“Imagine sitting at a poker table with cameras and lights in your face, millions of people watching you live on ESPN, and the chance to win $2 million. The pressure is on.
Oh, I forgot to mention you also feel like the “odd man out” because you’re not like the other competitors.
In 2004 this odd man out was actually a woman named Annie Duke.
She was the first woman to win a multi-million dollar payday in poker. She beat out tough competition, including her own brother and Phil Helmuth, a poker hall of famer who has won the World Series of Poker 14 times! In a dramatic last hand, Annie Duke beat Phil to win the $2,000,000 pot.
I know what you’re thinking…“Wow, she must have a ton of confidence and believe in herself so much in order to bluff, strong-arm and battle, stiff competition to win first place.”
Well, you’d be shocked to read what she said about that experience in a NPR interview:
“I went in there with this incredible fear that my play that was in front of cameras…would prove that everybody was right and I was actually a terrible player, despite the fact that I had spent the last 10 years making my living playing poker at the highest levels of the game…that I didn’t really deserve to have ever won anything and I was bad and I had just gotten lucky and everyone would know it.””
— Katrina Razavi
Can you believe that a poker winner who won $2 million would ever feel this way? She felt like an impostor.
If you’ve ever been plagued with “Impostor Syndrome” you know the feeling. In 1978 two social psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes came up with a definition for it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
This insidious afﬂiction consists of pervasive and consistent thoughts of inadequacy, even when you’ve proven yourself to be entirely capable. Even if you’re successful in life, a voice pops into your head and spirals into self-doubt: “You don’t deserve to be here. You’re a fraud and everyone knows it!”
And many successful people you’re familiar with have voiced similar feelings of self-doubt. Albert Einstein wrote, “…the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” Maya Angelou wrote, “I have written eleven 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.”
An estimated 70 percent of people will experience Impostor Syndrome at least once in their lives.
Do you feel like a phony?
Do you ﬁnd it hard to believe that people trust you?
Do you regularly feel self-doubt, regardless of how much success you achieve?
If so, this post is for you. You’ll learn how to manage your Impostor Syndrome, so you can begin to see your full value and reach your ultimate potential. Your conﬁdence will soar once you learn the necessary skills to deal with your self-doubt effectively.
Understanding Impostor Syndrome
The term “Impostor Syndrome” has been around for nearly 50 years. Back then, it was considered to be a feeling that the sufferer lacked the necessary competence to perform their job adequately, even when the person had shown repeatedly that they did indeed have the skills.
There are three primary qualities that those with Impostor Syndrome share:
The feeling of being a phony.
If you have Impostor Syndrome, you believe that you don’t know what you actually do know. You think you’re just faking it, and that others are crazy for assuming that you know what you’re doing.
Fear of being discovered as a fraud.
Everyone with Impostor Syndrome worries of that dreadful day coming, the day everyone ﬁnally ﬁgures out they’re a fraud.
It’s believed that the underlying issue is one of standards. Those with Impostor syndrome set standards that are far too rigorous.
Setting more reasonable standards can help tremendously.
The anxiety that arises from worrying about being uncovered as a fraud can be considerable.
An inability to accept success as genuine.
It’s common to assign success to external factors, such as luck, right place, right time, or having the right connections.
Having Impostor Syndrome makes it challenging to accept the idea that one’s skills and expertise are the reasons for success.
It’s also common to overestimate the abilities of others. If something is easy to accomplish for someone with Impostor Syndrome, their assumption is that it’s easy for everyone, even when it’s not.
They fail to recognize that their knowledge and skills make it easy.
How many of these qualities do you possess?
Impostor syndrome has been around since the beginning of civilized man, but was only given a name 50 years ago.
This is nothing new, and you’re not alone.
Many of the most successful people have struggled with feeling like a phony.
The Origins Of Impostor Syndrome
There are a variety of opinions on the causes of Impostor Syndrome.
There’s general agreement that both nature and nurture factors are responsible.
If you like to blame your parents, you might ﬁnd part of the explanation to your liking.
Those that feel like an impostor tend to score high on the traits of neuroticism. They’re more emotionally reactive than most people. They also score low in conscientiousness. They’re less disciplined and less organized than the average person.
Those with Impostor Syndrome often have parents that set unreasonably high standards and focus more on failure than success. These are the kind of parents that want to know why you got a “B” in math but ignore the ﬁve “A’s” on the rest of your report card.
Your basic personality and upbringing can combine to create a general feeling of inadequacy.
The Basic Types Of Impostor Syndrome
Those with Impostor Syndrome manifest their predicament in different ways.
While there are no hard and fast rules, it’s generally accepted that there are ﬁve basic types of impostors.
See which one most applies to you.
What type of impostor are you?
This type of “impostor” believes they’re lacking in the knowledge necessary to be successful. They spend a lot of time looking for new things to learn.
They always seem to need to learn just one more thing, and then they’ll have the conﬁdence they need to apply themselves. Unfortunately, that day never comes. There’s always something else they believe they need to learn.
Gaining more knowledge or skills can be a form of procrastination.
If you’re a soloist, you avoid asking for help. You feel that you must do everything on your own. There are two reasons for this.
You believe that you’ll be exposed as a fraud if you ask for help, so you try to do it alone.
You believe that a true expert never needs help, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While you think that receiving help means you’ve achieved nothing, in reality, experts get help all the time.
If you’re this type of impostor, you believe that anything that requires hard work is something you don’t do well. After all, an expert should be able to handle anything quickly and easily.
The expert feels inadequate and a touch of shame if they can’t complete a task easily.
The perfectionist is never happy. She sets impossibly high standards and conﬁrms her lack of expertise by failing to attain them. If she actually does attain her high standards, she believes that she should have done more. It’s a no-win situation.
The superhero believes that he’s incompetent when he compares himself to his colleagues. He attempts to prove his worth by outdoing everyone. He’s the guy that works weekends when it isn’t necessary. He comes in early and stays late. He skips breaks.
Impostor syndrome can manifest itself in more than one way. While the root of the issue is always the same, how this is interpreted by each “impostor” can vary.
Which type of impostor are you?
A Three-Pronged Attack To Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome won’t go quietly into the night. A single approach is likely to come up short. It’s important to deal with the beliefs you developed in childhood, your basic nature, and the current manifestations of those two items. Dealing with all three will provide the best chance for success.
The Issue Of Nature
Neuroticism is one of the primary components of Impostor Syndrome. Those that are neurotic have an innate tendency to worry, have negative expectations of the future, focus on personal shortcomings and weaknesses, and struggle to enjoy life in general.
Addressing your neurotic tendencies can be very helpful with Impostor Syndrome and overall happiness.
Try these strategies:
There are two components to mindfulness:
Keeping your mind in the present moment is the ﬁrst part of mindfulness.
Focus your thoughts on whatever you’re doing in the moment or on some aspect of your immediate environment. Mopping the ﬂoor and thinking about your bills isn’t being mindful.
The second aspect of mindfulness is noticing your emotions and thoughts without judging them.
This takes away the emotional charge. When you’re feeling anxious, try to relax and notice how you experience the anxiety in your body. How does it feel? How would you describe it? Just notice it and continue paying attention to it until it disappears.
You might question the idea of thinking about death, but it’s actually quite liberating. Imagine you knew you’d die tomorrow. Would you still worry about the same things you worry about now?
You might normally worry about: your ﬁnances; your health; what others think about you; your level of attractiveness; not being invited to a party.
Would you still worry about these things if you knew tomorrow was your last day on Earth? Of course not. In fact, you’d probably go outside and enjoy the rain, rather than hide inside your home.
99% of your worries would be instantly removed.
There’s really very little difference from knowing you’re going to die tomorrow and knowing that you’re going to die someday. It’s all going to end at some point, so why worry?
Engage in positive self-talk.
You can’t experience neuroticism if you’re not saying negative, doom-and-gloom things to yourself. Assess how you speak to yourself and develop a habit of saying positive, encouraging things to yourself. This may take a lot of work, but the results are worth the effort.
Focus on solutions.
Those that worry a lot focus on their challenges and negative outcomes. Avoid thinking that way. When you’re faced with something that concerns you, look for a solution and implement it.
If there’s no solution to be found, what’s the value of worrying about it?
Let go of trying to be perfect.
If you feel the need to be perfect, the world is a challenging and scary place. When you need to be perfect, there’s only one way that things can go correctly and an inﬁnite number of ways that things can go wrong.
The best baseball players in the world make $30 million per year and fail to hit the ball even 40% of the time. You don’t need to be perfect either.
Get professional help.
If these strategies aren’t sufﬁcient to soothe your anxiety, consider talking to a professional.There’s no reason you have to tackle this issue on your own.
One of the ﬁve major personality traits is neuroticism. We all fall somewhere on the neuroticism scale, but those with Impostor Syndrome tend to reside at the higher end of the scale. While it’s tough to alter your basic nature, there are plenty of enhancements you can make to your outlook on life and how you handle stress, worry, and anxiety.
The Issue Of Nurture
Let’s face it. No one’s parents studied parenting for four years in college. There are no parents that are experts until it’s too late. It’s only after your kids have grown that you have enough experience to parent correctly. A few lucky parents get it right, but it’s 95% luck. Most parents leave something to be desired in their performance.
This includes your parents.
How to undo the damage of your childhood and feel like less of an impostor:
Examine the harmful beliefs that you developed in childhood.
What did you learn from your parents that is harming you today? List your harmful beliefs. A few common examples might include: I’m not worthy; I’m not important; I’m not capable; I’m not enough; I’m powerless; mistakes and failure are bad.
Question the belief.
The belief wasn’t implanted in you. You assigned a meaning to your parents’ words and reactions to your behavior. Maybe you drew an incorrect conclusion. Ask yourself these questions:
What happened that led me to believe this? Try to pinpoint one or more events from your childhood.
Is this the only reasonable interpretation?
Were my parents trying to be helpful, but took a wrong approach?
What’s the best, most helpful interpretation from the experience that led to this belief?
Complete this process for all of your negative beliefs that contribute to your Impostor Syndrome.
Try to tackle a belief or two each day. It could take a lot of time to get through them all, so get started today.
Dealing With The Present
Your past, beliefs, and basic personality have led you to where you are right now. Dealing with these things allows for the possibility of making changes now. Impostor Syndrome won’t go away easily.
Once the past and your natural tendencies have been addressed, it’s time to address the present with these strategies:
Acknowledge the challenge of Impostor Syndrome in your life.
This isn’t an easy challenge to overcome, so it’s important to recognize that it’s causing issues in your life.
List all the ways Impostor Syndrome is making you miserable.
List all the ways this issue is holding you back and limiting your life.
List all the ways your life would be enhanced if you could work through it.
How much happiness is it costing you?
How much money is it costing you by limiting your employment opportunities?
Draw attention to your successes.
Recognize your role in your success. You weren’t successful just because you were lucky or knew the right people.
Recognize your contribution to all the great things you’ve done.
Learn to like criticism.
Most criticism can be helpful if you have the proper perspective. Each time someone offers a suggestion, you might be getting a great piece of advice.
Not all criticism is given with positive intentions, but that’s just life. Some people are just negative like that.
Failure is only a temporary condition.
It’s a stepping stone to achieving your goal.
Some things require a few tries. Sometimes you’ll take the wrong approach and need to make a few changes.
Learn to let go of the need for external validation.
This is a tough one, but a fully actualized adult can work for nothing other than their own validation. You’re not a child anymore. You shouldn’t need someone to be in awe of every little impressive thing you do.
Learn to override your feelings.
Uncomfortable feelings stop us from all sorts of things, like sticking with a diet, going to the gym, asking someone for a date, or applying for a job.
The discomfort caused by Impostor Syndrome isn’t a literal set of shackles that immobilize you. You can override those uncomfortable feelings and go on to do what you intended to do. It just takes a little determination.
Dealing with your past and your tendencies is a huge step in the right direction. However, there is the present set of challenges to clear up too.
When you’ve approached the world a certain way for an extended period of time, you develop habits.
Habits won’t vanish just by resolving childhood issues. Resolving those issues makes change possible.
A 3-Week Action Plan
In some cases, 21 days can be enough time to create a new habit. Whether you manage to develop any new habits or not over the next three weeks,
you’ll certainly create a lot of momentum and make some signiﬁcant changes.
Thought and behavioral patterns won’t change easily, but you created your current set of thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. You can create a new set that serves you better going forward.
The ﬁrst step to ridding yourself of a challenge is to admit that you have a challenge. And the more motivated you are to rid yourself of it, the more likely you are to experience success.
List all the ways Impostor Syndrome negatively impacts your life.
List all the ways your life will be enhanced when you successfully overcome it.
Write out a goal statement that you’re going to stick with this 21-day process until it’s complete.
Address the issue of your inner critic. Take notes for a full day during the workweek and for a full day on the weekend.
Make a list of the things your inner critic says to you and note when you’re likely to say these things to yourself.
Develop an alternative that you can say to yourself instead and use it. For example: “If I fail at this, everyone will know I’m a fraud” could be rewritten as, “I’m going to focus on doing my best since that’s all I can do. I am free of worrying about the opinions of others.”
Set at least three goals that are made more challenging by Impostor Syndrome. These will likely be career or ﬁnancial goals, but any type of goal will do.
This will provide additional motivation for overcoming the challenge of Impostor Syndrome.
It’s important to have goals in general. Everyone needs goals.
List your greatest strengths. Think back to your earliest memories and work forward to today. What are some things that you do well? List things that you naturally do well, and things that you’ve learned to do well. If you have an exceptional level of knowledge in a speciﬁc area, list that as well.
Visualize yourself free of any signs of Impostor Syndrome. Imagine yourself going through a normal day, free of any thoughts or behaviors related to Impostor Syndrome symptoms.
Notice how good it feels.
Imagine how great it would be to feel that way every day.
Go through your memories from earlier where you identiﬁed incidents from your childhood that contributed to your Impostor Syndrome. This time, however, imagine that you’re an adult bystander witnessing the event. See the other person talking to the younger version of yourself.
What would a reasonable adult conclude from that interaction?
If you could address the younger version of yourself in private, what would you say to them?
Think about how you want to be remembered. What do you want to leave behind as your legacy?
What do you want to accomplish?
How do you want your children to remember their childhood?
What do you want to experience?
What are your long-term goals?
Develop afﬁrmations for the things you identiﬁed in Day 7. Set up a schedule to repeat them to yourself. You might want to record them and then play them on a loop.
List your greatest successes and how you contributed to those successes. Be fair with yourself. Ask a friend for help if necessary.
Before you go to bed, plan out tomorrow in detail. You’re going to need this tomorrow.
Spend a day being as mindful as you possibly can. Take the plan you made last night and stick to it. As much as possible, avoid thinking about anything beyond what you’re doing in the moment. Whether you’re taking a shower, driving, or writing a report, keep your mind on your task.
Your mind will wander constantly. Without any emotion, just bring your attention back to the task at hand.
You’ll be amazed by how much your mind wanders off task. You’ll also be amazed at how relaxing it is to live this way, once you gain some skill at focusing your attention.
Today is a day of gratitude. Start a gratitude journal and write in it each day. Noticing, and being thankful for, the positive people and things in your life can help to minimize Impostor Syndrome.
Spend ﬁve minutes asking yourself what you’re thankful for and write down the answers you receive.
How well do you handle compliments?
Today, notice how you respond to compliments. What do you think? What do you say? What do your reactions suggest?
To give yourself the best opportunity to receive compliments, make an effort to look your best. Dress up a little. Spend some extra time on your grooming today.
Unleash yourself at work today.
Pick one thing you’ve been holding back on at work because of Impostor Syndrome. Allow yourself one day to be free of concern and just do things the way you know they should be done. Notice how you feel at the end of the day. Notice everyone else’s reaction.
You’ll likely ﬁnd that you feel great and everyone else is the same as usual. Everyone’s too busy to be overly concerned with you.
See if your diet is affecting your thoughts and mood.
There seems to be more evidence every day that diet can greatly impact a person’s mood, thoughts, and general outlook on life. Let’s do an experiment for three days.
Cut out all processed foods. This includes everything that didn’t grow in the ground or in the ocean, come from a tree, or have eyes. So, meat, ﬁsh, vegetables, fruit, and nuts are fair game. Leave everything else alone for three days.
Limit your beverage intake to water. You can have coffee or tea if you have a caffeine issue. It will be hard to determine the impact of your dietary changes if you’re also battling caffeine withdrawal.
Before you get started, rate yourself on a 1–10 scale on the following attributes: Anxiety, Focus, Sleep Quality, Energy, General Happiness. After the three days are up, rate yourself again.
What did you learn?
Find someone to mentor. This can be in any capacity. You could help a high school student with algebra, teach someone to play the guitar, or mentor someone at work. Show yourself that you have valuable information to share that not everyone else in the world knows.
Reach out and ﬁnd a mentor for yourself today. Those with Impostor Syndrome are ﬁlled with self-doubt. Get the reassurance that a mentor provides. You might not trust yourself to make a good choice, but you can feel more conﬁdent if a mentor agrees with you.
Your mentor must be someone that you respect. It must also be someone that has the necessary expertise to help you.
Be clear that you want to make recommendations on courses of action and receive feedback for your choices. Allowing your mentor to call all of the shots won’t help you with your issues.
Embarrass yourself on purpose today.
Show yourself that embarrassing yourself isn’t the end of the world. You could accomplish this in a variety of ways:
Wear mismatched shoes to work.
Spill a drink on your desk.
Drop a stack of papers while walking down the hall.
If your work environment is truly too unforgiving, head to the local mall and make a fool out of yourself there. Wear something outrageous. Walk around and sing to yourself.
You’ll be surprised by how little others care.
Focus on providing value today. Make today about everyone else. Rather than worrying about yourself, put your attention on serving others.
Serve your boss today in the best way possible.
Serve your partner and children as best you can.
Help your neighbors, coworkers, and strangers in any way you can.
At the end of the day, contemplate what you learned.
Write your eulogy. You’re going to do this twice.
First, write a eulogy that someone close to you might actually write.
Second, write a eulogy that you hope someone will be able to accurately write about you.
How do you move your life from the ﬁrst eulogy to the second? What changes do you want to make in your life?
This also reinforces the idea that your lifetime is limited. There’s no time to worry about futile things.
Review your weaknesses. As someone with Impostor Syndrome, you might initially believe that you have a ton of weaknesses. Let’s just see if that’s true.
Make a list of your weaknesses.
Now go back through your list and think about the evidence you have that it’s actually a weakness that you possess. If you can’t prove it, mark it off.
Now ﬁnd a trusted friend and ask them if they agree with the list.
With the items that remain, ask yourself if they negatively impact your life. If not, why worry? If they do, come up with a plan to address them or work around them.
You’re not as weak as you thought.
Keep a journal.
At the end of each day, make a note of all the things you accomplished that day. Write about the times you felt like an impostor. And write about the times you felt good.
What triggered the positive feelings you experienced?
What triggered the impostor feelings?
Celebrate completing this action plan by doing something nice for yourself. Few people manage to stick with anything for three days, and you lasted three weeks!
Keep up the momentum you’ve created by choosing tasks for yourself to complete for another week.
Impostor Syndrome can negatively affect every area of your life, if you let it. Make a commitment to yourself today to follow through on these strategies, so you can let go of these untrue beliefs that limit you and cause you grief.
You’ll be glad you did!