Can you guess what these people they have in common?
*A Chief Information Officer who just immigrated to the United States
*A female partner who was recently named managing director at a prestigious law firm
*An African American first year medical student
All are highly intelligent. All are objectively successful in their chosen career paths. And yet, each one struggles with “Imposter Syndrome”.
Imposter Syndrome is the fear of being found out as a fraud, that an individual isn’t as competent as others think they are. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Sciences, most of us (70 %) experience this feeling at some point in our lives. But when this feeling becomes a chronic condition, it causes us to take fewer risks, prepare excessively, and even become paralyzed – unable to complete important tasks. Imposter Syndrome creates a self-fulfilling loop of never feeling good enough.
If feeling like a fraud is challenging your own sense of self-worth, here are three strategies that you can use right way:
1) Brain Dump of Accomplishments
Make a list of all your accomplishments. Write everything down – it all counts. You don’t have to be perfect at it, get an “A”, or win a prize. If you accomplished it, even if you had some help or the competition wasn’t that strong, it goes on the list. Every accomplishment that comes to mind, big or small – goes on that list.
Some folks struggle with this exercise, particularly if they are focused on their shortcomings, so we suggest they get a friend who knows them well to help them complete it. This exercise can shift your mindset from focusing on the idea that you do not measure up, to focusing on all things you have accomplished. Shifting our attention to our hard earned successes is one way to turn down the volume of feeling like a fraud.
2) Choose a GROWTH mindset
When we are stuck in imposter mode, we are operating with a Fixed mindset. This means that we think in black and white terms. “ I’m either good at it or not.” Or “I am either the smartest or I’m not smart”. A Growth mindset allows us to see possibility. “I can learn anything I put my mind too.” In imposter mode, we have an intense desire to to appear smart, so our fixed mindset causes us to avoid challenges and give up when presented with an obstacle With a growth mindset, we seek out challenges, view obstacles at temporary setbacks, and see learning as a human process we all go through. The good news is that we can intentionally and consciously choose a growth mindset. The trick is to first notice that we are stuck in a fixed mindset, so we can move to our growth mindset. Notice when you are thinking in absolutes, i.e. “I will never be able to sing well” and switch to “I can’t sing well YET”. The word “Yet” directly connects us to our Growth mindset.
3) You Belong Here
Hidden beneath our imposter syndrome is the idea that we don’t belong. And if we are a member of a minority group, for example, a woman in a male dominated field such as law or an African American in a primarily white medical school, this feeling of “not belonging” is exacerbated. We look around, and we do not see people who look like us. Researchers Watson and Cohn studied feelings of “belonging” with 92 African Americans in their first year of college. They split the students into two groups. The experimental group read an essay on belonging, then wrote their own essay describing their journey of belonging, including why they felt that they belonged at their college now. The control group read information on extracurricular activities. Over their four years in college, students in the belonging group had dramatically increased their GPA compared to the students in the control. When we feel like we belong, we perform better. So try this yourself: write your own essay of belonging. Trace your journey, your ups and downs and conclude with why you feel you belong now. Let all the evidence that you belong here sink in.
Imposter Syndrome prevents us from performing at our highest potential. Give these strategies a try because you deserve to feel good about what you have accomplished and look forward to tackling new challenges.
Clance, P.R., & Imes, S.A. (1978). The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Interventions. Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice, 15, 241247
Jaruwan Sakulku, J., and Alexander, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 73-92.
G. M. Walton, G. L. Cohen, A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science 331, 1447–1451 (2011).