feeling like a fraud: the secret sense of imposter syndrome and mindful thinking

Who hasn't felt like they were out of place or not able to live up to others' expectations? Who finds them self asking "what if?" Many, and actually most people, do experience these feelings at one time or another.

This feeling and thinking is often associated to Imposter Syndrome. This is a term phrased by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 and refers to high achieving individuals who internalize their achievements and accomplishments and display a persistent worry of being exposed for not knowing as much as they think others think they know. It is often associated to feeling like a fraud. There is often a feeling of not beingas smart or talented as people think. Often there is a feeling of not being deserving or experienced in the area, skill, or task being undertaken, completed or lead.

A lot of the “what if” statements are connected with this kind of experience. So, for example, in relation to having to performor be in front of peers or an audience (such as lead a meeting, deliver a pitch, give a speech), we can hear comments such as:

 

what if I don’t know as much as what the audience does?

what if the audience think I am no good?

what if the audience do not listen to me?

what if my peers walk out on me in the middle of my presentation?

what if I can’t answer the questions at the end of my presentation?

what if my art work isn’t what people like?

what if people don’t like my writing?

what if I make a mistake?

what if I forget my words?

what if I fall over and people think I look unprofessional?

what if I can’t do this?

what if people don’t think I know what I’m talking about?

what if I am doing this wrong?

 

I’m sure you can add many more that you may have said to yourself or heard others saying to you.  

 

Imposter syndrome is not uncommon. Research indicates that this secret sense is experienced by three quarters of people at least once in their life. The feeling of not being able to meet others' expectations is a key driver. We often see that feedback provided formally or informally can be seen as failure or mistakes. In this case an individual can feel that they are not good enough and unsure of what they are doing. Often one feels like they can not live up to others’ expectations and that the feedback provided is an attack on their skills or knowledge. These feelings are internalised and feed into feelings of failure and thinking that success is based on luck or timing, not one's own expertise, experiences, knowledge or skills. 

 

Certain situations can trigger this feeling, especially taking on a new role or being paced in a situation where you are central to an event, for example leading a business pitch, put your art work on display at an exhibition, or sharing your writing with an editor. 

 

The fear of being revealed can cause incredible stress for some. The unrealistic expectations on self can comprise success and confidence and it is important to be self aware of setting realistic expectations. Learning how to manage these feelings is important.  

 

"In small doses, feelings of inadequacy may not be a bad thing, because they remind us to work on building our competency” (Sherman, 2013, p.57). This is when thinking about and actioning can support lifting through the impact on self and your performance an individual no matter what field you come from. Think about these mindful approaches:

 

Identify your own self talk - what are your patterns? what are your triggers? what do you find empowering? what do you find restricting? what are your self sabotaging behaviours? List these in a safe place.

Note your strengths. A mind map is great for this. At the centre is you. Then branch off with your strengths and how you contribute to the task, event or situation. Celebrate these. Be proud and be excited by what you bring. It is good to remember here that we often underestimate

Have a conversation with a trusted friend and ask them, what is it that they see as your strengths? What is it that they admire about you? What do you learn from you? You will be delightfully surprised as how much your peeps think so positively about you and see your worries as strengths. 

Accept perfectionism is unrealistic. This is costly on your own mental health and confidence. Approach your performance situations as progress and it is best you don’t approach them in a way that they have to be perfect. It is impossible to be mistake free, and to know all in that moment. We can still have high standards and set intentions for ourselves but they need to be in perspective and without shame, insecurity, and impact on self-esteem. Remember everything is a learning experience, and no matter what you will still be loved, appreciated, and acknowledged for your contributions. 

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Move through your fears and by acknowledging them and being self aware your fears can become new challenges that can be managed as you practice and set the right intentions for yourself. 

Be honest and open to always learn. There are times when there are steep learning curves and moments where you can consolidate as you build skills for your performance. Be open to the experience and what you will learn. 

It takes times. No need to rush, be open to the time to develop your skills.

Be open to feedback. Take the chance to receive feedback as your grow and develop.

Be inspired by your social media networks but don’t set your expectations and intentions to what you see. Be realistic about what you engage with and how this impacts you and your learning curve.

Express gratitude to yourself and your successes. Try this at the end of the day. Record it in a safe place like a journal or an app. This allows you to flick through and see how over time you are building a positive attitude towards your development and approach to performance anxiety and the stress associated to this.