It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach as you sit in a work meeting or at a dinner table with people you’ve never met before. It’s the rush of angst and panic, and that little voice in your head that says: ‘I’m not meant for this place and they’re all going to realise that soon’. It’s that moment – despite all evidence to the contrary – you realise you’re an imposter.
‘Imposter syndrome can set in at work, or when you’re trying something new, or when you’re meeting new people. The experience can trigger in us certain levels of insecurity that already exist,’ explains Organisational Psychologist and recent guest on the WarriorU Podcast, Gaj Ravichandra.
‘Syndrome is one step away from a disease, so I prefer to call them imposter experiences. Either way, you may feel a lack of worthiness, feel like a fraud or feel like you are not quite up to the standard.
‘We are all social creatures. We want to feel a sense of belonging and feel validated in terms of the work we do. And that drives a lot of those feelings.’
The term imposter syndrome was coined in the late 1970s by psychologists Suzane Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, who observed the phenomenon in working and studying women. Far from a mental illness, imposter syndrome is incredibly common, with 70 per cent of the population (or seven in every 10 people) reporting moments of such self-doubt and anxiety. And while the statistics say Imposter Syndrome is more common in women, it’s a growing experience suffered by men, says Gaj.
The problem with imposter experiences it that they are, in many ways, an illusion. A framing of thoughts that are often untrue and unhelpful – especially when you consider how important confidence is to performance in your work and social life.
So how can you fight Imposter Syndrome and reach your full potential? Here’s Gaj’s top tips:
1. Find your lane
A good way to manage (or avoid) imposter experiences is to reflect on, and change, where you attribute your success. After all, if you’re having an imposter experience because you’ve just been promoted or because you’re in an important meeting, there must be a reason you are sitting there in the first place.
So, do you think your achievements to date are due to internal factors, such as your hard work, character, intelligence and skill sets? Or to external factors, such as luck, legislation, other people and situations?
‘If you attribute all of your successes to all of these external factors, you aren’t reflecting on the fact that you have some internal capacity and capability to deliver,’ explains Gaj.
In other words, remember your strengths. Gaj suggests having two to three key moments of success (anchors) in your arsenal to draw upon when imposter experiences set in.
Imposter experiences are essentially a lack of confidence in your abilities – often unfounded, but still very much present. The greatest cure for worry and doubt? Preparation. So, do your research, write down some notes or ideas, or journal and self-reflect on your achievements to date before an important work or social event. Having a plan quickly builds confidence and eases the anxiety associated with imposter experiences.
3. Embrace and unpack the experience
Instead of hiding from the anxiety that comes with imposter experiences, examine those thoughts and why they might be occurring.
‘The imposter experience, for me, is like a mirror. And if you ask the mirror ‘what is this telling me?’, you’ll get some answers,’ says Gaj.
‘What are those feelings of anxiety telling you about the additional skills, knowledge or experiences you may need to feel more confident?’
Take note of those areas of perceived weaknesses and then work on them. It’s likely the next imposter experience won’t feel so intense.
4. Have the right support system
For Gaj, most imposter experiences are born out of an attempt to be your true self.
‘Acting authentically requires a heck of a lot of freedom in your mind, and provokes a lot of anxiety because you can’t blame anyone else,’ says Gaj.
‘You can’t blame your parents, you can’t blame your genetics, you can’t blame your culture – you need to take responsibility for that. So, all of a sudden, you are looking inwardly.’
The answer to easing that anxiety and lowering your chances of experiencing imposter syndrome? Find your tribe.
‘I think having the right people around you is essential – people that back you, support you, challenge you, and that give you a sense of comfort in being able to be genuine and authentic to who you are,’ says Gaj.
5. Pay it forward
One of the easiest ways to remind yourself that you’re educated, skilled and capable, and to help squash those feelings of being a fraud? Teaching and supporting others – be it a junior colleague or a family member who is having a tough time.
Why? Because mentoring others forces you to draw on and reflect on your strengths.
‘The more you go and support other people in achieving their goals, the more it reinforces a sense of positivity in ourselves,’ says Gaj.
‘It reinforces that you are capable of doing those things, and creates more situations that are helpful and healthy – rather than unhealthy – in your mind.’
Need help squashing imposter syndrome in yourself or in your team? WarriorU’s parent company, Hindsight Leadership, offers bespoke leadership and resilience training for businesses and individuals to ensure you’re working at your best. Contact the team today.