Is your inner impostor holding you back from success?

Photo credit: Matteo Paganelli

So how many times have you doubted yourselves?

Thought that everyone around you is going to find out you don’t really know what you are doing. That you are just faking it?

Don’t worry, everyone does this.

Even extremely successful people. Novelist Maya Angelou, who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and won five Grammys, once said: “I have written 11 books but each time I think “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now, I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

I’ve personally struggled with this a lot. It usually starts in college when you start telling yourself “I’m not as smart as all these other people, what am I doing here. They are going to find out and kick me out of the program.” Then you might start your first job and you tell yourself “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before” or you start writing articles and you tell yourself “I’ve never written anything, what right do you have to do this.”

The cycle is endless and the sad part is that most of us don’t even realise that we are doing this to ourselves. I had no idea about it until I read an article about impostor syndrome (yes they actually have a name for this).

Impostor syndrome is a vicious cycle. It causes anxiety and an intense fear of failure. So you work harder to keep up the facade, but then this only reinforces the the belief that you are an impostor. Which causes intense fear of failure…….. You get the idea.

I’m here to tell you that it’s ok. Studies have shown that more than 70% of successful people have felt this at one point in their lives and a substantial number are feeling it right now.

So don’t worry the other guy is probably worrying that you think he is a fraud as well.

So what can you do about it?

I’m glad you asked.

The first thing you have to do is actually realise that impostor syndrome exists and it’s something that you are doing to yourself. Nobody else, only you. It’s a belief that is untrue that you have created in your own head.

When I first learned about this I was able to look back at my life and identify so many different times that I had felt impostor syndrome: when playing on a sports team, at parties (they are going to find out I’m not cool), at college and definitely at work. Look back on these events and realise that the impostor belief was not true.

Then when you actually realise that you are experiencing impostor syndrome in the moment, you have to do the following things.

1.Focus on the process

A large amount of the anxiety around impostor syndrome exists because we are not focusing on the process. You are busy focussing on how you can get that perfect score. Instead what you should be focusing on is what you can learn or how you can improve your learning.

Focusing on the end goal and forgetting the process causes large amounts of anxiety, because for most of us the end goal is something we have never done before. Therefore you start believing that you can’t do it. When you start focusing on the process, you focus on what you can do right now. Right now is 100% under your control and you can do it.

2.Stop suffering in silence

This one is probably the biggest tip I can give you. After I learned about impostor syndrome I went to my girlfriend and told her all about it. She was really smart and I was sure she had never felt this before. But as I spoke her posture dropped, as if a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders, and she proclaimed “I have that too!!”.

As she explained it I thought to myself “You’re insane, you are great at that. How could you ever think that you are a fraud.” But it just made me realise how insane I also sounded.

If you are suffering in silence it’s only because you are silent. Talk to someone about it. You don’t have to proclaim it from the mountains and tell everyone you feel like a fraud, just someone you trust. Send me an email if you are too afraid to talk to your friends about this. I’ve told lots of people about impostor syndrome and every time I get the same response “I didn’t think anyone else felt like that.”

3.Look for your next action

This one ties in with focusing on the process. Like coach Brad Stevens said: “You can have the goal of a championship, but there’s a process to get there and your focus needs to be on that.”

So start looking for your next action. Stop worrying about what other people think or the fraud police knocking on your door and taking it all away. Just look for your next action.

Then do it.

When you’ve done that. Look for the next one. Shifting your focus to the next action makes you think about things very practically. You get out of your own head and just do the next thing that needs to get done.

Something I’ve found to be helpful is to imagine what someone else would say in that moment if you told them how you were feeling. They would probably just say “What, you’re crazy!! Just do ……., and you’ll be fine.”

So get out of your own head and focus on the next thing.

To summarise:

Remember that over 70% of people struggle with impostor syndrome.

Just try these 3 things next time you feel like an impostor:

1.Focus on the process — stop worrying about the end goal that you haven’t done — yet.

2.Stop suffering in silence — just realising that other people have the same problem is liberating.

3.Look for your next action — don’t get caught up in it, just look for the next step and do it.

What’s the best next step?

Talk to someone about this, it’s liberating. Mention impostor syndrome to one of your friends or send someone an email. You can even send me a mail, I love hearing from you and read each and every one.

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