Impostor syndrome is a term that describes the feeling of intellectual and professional inadequacy that some people experience. It’s “a nebulous mixture of thoughts and feelings experienced by highly accomplished individuals who continuously question their achievements.”
The feelings are relatively common for anyone who has achieved any level of success or even enough to garner recognition in their field. Still, it’s not something everyone experiences — it’s just part of being an individual. It’s called impostor syndrome when, instead of feeling something like “I just did a great job,” it feels more like “I don’t deserve this.”
Impostor syndrome is an important topic because it can prevent someone from reaching their full potential, and it comes up with varying degrees of intensity in different people. There are also a lot of other phenomena related to impostor syndrome that you should know about — but let’s start with how to deal with it.
Identify the source of your feelings.
You can only take action to help with something if you understand it. To that end, identify your thoughts and feelings surrounding impostor syndrome.
The thought is often “I’m not good enough for this,” and the feeling is often “I look like such an idiot.”
Set yourself apart from it.
Research has shown that exposure to negative thoughts and feelings can increase them. If you’re scaring yourself with negative thoughts, it’s best to shut them down instead.
The idea is to expose yourself to positive thoughts, and the easiest way to do that is through meditation. Find the time and place where you can be alone and try this exercise: Repeat a mantra that’s motivating, like “I’m a good person” or “I can do this.”
If you feel something else is stopping you from doing it — let it go. If there’s an obstacle in your way — leave it. If you have a thought that doesn’t even relate to anything else — disregard it.
All you have to do is keep saying your mantra, and the only thoughts that matter are the ones that support your goal.
For example, if you feel like you’re not good enough for an opportunity, or if you feel like everyone else is better than you, just let those thoughts fly right by. If they come back around again and again, just ignore them again.
Deal with them in the appropriate way.
One of the most important things you can do to manage those feelings is to not let them get the best of you. The biggest mistake people make when they feel like an impostor is that they try to act like one, which only furthers their feelings of inadequacy.
For example, if you feel like your life isn’t where it’s supposed to be, you don’t want to write off all your accomplishments and failures as a bad day. You want to accept that you’re a great person with a good life and many accomplishments.
Fully embrace those feelings.
This is where you literally accept the feelings you have — no matter how minor or intense — and understand that it’s completely normal to feel this way.
This goes against what we’re taught about “things should be easy” or “you should always think positively.” While that might be great advice on the surface, if it’s impossible to ignore negative thoughts and feelings in some weeks, there’s something more wrong.
You should go through your day while accepting that you could feel overwhelmed at any time and that you’ll have good days and bad days. And it would help if you went through your day with the confidence that you’re a great person who can do anything she puts her mind to.
The worst thing is how small thoughts can become the most overwhelming ones — which is why it’s so important to embrace everything about them. The more intense they are, the more useful they are as a gauge of how true those feelings of inadequacy are.
The biggest difference is the attitude you have moving forward.
If you feel like an impostor, then you should work to be more amazing. You want to think of all the things you can accomplish in your life — no matter how trivial or small-minded — and then make it a goal to do them all this week.
Put your self-worth in something bigger than yourself. While you should definitely recognize the accomplishments that make you feel like an impostor, it’s also important to put your worth into something bigger than yourself.
If you feel like a fraud for whatever reason, it might be useful to remind yourself that you’re part of a big tribe. No one is truly an impostor because we’re all somewhere on a spectrum of greatness.
It’d be a shame to let your feelings of inadequacy keep you from enjoying the good things in life that you’ve earned, so try to remember that there’s always a place for everyone’s work in the world.