By Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is the fear that you’ll be exposed as inadequate, or a failure, despite evidence proving you’re successful. And it’s a mind-set that’s more common than you might think. If left unchecked, Imposter Syndrome can lead us to feel stressed and anxious. So, it’s important to challenge negative thoughts surrounding this fear, turning them into positives. Rather than thinking “if this goes wrong, I’m fired’, think “I’m qualified. If I make a mistake, what’s the worst that could happen?”
What kinds of people are vulnerable to it?
Most of us can be vulnerable and Imposter Syndrome is commonly experienced as an individual moves up the career ladder. Many people believe their success is more down to luck than ability.
It’s widely considered a female epidemic, however men tend to experience a heightened sense of failure – they think the stakes are higher due to stereotypes of successful male breadwinners. Essentially, women are generally more willing to discuss their emotional experience than men, rather than bottling it up. Opening up should be seen as a sign of strength and willingness.
There’s a cultural element to it, too. We’re often taught from a young age to downplay our abilities otherwise we’re the one who sticks out in the crowd.
Can it actually impair our progress and performance at work?
Yes, Imposter Syndrome can prevent us from believing in ourselves. Lack of self-belief can lead us to overwork and over-preparation. If we’re so fearful of making mistakes, we won’t take risks. A mind-set of “I got here by luck, not ability” might prevent us taking risks. A business that doesn’t take risks might find itself with diminishing returns. Imposter Syndrome can also stifle productivity. We may procrastinate, delaying tasks we don’t feel we’re equipped to undertake, or meetings we’re nervous about running.
Success doesn’t necessarily bring relief, either – indeed, it can heighten this sense of being an imposter. Owning and celebrating achievements can help counter these feelings, however.
What three steps can we take to move past it to become more confident and self-assured?
- Name the self-doubt. Acknowledge it for what it is. Ask yourself, “what’s holding me back here?”
- Challenge the negative thoughts, then convert them into positives. Focus on your best attributes and acknowledge daily accomplishments, focussing on the facts, not the feelings. Share your successes with loved ones and don’t shy away from praise. Visualise the future, set goals and be motivated
- Be a bolder you. Take risks. Don’t seek validation from others all the time
To take on those imposter feelings Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, encourages people to be TRUE:
- Talk to a supportive friend, colleague or family member – don’t keep your fears to yourself
- Remind yourself of your successes, document them and be inspired by your achievements
- Use evidence to dispute and diffuse your inner bully
- Evaluate how you’ve overcome imposter moments and share your learnings with others
“It’s important not to let self-doubt exacerbate our fear of failure, which may overwhelm us or crush our confidence. Instead, own your fears – use them as a positive, motivating force. Channel your fear into situations that daunt you and push yourself. Ask ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ And go for it, with a more resilient mind-set and a stronger business.” He concludes.