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Impostor syndrome, where people perpetually worry that they are not deserving of the success and recognition they have enjoyed and expect to be “found out” and exposed, was originally recognised in the late 70’s. It can appear in all areas of our lives and at any point in our lives as well. I have an extremely elderly relative who was told that they were in “amazing” health by their doctor who was troubled by the fact that it could not be true as he also experienced some aches and pains.
And, if you have experienced this, you are in great company! Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks and Michelle Obama have all shared that they too have suffered with it. My guess is that its a sign that you care about what you are doing and want to do it very well. At least you aren’t suffering Dunning–Kruger delusions, where you think you are better at something than you actually are!
There are a number of things you can do to overcome impostor syndrome. Here are three:
1. Celebrate your successes
Apparently we are hardwired to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones. Its called negativity bias and it causes us to let bad experiences overshadow good ones and let them influence our future decisions. It’s assumed this is part of our survival toolkit, where remembering what danger looks and sounds like was a prerequisite to remaining alive in primitive times.
A good exercise for this is to look back over your whole life and map out your success timeline. It needs to include every success, from a childhood sporting trophy to nailing a challenging deadline at work. Get it all in there and, if you can, ask friends and family to fill in the gaps. Then just soak it up. Spend time revisiting all the great things you have done and really enjoy each and every triumph. For a regular confidence boost, schedule in some time, ideally weekly, where you remind yourself of three things that went well over the last 7 days.
2. Take stock
Maybe its time to to assess yourself objectively, so you are clearer about what you are really goo AND bad at. None of us are perfect and acknowledging what you actually aren’t good at can help put things into perspective and help you see where you may need to shore things up to leave you feeling less exposed.
A personal SWOT analysis is a great tool for this. I'm clearly a big fan of this tool. I mentioned it in the last post, too!
3. Reframe it
Is there another way to tell the story that you’ve been telling yourself? Let's say you feel that you don’t share the same background or went to a less prestigious university than your peers, you might benefit from reminding yourself that you bring fresh and diverse thinking that they can not offer. Same with not being the same age - your lack or abundance of life experience again offers a new perspective that your competitors lack. Getting in the habit of challenging yourself to tell a negative story in a positive light is a great habit to get into . It may help to make it into a game: how could you retell it so that it sounds like an absolute win? Celebrities and politicians do it all the time. So can you!
Its time to banish impostor syndrome from our lives. If any of these approaches work for you, please let us know in the comments - so that others get inspired to try them!
25 years experience in helping teams build user centred products and services, now helping digital colleagues learn how to bounce back better than before from the challenges life throws at us from time-to-time.