposter Syndrome, here are my 5 simple steps to breaking free.

No. 1 - Break The Silence

Even though Imposter Syndrome is real and surprisingly common, many people feel shame and feel like they should know more about a certain subject or area. The important thing here is to break the silence and 'fess up' about why we feel this way. Maybe not initially to a boss or everyone in the boardroom, but to a safe colleague, friend or partner in order to work through the underlying feelings.

No. 2 - Separate Feelings From Fact

Once we understand that what we're feeling is normal and natural - and actually a good sign - we can start to find what triggers us to feel like this. It may be a certain topic, a certain person or a certain situation.

Once we know the trigger, we can start to examine whether the area which triggers us is one we can either be proactive and learn more about, or whether it is just a general feeling which we can overcome using the following steps.

No. 3 - Develop a New Relationship with Mistakes and Failure

The only way we learn is by action, and the best way to learn is by getting the action wrong and then figuring out how we could have done things better.

If we look at children, this is what they do all day long. When a toddler puts their hand on a hot radiator they learn that it is hot - and not a pleasant experience - and the chances of them doing it again is much lower. Why is it then that, as adults, we have such a fear of making a mistake or being a 'failure'?

Once we understand that every time we fail, we learn, and we can figure out how to do things better. We can then start to build a more positive relationship with the negative emotions around failure and simply view them as self-development opportunities.

No. 4 - Visualise Success

The only way we know if we have made a success of something is if we took the time to define what success looks like before we started. Despite this being a vital element of goal setting, many of us forget to do it.

A big part of Life Coaching is understanding what success actually means to a client - in great detail - and then to get them to visualise exactly what that looks like.

A big part of this process is to define an endpoint so we know when we have got there. This is another area many people neglect to do when goal setting by themselves!

No. 5 - 'Fake It Until You Make It!'

Obviously, I'm not talking about lying and cheating to becoming a brain surgeon when you've got no qualifications or experience, but I am talking in general, in everyday life. If you are in a job or situation you haven't lied and cheated to get to, the chances are you're more than qualified or deserving to be there. Once we understand this, the only way of moving forward is by either studying or learning 'on the fly', or, even better - a combination of the 2.

This is why things like parenting are so difficult. We often don't get any training or qualifications to become a parent, therefore a lot of parenting is 'winging it' and 'learning on the job'. This is why parenting is so tough and we can sometimes feel we are totally out of our depth. However, it is also why we get so much satisfaction from raising our children, because we have no choice but to 'fake it until we make it' and we therefore allow ourselves to take more credit when things go well.

So to summarise:

  • Celebrate your successes
  • Learn from your failures
  • Understand that courage comes from taking risks
  • And that Success comes from experience

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Jenni Donato

Jenni is an Award-Winning Mindset Coach & Business Strategist, host of the 'Mindset & Method' Podcast and founder of Altitude - a 6-month immersive coaching experience with 30 business growth experts.