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Feeling like an impostor? 7 tips to silence your inner critic

Insight Article - February 9, 2018

Professional Development

Leadership Development

Susan A. Murphy PhD
Have you ever feared that you might be “found out” or exposed as a “fraud” in an area of work or activity or performance? Experiencing the feeling of being an impostor is quite common. Research indicates that at least 70% of people admit to experiencing the impostor syndrome during their lives.

At Stanford Business School, first-year students are asked, “How many of you feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Each year, two-thirds of the class raise their hands.

The term “impostor syndrome” was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, ABPP, and Suzanne Imes, PhD. Also known as “impostor phenomenon” or “fraud syndrome,” it describes symptoms such as being unable to internalize accomplishments or having a persistent fear of being exposed as a phony. It may involve chronic self-doubt and the belief that you lack talent or intelligence or do not deserve success despite evidence to the contrary. Feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure and dismissal of success as luck or timing also are common.

It is important to recognize this impostor phenomenon because these thoughts may stop you from setting ambitious goals. People with these feelings often over-prepare or procrastinate, which can make achieving goals challenging. Feeling like an impostor can affect your desire to take risks and try new things. You may not pursue promotion opportunities, your dream career or take advantage of meeting new people and learning new skills.

Tips to avoid impostor feelings

  • Become aware of your thoughts. Awareness is the first step in dealing with impostor syndrome. Become aware that your critical voice is only thought, not fact. Document when these thoughts and feelings occur and start to recognize they are not a reflection of your talents and skills. Feeling like an impostor heightens fears and can keep you from reaching your potential.
  • Stop negative self-talk. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you hear your inner voice tell you you’re a fraud or are not competent. Research published in Shad Helmstetter’s book, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self, indicates 77% of self-talk is negative. Tell your inner critic, “Thank you for your input, but I’m not interested.”
  • Celebrate your successes. When you suffer from impostor syndrome, you tend to brush off achievements. Write down your accomplishments and review your list frequently.
  • Ask yourself, “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?” When I’m about to give a presentation to a large audience, I train myself to think of reasons why I’m the one who should be speaking to this group. At the beginning of my speaking career, my impostor voice would sometimes think, “Why me?” Now I think, “Why not me?” and then focus on giving a great presentation to share my research and knowledge with the audience.
  • Others feel it, too. It’s comforting to acknowledge you are not alone in feeling like an impostor. It can be reassuring to realize that others may feel the same way during job interviews, auditions or presentations.
  • Limit your time on Facebook and social media. Feeling like an impostor can be caused by spending a lot of time on social media sites. Everyone else may appear successful, popular, glamourous or enjoying life – and this can make your ordinary life seem insignificant. You may develop fear of missing out (FOMO). Most people are struggling, and comparisons with your Facebook pals may augment your sense of inadequacy.
  • Recruit positive, supportive, knowledgeable people for your personal board of directors. Remove negative, sabotaging or discouraging voices from your inner circle of colleagues and friends. This may be difficult to implement at first, but it’s critical to protect yourself and your self-esteem from demeaning and degrading critics. Including a mentor on your personal board of directors can add invaluable support to help prevent impostor feelings and thoughts.
At Facebook headquarters, posters pose the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Ask this of yourself now that you know that many successful people experience similar doubts.

Additional resources:
Maximizing Performance Management, 2nd Edition, by Susan A. Murphy, MBA, PhD, provides resources and insights into managing a healthcare organization's performance via monitoring team member performance, setting expectations, rating performance and rewarding great performance.

About the Author

Susan A. Murphy
Susan A. Murphy PhD
chief executive officer Business Consultants Group

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