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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

In 2011, research summarized in the International Journal of Behavioral Science showed that 70 percent of people have felt like an imposter at some point. However, if you experience that feeling regularly, you may have imposter syndrome. In this course, Dr. Carolyn Goerner, founder of Practical Paradigms, explains what imposter syndrome is, situations that often trigger it, and strategies that help you stop feeling like an imposter and start embracing your talents and capabilities.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where a person believes they are a fraud—they only accomplish anything because of luck or connections, not because they are smart or talented. It often affects high-achieving people—they are successful by external standards, but they don’t view themselves as such. They believe they are “faking it until they make it.”

Many feelings of imposter syndrome are the result of ways we developed emotionally. You may have personality traits such as anxiety, pessimism or perfectionism that could be tied to imposter syndrome. Alternatively, you may have grown up believing you were worthy of love based on your achievements.

Imposter syndrome commonly happens in certain environments—ones that are new to you, when you feel like you are a minority in a group or when you make a presentation or speech. Imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety, depression, overindulgence, decreased productivity at work, low job satisfaction, isolation and ineffective communication. 

One way to overcome imposter syndrome is to collect the facts. Make a list of all the skills and talents you have and trainings you’ve received. Keep evidence of your positive contributions such as emails or notes of appreciation or feedback earned during a promotion to help you remember your accomplishments. Remind yourself of them when you think you’re a fraud, because they will prove you otherwise.

Reframe the negative thoughts that accompany imposter syndrome. Consciously identifying your emotions can reduce their intensity, which will free some space in your head to find the positive messages that motivate you instead. Stick with these strategies consistently to make them habits. With practice, they can help you overcome imposter syndrome without thinking.

Treat your confidence as a skill. Build up your resilience by picking something small you think you’ll fail at and act on it. Being prepared for the rejection will sting less. Get used to that rejection, because then you’ll be less afraid of it the more you’ll face it. When faced with a new challenge, focus on approaching it in the same way as you do when you know you’ll succeed. You can survive failure, and that resilience goes a long way toward silencing your imposter syndrome thoughts. 

With the strategies and tools from this course, you can stop feeling like a fraud and start embracing your own unique talents and capabilities. In addition, you can talk about your feelings with someone you trust – it will reduce your stress.  Remember no one has the same skills, training and experience combinations that you do.

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