How to Make Imposter Syndrome your Friend

I’ve been feeling like a fraud and doubting my abilities recently. You might describe it as “Imposter Syndrome”. The feeling that many of us get when we feel like we’re not good enough. That we might get found out and exposed as a fraud. When the reality is that we are more than good enough. 

A negative response to imposter syndrome can prevent us from reaching our full potential. We end up self-sabotaging

Some of you may know that my big goal this year is to publish a leadership book. 

Fewer of you will know that I also plan to write historical fiction. This is something that I’ve been more and more called to over the past few years, and so this year I decided to give myself permission to spend dedicated time working on it. 

I’d seen it as something to do on the side, a passion project to work on in evenings and weekends. Now I’m making dedicated space to research and write every day.  

(As an aside, it was working with my coach, Alister Grey, that helped me see that I would gain so much more than just the experience of writing a novel by prioritising it. The passion and creativity I bring to this, along with everything I will learn, will filter over into the rest of my work) 

Imposter syndrome in action

Back to that imposter syndrome! As I had no clue where to start, I recently started a Historical Fiction writing course led by the National Centre for Writing

I could feel the doubts rising as I completed the first task…share your favourite historical fiction novels. I had been one of the first to post and share my love of books like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Bird Song, The Book Thief and Atonement. (It was only through doing that exercise I noticed the theme of books set during periods of war, though that won’t be what I’m writing about!)

As I went back to the discussion group a few days later and read what some of my colleagues had shared (mainly books I’ve never heard of), I heard that voice in my head. 

“What are they going to think of you? You’ve only shared popular books that everyone knows, and they’re all much wider read. Who are you to think you can be part of this group.”

“You don’t belong here.”

“You’re not enough!” 

I felt it more during the first zoom call, as everyone shared their backgrounds and experiences. Still more, as people started to share their writing in the group.

As I spent the next few days working on my first assignment, I felt sure that it was awful and that the instructor would tell me so.  

I submitted it, knowing it was a disaster and allowed myself to relax a bit. 

Feeling the fear

During that period of reflection, I remembered something that another coach of mine shares regularly. 

“If you’re not feeling a bit of imposter syndrome, then you’re not challenging yourself enough.”

When I start working with a new coaching client, I share the “You at the Centre” model to help them understand the process. I ask them to draw themselves in the centre of a piece of paper with a small circle around them and a big circle filling the page. The small circle represents their comfort zone where things feel effortless, and there are no doubts. 

The large circle represents their unlimited potential. What holds us back from reaching our potential is fear. Fear of crossing the line over the small circle and out of our comfort zone. This space is where we doubt ourselves. Where we feel unsure, where we feel like frauds. This zone is ripe for imposter syndrome. 

And unless we can move into and through it, we will never reach our potential. 

Changing the story

Take a moment to reflect. When have you not done something in your life because you’ve been afraid? Or because you’ve felt like an imposter? 

What if you could change the story that you’re telling yourself?

What if instead of telling yourself that you don’t belong or you’re not enough, you told yourself: 

“I can do hard things.”

“I am capable.”

“I belong here.”

“I am enough.” 

Repeating these affirmations (or others that work for you) can help shift the narrative you tell yourself. The key is that you use positive language, i.e. “I belong here” instead of “I don’t feel excluded”, and that you use the present tense. 

Before you dismiss this as woo woo, there’s actually a lot of research on this topic. PositivePsychoogy.com shares:

– Self-affirmations have been shown to decrease health-deteriorating stress (Sherman et al., 2009; Critcher & Dunning, 2015);

– They may help us to perceive otherwise “threatening” messages with less resistance (Logel & Cohen, 2012);

– Self-affirmation has been demonstrated to lower stress and rumination (Koole et al., 1999; Wiesenfeld et al., 2001).

Change your body

Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on the power of our body language to change how we feel is another tool to shift how we feel in situations where we might feel like an imposter. 

Her research shows that when we hold our body in “expansive poses” where we take up more space, we feel more powerful than we do in “contractive poses”, where we take up less space. 

Taking a few minutes to “power pose” can increase our confidence and help combat imposter syndrome. 

Making imposter syndrome my friend

So, where does that leave me? 

I think there will always be times when I feel some impostor syndrome. But what I try to do now is notice it. Then remind myself that I’m stretching myself. That I’m learning and growing. That I’m capable. That I’m strong. That I belong here. That I am enough. 

P.S. The feedback on my first assignment? 

This is dramatic and exciting. I like the way you have narrated the incident from two such different points of view.

I have made a number of minor editorial suggestions, but the piece is working well as it is. You write confidently and fluently.

I look forward to reading more!

My new affirmation: “I write confidently and fluently” ?

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