4 tips for overcoming imposter syndrome

These solutions can help you rise to the occasion and start believing in your abilities again.

In recent years, social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter have evolved from platforms to post the occasional job update into hubs for open and honest discourse about the ups and downs of professional life.

Among those conversations, imposter syndrome has become an exceedingly popular topic, and understandably so.

As a quick refresher, Merriam-Webster defines imposter syndrome as a psychological condition characterized by a “false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill,” which is an experience that I’m sure many can relate to.

In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that up to 82% of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime, with minorities and women more likely to encounter it.

Individuals who are battling imposter syndrome may feel self-doubt and a lack of belief in their abilities — and, as the Harvard Business Review highlights, even those who are high achievers and extremely successful also fall victim to these feelings.

As someone who has often experienced being the youngest and only person of color in senior strategy meetings and board rooms, I too am no stranger to this emotional affair. Here are some solutions that have helped me rise to the occasion.

1. Acknowledge and celebrate your wins.

Taking time to acknowledge how far you have come, especially if in light of great challenges, is an important ritual that can greatly improve your confidence and resilience. Yet this method of self-compassion is often underutilized, as many professionals have a tendency of coming down with what I call the “what’s next syndrome,” where their ability to celebrate themselves is eclipsed by a singular focus on their next big goal.

This fixation, although useful in some measure, can come back to bite you as a prolonged lack of attention to your achievements can set the stage for the voice of doubt to hijack your thoughts — especially when you reach a level of success and responsibility beyond your comfort zone. Psychologists also point out that our brains are wired with a negative bias, which, if left unchallenged, “can leave us chronically in a negative frame of mind.”

Thus, it is necessary that we intentionally acknowledge our progress and celebrate our wins as a means of silencing our inner critic and strengthening our self-esteem.

2. Create a solutions list.

The habit of imagining all the things that could possibly go wrong is a common symptom of imposter syndrome that can lead to both inaction and even self-sabotage. One of my favorite tactics for overcoming this challenge is creating a solutions list.

As the name implies, a solutions list is a thought exercise where you write all the negative outcomes your mind can conjure up on one side of a folded sheet of paper, coupled with action steps you can take to avoid them on the other. Upon completing this exercise, the first thing you’ll notice is that most of your concerns are unwarranted and just your imagination running wild. All told, there may be a concern or two worth exploring.

Recording your thoughts has been shown to decrease the anxiety and the stress that stems from the frequent rumination of negative thoughts.

3. Connect with a mentor.

Sharing your feelings, particularly with a senior mentor, is another great way to gain valuable perspective as your mentor can demystify areas of concern with stories from their own experience. This is an important relationship to cultivate because there is a tendency for many to self-isolate when dealing with emotional distress, which only distances you from potential voices of reason.

Thrive Global also echoed the benefits of seeking mentorship, pointing out how “numerous studies have concluded that social support affects well-being by reducing the negative effects of stress on health.”

So take a moment to get clear on the specific thoughts feeding your imposter syndrome and connect with a mentor who can offer helpful advice, provide moral support and keep you accountable in areas that you want to improve.

You can also treat your time together as an opportunity to share and receive feedback on your solutions list.

4. Let go of perfection.

Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are almost one and the same, as one typically feeds into the other. This occurs because a perfectionist tends to set very high, often unrealistic standards for themselves, which over time chip away at their self-worth and performance.

Your perfectionism may get in the way of your ability to meet crucial deadlines or hinder your ability to take advantage of a small window of opportunity. If this is the case, consider combating the disposition by starting with “good enough.”

Whether you are writing a press release, putting together a social media calendar, or taking the first stab at a deck, starting with “good enough” means giving yourself the psychological permission to begin and finish a task in a timely fashion.

This reframing tactic will also help you begin to trust your instincts, instead of scanning for all possibilities of error in everything you do.

Troy P. Thompson is personal development and leadership consultant


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