Unmasking imposter syndrome: 5 ways to overcome it

Do you often doubt your own skills, talents or accomplishments? You’re not alone. To help, Evolve’s Founder and Public Speaking Coach, Donna Hubbard, talks us through the psychology behind imposter syndrome and shares her 5 step process to overcoming it.

Have you ever had the sense that you’re waiting to be ‘found out’ – that you’re inadequate or undeserving of your success? This psychological phenomenon, known as imposter syndrome, lurks within most of us, even the most seemingly confident business leaders.

The concept was originally coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 founding study, which focused on high-achieving women. They stated that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.

45 years on from their initial research and imposter syndrome is still baffling psychologists today!

As part of our commitment to strive to be the best versions of ourselves, the team at Evolve have decided that today is the day we stop waiting for answers. Instead, why don’t we try to figure it out together?

Let’s look at the facts…

According to Indeed’s Working on Wellbeing report, based on a YouGov survey of 2,500 working Brits, 58% of employees experience imposter syndrome. In fact, it’s one of the most common mental health issues in today’s workplace, leading to greater levels of procrastination in 63% of respondents and longer working hours for 57%.

Sadly, 94% of those who have suffered from imposter syndrome haven’t discussed their feelings at work, many due to embarrassment or fear of being seen as a less capable employee.

We promise you’re not alone

While tackling the feeling of imposter syndrome is a pretty vital step, we believe that it’s just as important to firstly remind yourself that you’re not the only one feeling this way. Even some of the world’s most influential people, including Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Hanks, Lady Gaga and Bear Grylls have all confessed to sharing the same sentiments.

Understand the psychology behind imposter syndrome

To really crack that inner voice of self-doubt, it can help to understand the mechanics of fear – starting with what goes on inside the brain.

Initial fear response

Your fear response in a self-doubt situation is triggered almost as if you’re facing a potential physical threat. Within the brain’s limbic system, there’s a small almond-shaped part called the amygdala, which is the centre of your emotional responses and helps to activate that “fight or flight” reaction. When you doubt yourself, it triggers a flow of stress hormones in a similar way to if you were being chased by a lion.

Reinforced habits

Consistent responses of acting (or not acting, as the case may be) on your intentions will activate another area of the brain known as the basal ganglia, which is responsible for regulating habits. By allowing self-doubt to hold you back from taking actions, you’re reinforcing this habit of hesitation.

Taking control

The limbic system often reacts so quickly that it seems as if your fear response takes over before you have a chance to respond differently. However, by paying conscious attention, the frontal cortex – the decision-making part of the brain – can be activated to help cut fear off at its source.

So, how do you overcome it?

Step 1: Recognise the fear and sit with it for a little while

Sitting with your fear and giving it air time will help you to disassociate your sense of self from it. You aren’t the fear itself, you’re in fact just perceiving it.

Step 2: Work out what you’re most afraid of

Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” It’s something that Matt had to remind himself when we introduced you to him in our presentation tips article. He was being weighed down by self-doubt before a presentation at his end-of-year company conference, but by owning any of those ‘I’m human’ moments, he was able to develop a healthy response in which he learned value from his mistakes.

Remember to tell yourself that you’ll get ‘em next time!

Step 3: Find out what the fear is bringing your attention to

See your inner voice of self-doubt as more of a friend – what is it reminding you of? Do you know enough about a prospective new client? Have you gone over your notes enough for your presentation? Use those questions to take action and quash the fear behind them.

Step 4: Take note of your accomplishments

Whatever your accomplishments, there will have been challenges to get there that prove you have a source of strength in you. Maybe you’re progressing in your career or doing something for the first time and therefore don’t have the evidence to prove that you can do it. In these cases, look back at previously unknown situations that you now find a breeze and how you achieved them.

Step 5: Give imposter syndrome a new name

Why not turn it on its head? Rather than seeing it for it’s negative connotations, we can use it as a force for good. Maybe we’ll consider it the “gearing up process” instead!

So, how do you overcome it?

Do you want to carry on battling what you know as imposter syndrome, or do you want to turn it into something that helps you become the best version of yourself? It’s totally within your control.

Next time you feel like you don’t measure up, remember that:

The voice of self-protection will always be there. The moment is becomes more friend and less foe is the moment you become unstoppable.” 

Evolve Co.

Evolve’s Authentic Impact public speaking course is helping awesome individuals just like you to move past the imposter syndrome and discover their real and remarkable speaker within. If you’d like to find out how we can support you or your organisation, please contact the team: [email protected].

The Evolve Company - Coaching in Hampshire

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