Wisdom//

Simple Strategies to Overcome Self-Doubt When Impostor Syndrome Strikes

“If I can’t be my biggest fan, then how do I expect anyone else to cheer me on?”

PeopleImages / Getty Images
PeopleImages / Getty Images

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are powerful. When impostor syndrome strikes, our inner monologue may sound like: “I’ve only gotten to this point because of luck,” or, “Wait until someone finds out I have no idea what I’m doing!” This self-talk affects our self-esteem, but it also impacts how we present ourselves to others and the risks we take in our lives. Simply put, if we don’t actively work on silencing our inner critic and reframing these thoughts and beliefs, our impostor syndrome can hold us back from unlocking our full potential. 

We asked our Thrive community to share their tips on dealing with negative self-talk and overcoming impostor syndrome. Which strategy will you try?

Turn inward for validation

“It wasn’t until I started questioning where my impostor syndrome comes from that I began letting it go. I recognized impostor syndrome wasn’t something I was born with — it was something that was taught to me. I had been taught to seek approval and look for validation everywhere, from my family, then my teachers, and then my bosses. I would doubt myself until I found other people to tell me I was capable. Once I realized what was happening, I decided that I wasn’t going to continue on that way. I was going to start teaching myself what I’m capable of. This shift in mindset and consistent practice of high self-agency has dramatically reduced any limiting beliefs in my head because I make time to explore and overcome them instead of waiting for external influence.”

—Shireen Jaffer, founder, Los Angeles, CA

Keep visual reminders

“I have sticky notes all over my bathroom mirror that remind me first thing every morning just how powerful I am. From accomplishments to small mantras, I’m reminded that I can tackle anything that comes my way. If I can’t be my biggest fan, then how do I expect anyone else to cheer me on?”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

Lean into it

“When impostor syndrome rears its head, I lean in. Instead of looking for ways to overcome it, I acknowledge it as a tender aspect of my humanity. The truth is, every person has felt this way. When we can recognize it as a part of ourselves that is simply asking to be seen, and feel it for a bit, it often softens. For me, this is the way through, instead of the way around.”

—Jennie Hoglund, homeopath, St. Paul, MN

Get to the root of your fears

“I use an exercise that takes just a minute or two. When fear or self-doubt creeps in, I ask myself why the fear or self-doubt exists and why it’s important to me (it has to have importance if it’s something I’m bothered by, so I’m sure to really find the root!). I ask myself what I can do to become more confident surrounding the fear. For example, if I doubt my ability to nail sales calls, I ask myself how I can get better at sales calls through practice, finding tips online, talking to colleagues, or having a script. I then remind myself how exciting it will feel to overcome the fear or self-doubt and what my business could look like once I do, reigniting eagerness and diminishing fear.”

—Amanda Strong, founder and brand designer, Orange County, CA

Repeat positive affirmations

“When I have moments of self-doubt, I say three affirmations to myself: “I am loved. I am enough. I am worthy.”

—Sheena Yap Chan, self-confidence coach, Toronto, Canada 

Look at yourself in a positive light

“A useful technique to move past impostor syndrome is to imagine you are being interviewed by a journalist who wants to show you at your best. View yourself through the eyes of the interviewer. Then write about your accomplishments, career highlights, personal characteristics, strengths, and abilities that got you where you are today. Once complete, read it back. Save your work somewhere easy to access so that you can remind yourself of you at your best. 

—Beverly Landais, certified coach, Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom

Focus on your purpose

“I notice that impostor syndrome tends to hit when I compare my skills to others and when I act from my ego-self. But shifting my mindset to how I will be serving and contributing to others’ well-being always makes me more humble, vulnerable, and willing to give my best despite my fears. So, this is what I suggest: don’t go about taking action and doing things from your ego-self — let the purpose of serving others lead the way and speak louder than your fears.” 

—Jessica Iachia, life and health coach, Lisbon, Portugal

Visualize your inner critic

“I’ve created a visual of my inner critic. When I hear the voice or the words they are saying, I think about what that person looks like. Then I ask, ‘Would I take advice from this person?’ The answer is almost always no.”

—Ciara Gogan, empowerment specialist, MA 

Take stock of your wins

“Impostor syndrome can be devastating. I have encountered it as a business owner, a technician, an artist, and in all facets of life. There are a few tactics I’ve found to beat it, and the biggest one is to take stock of your wins. I have a document on my computer where I write down my accomplishments — even the little ones. It’s not to be overly proud, but to help me when I’m feeling particularly uncertain about my qualifications. Having that reminder helps to prove the value in my general abilities to problem solve and take action.”

—Craig Inzana, marketing agency owner, Omaha, NE

Ask for the evidence

“My all-time favorite tip for overcoming self-doubt and impostor syndrome is asking, ‘What evidence do I have that my doubt is true?’ This simple question helps me separate the facts of the real situation from the self-talk fiction in my head.”

—Donna Peters, career coach and business podcast host, Atlanta, GA

Practice mindfulness regularly

“I rely on meditation and gratitude. Every morning, I spend 20-30 minutes meditating and being present in the moment. Then, I write down three things I am grateful for. This helps me quiet my inner critic and appreciate what I can do and what I have. Additionally, on Sunday evenings, I think back on the past week and write down what went well and what I would like to focus on during the week ahead. Much like the gratitude journal, this exercise gives me an opportunity to take a step back and look at the positives. If I am excited about what I will do, learn, and accomplish, then I am focused and negative thoughts have less room to creep in.”

—Hema Crockett, entrepreneur, San Diego, CA

Prioritize enjoyment over excellence

“For most of my life, I’ve demanded excellence from myself in everything. If I spend my time doing it, I always felt I should do it well. Now, at 63 years old, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: if I enjoy something, I should allow myself to do it simply because I enjoy it. Now — and especially as we continue staying at home — it is critical that we find ways to cope with the stress of isolation. Painting is that outlet for me. Until now, I didn’t allow myself to paint because of my fear that I may not be a great artist. Now that allowed myself to paint, I’ve realized how much I enjoy it, regardless of the fact that I have no special talent as a painter. What a great gift to myself to realize that there is value in doing things you enjoy, even if you aren’t excellent at them. We should never put pressure on ourselves to become an expert at something we do for pleasure.”

—Malia Litman, R.N., retired senior trial partner litigation, Dallas, TX

Read through an old journal

“If I’m feeling insecure, I like to look back at previous journal entries to see how far I’ve come from years ago. It reminds me to keep moving forward and how much I’m capable of.”

—Sarah Rudman, healthcare manager, Boston, MA

Celebrate success as it happens

“Recognize your successes as they happen. Often, we completely overlook our own talents and achievements, because they become our default setting. ‘Oh, I just do that naturally,’ is often what people will say when they fail to recognize their own top skills. When we can understand why it is that we got the promotion in the first place, we can appreciate the effort and skills that got us there.”

—Della Judd, executive coach, Milton Keynes, UK

Name it and reframe it

“The moment impostor syndrome comes up, I take several deep breaths to calm my nervous system. I notice the impostor syndrome with compassion and without self-judgment. I name it: ‘There’s my impostor monster again!’ I normalize it by remembering that many smart people feel the same way in new situations. And lastly, I reframe it: ‘This is what growth feels like. I’m stepping up to my goals and stretching my comfort zone.’” 

—Kelli Thompson, leadership and career coach, Omaha, NE

How do you cope with impostor syndrome? Tell us in the comments below! 

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