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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt

Updated: Jan 24



Have you ever felt like a fraud? Like maybe you don't belong or that your friends or colleagues will discover your incompetence? You're not alone. Many people have experienced something called “imposter syndrome” at some point in their lives.


Imposter syndrome is an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you. While this syndrome is not a diagnostic classification, but rather a group of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, it can significantly impact your emotional functioning.


In the book Own Your Greatness, authors Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin developed the 3 C’s: Clarify, Choose, and Create strategy that may help you to get rid of imposter syndrome and overcome self-doubt.


First phase: Clarify


If you have imposter syndrome, it’s more than likely that you repeat negative stories to yourself. You might think you're incompetent, and you’re probably not able to experience an internal feeling of success.


In the Clarify phase, you have an opportunity to tell yourself a different story. Start by using these tools:


Clarify Tool #1: Understand your origin story


By gaining insight, you can begin to understand the possible root causes of imposter syndrome. Try answering the following questions:

  • When did you first become aware of the imposter’s feelings?

  • Was your sibling or close family member deemed as the “intelligent” member of the family?

  • Did your parents convince you that you were superior?

  • Is achievement, especially in academic or professional settings, highly valued in your family?

Clarify Tool #2: Know your triggers


The next step is identifying the situations which increase your imposter syndrome feelings. One of the most typical triggers are:

  • You are placed in a new situation. For example, if you are promoted to a new position, you may start to doubt your ability to handle the new role.

  • You got a compliment. Your impostor syndrome thoughts might lead you to believe that the person is “just being nice.”

  • You started a new relationship. You may doubt how much your new partner values you or cares about you.

Clarify Tool #3: Write an expressive letter


When you reflect and realize where the initial feeling of fraudulence or incompetence comes from, try writing a letter to the person you see as integral to the development of your imposter syndrome.

  • The letter should be handwritten.

  • Do not censor yourself.

  • Include a statement of forgiveness.

  • Read the letter out loud to someone you trust.

  • Destroy the letter.

Writing an expressive letter can be a powerful tool to let go and move forward, and that’s what you need to do before you take on the next step.


Second phase: Choose


The Choose phase is about taking actionable steps to get rid of imposter syndrome. It involves speaking your truth, recognizing your strengths, silencing negative thoughts, and combating perfectionism.


Choose Tool #1: Speak your truth


When you experience imposter syndrome, that feeling is often experienced in solitude. You might feel like you're the only one going through this, and therefore, no one will understand.


Try to weaken the imposter syndrome symptoms by speaking your truth and getting more support to battle it.

  • Admit and verbalize your imposter syndrome anxieties and fears to someone you trust. Let that person know what triggers you.

  • Make him or her your accountability partner. Think about how often you want them to reach out to you. How will your accountability partner keep track of your thoughts or behaviors?

Choose Tool #2: Recognize your strengths


It's essential to acknowledge your efforts and their results – even those you might have considered minor in the past.

  • Name three hidden accomplishments that you have not discussed, shared, or identified before.

  • Describe the skills that you used to meet those accomplishments. If you feel stuck, ask a trusted family member or friend for some ideas to get you started.

  • Name your strengths. Add the reasons why you have dismissed these strengths in the past.

Choose Tool #3: Silence automatic negative thoughts


Automatic negative thoughts are beliefs that immediately come to your consciousness when triggered. They serve to diminish your self-confidence and abilities. Try silencing negative thoughts by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What evidence leads me to make a pessimistic prediction? When was the last time such a negative prediction came true?

  • What is the cost or benefit of labeling myself negatively?

  • What is the data to support my interpretation of what someone is thinking of me?

  • What leads me to have a negative conclusion about what someone is thinking about me?

  • How appropriate is it to compare myself to another person? What might make such a comparison unfair or inaccurate?

  • If I am not perfect, am I truly a fraud? Are there other ways to look at the situation? Are there shades of gray that I should consider? If so, what are they?

Choose Tool #4: Combat perfectionism


When dealing with imposter syndrome, you might feel that you have no room for mistakes. You begin to think that the only option is to work more and strive for perfection, and that can lead to exhaustion and burnout.


To combat your perfectionism and shift your mindset, consider the following strategies:

  • Focus on “good enough” not “perfect”.

  • Be proud and accepting of your humanity.

  • Only compare yourself to you.

  • Ease the unrealistic standards.

  • Appreciate mistakes because they provide opportunities for growth.

  • Realize that perfection is unattainable, and reaching for it will make you feel like a failure (which you’re not).

When the perfectionist feels like a fraud

In one study, researchers examined the relationship between perfectionism and the imposter syndrome.


The research participants were psychology students who completed self-report questionnaires.


The questionnaires consisted of items to be rated on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). They were the Perfectionism Inventory (PI) and the Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale (CIPS). The PI is a measure of perfectionism that consists of 8 dimensions: concern over mistakes, high standards for others, need for approval, organization, parental pressure, planfulness, rumination, and striving for excellence. CIPS is a measure of the degree to which one tends to think like an imposter and reflects the frequency of imposter syndrome symptoms.


The study showed that perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Specifically, results showed that imposter syndrome seems related to perfectionistic tendencies associated with self-evaluation but not those related to conscientiousness. The self-evaluative aspects of perfectionism most related to imposter syndrome were: concern over mistakes, need for approval, and rumination.

Final phase: Create


The Create phase focuses on designing the conditions for your optimal performance.


Create Tool #1: Experiment with new roles


Out of fear of being exposed as a fraud, you might wind up being locked into a very limited dynamic in your work and personal relationships.


Try experimenting with new roles. For example, if you’re usually the one trying to help people, try asking your friends for advice with a minor problem at work instead.


Taking on new or different roles can broaden your perspective. That way, you can combat your imposter syndrome components that are less creative and flexible, and enforce rigidity, vulnerability, and lack of visibility.


Create Tool #2: Establish your dream team


Imposter syndrome might make you think that you should do things without help. But you don't have to do everything on your own for success to be legitimate.


In fact, the solitary nature often induces negative thoughts and behaviors. Consider teaming up with people who can help you get rid of self-doubt:

  • Find a mentor who can provide guidance and a nudge as you combat imposter syndrome. The mentor should be a senior to you in their accomplishments and good at giving constructive feedback.

  • Consider a therapist. In some cases, one of the most important team members should be a licensed therapist. Especially in the beginning, when you're trying to establish healthy habits and skills.

The goal is to have someone who will help you to put things in perspective. Someone who will make sure that doubt doesn't control your actions.


Summary


Imposter syndrome can feed feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and frustration. By following the 3C'S strategy (Clarify, Choose, and Create) you may ease the symptoms and gain control over your life.


First phase: Clarify


Clarify Tool #1: Understand your origin story

Clarify Tool #2: Know your triggers

Clarify Tool #3: Write an expressive letter


Second phase: Choose


Choose Tool #1: Speak your truth

Choose Tool #2: Recognize your strengths

Choose Tool #3: Silence automatic negative thoughts

Choose Tool #4: Combat perfectionism


Final phase: Create


Create Tool #1: Experiment with new roles

Create Tool #2: Establish your dream team


If you still have imposter syndrome thoughts and feelings, don't get discouraged. The goal is not to never feel like a fraud – the goal is to get tools and insights to talk yourself down faster. And while you may have an imposter moment, you can still have a successful life.

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