What is imposter syndrome?
Millennials are often criticised for their unshakeable confidence or arrogance. But many of us battle with that little voice in the back of our head saying that we don’t deserve that top mark we got for an essay. We have anxiety around not quite belonging when we look around a room of our peers during a class at Uni or college. We constantly question ourselves, wondering “are people going to find out that I’m not as smart as they think?” And all these thoughts and feelings are related to imposter syndrome.
Research commissioned in 2017 by a career development agency, found more than four million young people fear being exposed as a ‘fraud’ in the workplace, and that 1/3 of young people have suffered with imposter syndrome at some point.
If this sounds familiar to you, learning more about imposter syndrome may be the key to keeping it at bay. We spoke to some experts to find out how to channel these feelings and thoughts for the better.
So what is imposter syndrome?
Caroline Ferguson, a leading Mindset Trainer and Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist told us that; “imposter syndrome shows up when evidence of your abilities and achievements can’t compete with the self doubt happening on the inside.” She explained: “it can be fleeting and occasional, or, in severe cases, so persistent and debilitating that it ruins your peace of mind, behaviour and prospects.”
According to Caroline, imposter syndrome can be characterised by a series of negative thoughts around your success such as…
- That your achievements are all down to luck, timing, contacts, and you’re not really that bright or talented, or good at that thing everyone thinks you’re good at.
- Any minute now, someone’s going to call you out and everyone will find out you’re a fraud.
- That horrible fear of being ‘found out’.
So why do we get imposter syndrome?
According to Caroline, imposter syndrome is an emotional response to a situation, and our own attempt to protect ourselves from something scary. She said: “imposter syndrome has a positive intention (though it might not feel like it). And that’s to keep you alive. That unpleasant feeling of self doubt is rooted in the amygdala, the primitive part of your mind that governs your alarm system and fear response.”
Apparently, when we put our work, knowledge, skills or talent out there for all to see, we feel exposed – and Caroline says our mind can perceive this as a threat.
She continues: “Your unconscious mind isn’t evaluative and can’t determine the nature and scale of the threat. It simply thinks you’re going to die. In response, your mind triggers a flood of ‘fight, fright or flight’ chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, which ramp up the unease. The intention is to make you feel so uncomfortable that you avoid that fearsome activity.” But of course, you need to do scary things in order to progress in life.
How to fix imposter syndrome
Caroline says the trick to beating the debilitating little voice is to tune into your ‘inner radio’ and become more self-aware. ” A huge percentage – some estimates put it as high as 80% – of what we do is unconscious. Running on autopilot uses up less energy than thinking and acting deliberately” she says.
“But to prevent imposter syndrome from sabotaging you, you need to be aware of when you’re doing it to yourself. When you develop this awareness, instead of reacting automatically and emotionally, you’re in a much better position to reflect on the outcome you want from that situation. Imposter syndrome might still occasionally rear its head but you’re able to nip it in the bud before it can sabotage you.”
Confidence tips for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome
Next time you catch yourself feeling worried that you might be outed as someone who hasn’t a clue, try these powerful self awareness steps from Caroline.
- Take a couple of minutes to tune in to your inner radio. Ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself about this situation?” Try to be open-minded and curious, rather than judgemental or self critical. Listen carefully to the answers that come from your mind.
- Now ask, “Is this story really true? How will it affect me if I carry on believing it? Will it help me reach my goal?”
- Thank your unconscious mind for trying to save your life by making you feel uncomfortable. Then tell yourself firmly, “This feeling is not helping me get where I want to be. I am choosing to let it go right now”.
- Now ask yourself, “What would be a good outcome for me in this situation? What can I think, feel and do to make that outcome happen?” This creates a new story in your mind that’s about possibility.
- Immediately take at least one action, however small, that moves you toward the good outcome. It sends a powerful message to your mind that stepping up is desirable and that you’re absolutely capable of surviving being in an exposed position.
Imposter syndrome is very real and very common, but becoming aware of it is the first step to banishing negative feelings around your achievements forever. Good luck!