Professional Development

4 ways to fight impostor syndrome

Written by Michael Hoon

At its core, the buzzword of the past few years, “impostor syndrome,” is about confidence. It can sneak up on you when you’ve reached success in your career, but yet don’t feel as though you deserve to be where you are or that you’ve legitimately achieved your successes. The phenomenon often takes place internally and can accompany a new job role: Will someone find out I really don’t belong here? This nagging sense often happens to overachievers who continually strive toward success—they get so used to it, they don’t know what to do when finally arriving.

While self-questioning can be a healthy way to improve yourself and establish your goals, when self-critique runs rampant, it diminishes your success and can severely inhibit your growth. So how can you kick the habit of self-doubt and actually enjoy your successes?

1. Establish the counter-narrative

There are various ways that people who strive for success can develop an unhealthy relationship with their progress. Delegitimizing small victories or moving the goalpost once you’ve achieved a milestone are close cousins to impostor syndrome. Your inner critic can have you worried over a minor typo or obsessing about a perfectly normal conversation. But we are less prone to taking careful stock of all the things that went right during the course of the workday. When something goes well you say, “That’s how it’s supposed to happen. I am just doing my job.” But if you’re feeling like an impostor, it is worth it to take a few minutes during your lunch break or at the end of the day to reflect on all the things that went well. This may not come naturally, and it may not seem valuable if you are used to brushing small successes aside, but it’s important to establish a counter-narrative to the negative self-talk. What are all the small ways that you kept things running smoothly throughout the course of your day? Where did you leave a positive impact?

2. Celebrate your successes

Beyond listing the small positives that take place throughout the day, you need to truly celebrate your achievements. For example, if you get a new promotion and immediately feel overwhelmed, you should still go out to dinner with friends or family. Don’t let a feeling of panic be the dominant focus of your achievement. We have ceremonies and celebrations for a reason! Taking that step of celebrating allows you to believe in your success more, acknowledge it with friends and family, and own it as something you deserve. While a new job role or added responsibility can be overwhelming, you need to let the positive aspects of a new role sink in, too.

3. Know your triggers

Whether you know it or not, it has taken some amount of effort for you to engage in self-doubt. But thinking this way is simply a pattern. How can you break that thought pattern and establish a newer, healthier one?

The first step is to recognize your moments of self-doubt. Writing down when the feeling creeps up, what situation prompted it, and how you responded is a way to step outside of the negative emotion. Then, turn your ability for self-questioning on itself. Ask, “Is my self-doubt warranted?” While you may not be able to banish the feeling entirely, you can start to de-legitimize your self-doubt. Simply writing things down can help you step outside the emotion and discern your patterns of thinking. You may also find that certain situations bring on the self-doubt. When you know what these triggers are, you can better prepare the next time.

4. Change the results

Impostor syndrome happens internally, as a feeling, but can creep further into your actions and day-to-day interactions with colleagues. What actions does the feeling of impostor syndrome foster? Do you avoid speaking up at work because you doubt yourself? Do you overwork yourself to try to make yourself feel deserving? Do you avoid taking risks? When impostor syndrome goes beyond a nagging feeling to affect your behavior it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you don’t take risks or speak up, you will be less successful.

So, how do you change these results? Ask yourself how someone with confidence would act. The aphorism “fake it ‘til you make it” can still be helpful once you’ve made it and already achieved success—acting confident can help you become more confident as you continue to grow and change your role. Confidence is not simply a feeling, but also a practice. When you test the boundaries of your role, know the areas where you should feel sure of yourself, and can take on some amount of risk with ease, then impostor syndrome will no longer have a hold on you.

About the author

Michael Hoon