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3 Ways to Manage Impostor Syndrome

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

The new year always brings a great deal of optimism and hope especially this year. Many of us set goals at the beginning of the year and prepare to ensure success. However, according to research, only 8% of people will achieve their goal (or resolution) for the year.

Why is this?

There are many reasons why we abandon our goals. Many people blame it on a lack of self-discipline. While this a huge factor, I believe there is something even deeper that allows us to give up so quickly. The story we tell ourselves will fuel or drain our ability to accomplish anything. Think about it. When you feel confident in what you are doing, how hard is it to stay disciplined?

Have you ever given up on an idea because you felt like a fraud? If so, you have experienced something that (according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science) 70% of us experience at some point in our lives. This is the feeling of impostor syndrome. It often feels like these thoughts will never go away and you either need to give up or deal with the constant stress associated with self-doubt.

Starbucks’ Howard Schultz admitted to feeling undeserving and insecure. In an interview with The New York Times, Schultz said, “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

Just think what our world would be like if Howard gave into impostor syndrome. A world without Starbucks? No, thank you!

One thing that we need to be aware of is sometimes we confuse imposture syndrome with conscious incompetence. This is the second stage of Martin M. Broadwell's "the four stages of teaching" model. For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds and you are a former personal trainer and nutrition expert, your chance of achieving the goal is very high. On the other hand, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds and you are an English teacher who has been overweight your whole life, then this will be much harder to accomplish on your own. The English teacher might think she cannot lose weight because she is not good enough, but in reality, she needs additional training and support to be successful.

Once you have identified if you are experiencing impostor syndrome rather than conscious incompetence, here are a few tips to manage your self-doubt:

  • Acknowledge the thoughts - This is a huge theme in meditation. You simply think, "Oh, there is a negative thought." What most of us do instead is think, "Oh, there is a negative thought. It is true, I am a fraud, I am successful only because of luck, and there are so many people who are better suited for this role. I should give up because I will never accomplish what I want. What's the point?" Just writing that down makes me feel anxious.

  • Create your "If-then" statement - Throughout my leadership career, I worked with amazing people who felt like they did not deserve their success. When we did an "If-then" exercise, it allowed them to set expectations that would allow them to feel deserving of success. For example, when I worked with a new leader, he decided, "If I help one rep increase sales by the end of this year then I am meant to be in leadership." This proactively gave his brain permission to celebrate. This is best used when working with a mentor because sometimes we self-sabotage and make the goal too high which allows us to confirm that we are truly an impostor. If he would have said, "If I get every person on my team to increase their sales by the end of this year then I am meant to be in leadership" he would have set herself up for failure. Talking with your mentor or coach throughout the year will also allow you to stay on track even when you are feeling like a fraud.

  • Keep a list of your past accomplishments - We often feel most like impostors before we have the positive feedback and proof that we know what we are doing. It is important to keep that proof so you can go back to it and prove to yourself again that you can achieve all that you want, as long as you stay out of your own way.

Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. Many highly influential people have experienced impostor syndrome and managed it in a way that allowed them to achieve success anyway. You are in good company with Tina Fey, David Bowie, Maya Angelou, and Sonia Sotomayor to name a few.

This is something that will most likely be a reoccurring experience so it is important to find the right tools and people that will help you get where you want to be even when you feel like you do not deserve to be there. The world needs what you have to offer, don't let some thoughts get in the way of that.


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