Imposter Syndrome is a sinister con artist, one that seems to have whispered in most of our ears: “You’re faking it”. The voice persuades us to believe we’re undeserving of our place in life, no matter how much we’ve achieved personally and professionally. It fills us with anxiety that we’ll be found out “for who really are”. We run ourselves ragged chasing imaginary standards, and label ourselves “Fraud” when we don’t measure up.
How do we become empowered to stand up to this saboteur? How do we avoid the spiral of self-pity and embrace the fullness of our journey?
Follow these steps to embrace every minute of your experience – flaws, fame, failures and fabulousness.
1. Thought Inquiry:
Inquiry is a well-established path to freedom from distorted thinking. (My favorite source is Byron Katie’s The Work”) Thoughts aren’t necessarily true and we don’t have to believe them. Question your thinking with compassionate curiosity instead of resigning yourself to self-judgment. After investigating, you’ll often find that Imposter Syndrome driven thoughts are merely unsupported opinions – not facts.
· Acknowledge the thoughts – Begin with simple, objective observation. “I see you thoughts – and I’m curious why you’re here.” “My thinking is bringing me down.” “My thoughts are saying I’m not as cool/intelligent/pretty as other women.”
· Consider the origin of the thoughts – Limiting beliefs often form early from long held family ideas or life experiences. Are your thoughts based in reality, or simply rooted in customs and habits that might be unhealthy? Understanding the source is one way to overcome painful thought patterns.
· Question the thoughts – “How can I know for sure this is true? What facts support it? What facts support that I’m actually a success?” Be kind and authentic. You’ll likely find ample evidence in favor of your achievements.
· Turn the thoughts around -Find a few ways the “imposter” thought is false and replace it with statements that are truer. Take my example: “Imposter syndrome tells me I’m uncool, don’t deserve my job, and am not as pretty as other women….BUT …I am cool in many ways – I have a cool dog and a cool van.” “I’ve been promoted at work for my intelligence, for my accountability, and my passion for the industry.” “I love my hair, and my freckles make me unique and interesting.”
Gratitude appears in every personal growth book, website, and speech because IT WORKS. Research shows that writing down or sharing what you’re grateful for on a regular basis increases genuine feelings of gratitude, therefore increasing happiness. Make a list every day, no matter how short or simple. Try writing 3 things (people/experiences/items) that you appreciate. Don’t expect to be flooded with warm fuzzy explosions in your heart right away…. It may be just a trickle at first. But do notice where you feel it in your body, and any subtle or obvious changes in your mental state as you meditate on all that makes you thankful. Self-sabotage confabulations of “I’m not enough” and “I don’t belong” fade while cultivating appreciation. A mindset of scarcity cannot survive in the setting of gratitude.
3. Practice Mindfulness:
“Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” John Kabat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness liberates us from Imposter Syndrome. Being present with reality instead of judging it unfairly eliminates regrets of the past and releases future worries. We can then settle calmly into the NOW. For example, maybe you’ve been asked to give a speech and feel you don’t deserve the spotlight. Rather than reacting out of habit and with fear :“They’ll find out I have nothing to offer!” You can respond mindfully: “I’m calmly sitting, supported in my chair. There are no immediate threats.” “I’ve intentionally been asked to speak at this conference. I enjoy speaking. There are notecards to help me keep my place. I’m breathing, I’m calm, I’m prepared for this moment.”
This may be the silliest habit I’ve recently acquired, but undoubtedly one of the most effective. My house is stickered in love letters to myself. Brightly colored notes on my mirrors and magnets on the fridge announce: “I love you!” “You’re amazing!” “You’re kicking ass!” “You are beautiful!” Along with notes, every morning look in the mirror and empower yourself with the reminder that you are worthy of self-love. In the new book “Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery” affirmations are elevated to a higher level. The authors propose rooting your affirmations in truth, using specifics and clarity for the greatest effect. Don’t lie to yourself, saying, “I’m a millionaire”. Instead, affirm your actions and commitment to your goals “I’m 100% committed to doubling my income this year so that I can provide financial security for my family.” Offer yourself some unconditional affirming love daily, out loud and with emotion!
5. Experts need not apply
“People don’t care what you know – they want to know you care.” (Teddy Roosevelt) “You don’t need to know everything, you just need to know your resources.” (Tiffany Swedeen, adapted from quote attributed to Einstein) Ego tells us that before we can educate and benefit someone else, we need to be an expert in the field. But the fact is, our brains are not capable of memorizing everything, and we shouldn’t feel we have to! Memorize the important bits, but more crucially, know your resources: who to call, where to look something up, where to go for more answers. The best leaders know that they don’t know everything, but absolutely know where to turn in times of uncertainty.
6. Common Humanity:
My best bet is that 99.9% of humans have experienced Imposter Syndrome to some degree. Celebrities who literally have the planet glued to a screen watching them may still feel like complete fakes. Tina Fey has been quoted “The beauty of imposter syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’” Maya Angelou, Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, and Tony award winner concedes “…each time I think, “Uh Oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.”
It doesn’t matter if millions revere them for their talent, beauty or wisdom, even the most perfect candidate for a starring role can fear they don’t deserve it. It’s a side effect of the human experience; worrying we’ll never be enough. It happens to everyone, but we don’t need to get entrenched in the assumption. Take Tina Fey’s advice “…Just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”
6. Fail Forward and Forgive
Imposter Syndrome is fueled by perfectionism. Recognize that blunders and missteps are part of success, not the opposite of it. It’s imperative to learn to accept ourselves through even the roughest of stumbles, and view mistakes through a filter of compassion and redemption. Self-Forgiveness meditations like this one are a valuable tool to nurture us and develop a greater sense of positivity and acceptance.
7. There’s Only One YOU:
Absolutely nobody else on this earth can be you. Your unique personality, background, and individualized skills comprise a one of a kind life perspective. The connections you make with others cannot be replicated by anyone else. You serve a purpose on Earth that no other being can. Therefore, it’s literally impossible to be an imposter. Celebrate your authenticity! It’s not necessary to be flawless or to be a master to be in the game. It’s only necessary to be genuine; to show up with earnest sincerity.
Imagine the joy as you look around your life once you’ve put these steps to use. Instead of lamenting: “I wish I was….” “I’ll never be….” “What if they find out…”
You proclaim: “I’m so proud of where I am.” “I’ve accomplished things no one else could.” “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” “I’m willing to make mistakes and keep trying.” “I have an important purpose and I’m doing it to the best of my ability.”
This is possible! Make a pact with yourself to say goodbye to Imposter Syndrome. You’re not a fraud – You’re not faking anyone out. You’re essential and brilliant, just as you are. Miraculously, splendidly YOU.