How to handle imposter syndrome in three steps
Around 70 per cent of people experience imposter syndrome, which can erode confidence at work and home. Here's how to kick it to the kerb if it happens to you.
Dear reader, want to know if you've ever experienced imposter syndrome? Take this simple pop quiz.
Just ask yourself these questions: “Who am I to do this?” “Am I smart enough?” “What if they realise I don’t know what I’m talking about?”
If you said yes to any of them, you’re not alone. Research shows that roughly 70 per cent of people will experience this phenomenon at least once in their lives.
I first encountered our mutual friend a couple of weeks ago when I announced that I'm training to be a spiritual and mindset coach. I know, ironic much? As I updated my Linkedin bio, I imagined my networks and friends thinking, “Good God, does she seriously think she can be a coach?”
It was like living that scene in A Knight’s Tale when the asshole-y Count Adhamar said to William Thatcher, “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.” (Insert heart palpitation and cold sweats).
I was terrified that I wasn't 'experienced' enough and would therefore be seen as a fraud. A joke. An imposter. Seriously, what a terribly inconvenient experience! So what’s the antidote you ask?
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, there are 3 components to self-compassion, the life ingredient that will lead to knowing how to handle imposter syndrome: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Here's how I applied them to kick that imposter to the kerb.
Self-kindness is about being forgiving to ourselves when we screw up. It means seeing our worth as unconditional even when we fall short of our own expectations. The most practical way I did this was to practice having kind thoughts towards myself and speaking to myself with patience and love. It took concerted effort at first, but it drastically drowned out the inner critic in my head.
I know you’re thinking, 'Bekah, let's skip the woo woo stuff'. Hear me out, Eddy! Neuroscience shows that the majority of our self-talk is negative. This explains why imposter syndrome often presents as negative thoughts tearing us down.
Our brains literally hate us. Okay not literally. But as I’m sure you know, how we think about ourselves affects how we speak to and about, ourselves. And our words affect our emotions, motivation and future success.
If you're new to this concept, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self by Dr Shad Helmstetter is a good place to start.
Next step in knowing how to handle imposter syndrome? You'll love it.
2. You are not alone.
Common humanity is realising that we’re not the only ones who think or feel the way we do. Reminding myself that I was not the only one who experienced imposter syndrome allowed me to confront my fears and be vulnerable about my experience.
The only way to move past it is to do the very thing that causes you fear. For me, it's consistently telling people that I am a coach!
You'll be surprised how much relief you'll feel and also how much space you create for others to drop their masks too. As that High School Musical song goes, "we're all in this together."
3. Kill them with kindness.
Mindfulness is being aware of your mental or emotional state without judgement. At first, I fought hard against those thoughts. I tried burying them in busyness and studying my materials. The more I fought them, the more they gripped me.
But a recent coaching session with The Coaching Institute's master coach Joe Pane taught me a nifty trick: just say, 'thank you', the next time those thoughts pop up into your head. (TCI's Matt Lavars also stands by these two little words.)
This was a really easy way to immediately practice non-judgement towards my inner world. Because what I've come to realise is, for this moment in time, those thoughts are a part of me.
I don't need to fight them like the enemy or judge myself for them.
I can acknowledge them and kindly send them away.
No inner turmoil required.
So if you've been battling with imposter syndrome, take a moment to reframe and give self-compassion a go. Elevate the language with which you speak to yourself, remember that just like some pesky humans, killing them with kindness is the most effective action, and finally, you're not alone in thinking that you don't know enough.
As John Legend said, "everybody knows that nobody really knows." (Emphasis mine).