Editor’s note: I am delighted to have AMP (Associate Mentoring Plus) coach Rob DeToni joining the writing team here at Attorney With A Life with this insightful first article about handling imposter syndrome. Something most of us experience from time to time!
Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve your success? That your achievements are just down to dumb luck from just being in the right place at the right time? That you are not as talented or as smart as other think you are? That one day you will be exposed as a fraud? If you do, chances are that you are suffering from impostor syndrome.
Don’t worry though, you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of people experience imposter feelings at some point in their lives (Abigail Abrams: Yes, Impostor Syndrome is Real. Here’s How to Deal with It. June 20, 2018: Time.com). Even people that you would expect not to be suffering from such a condition have experienced it, like Michele Obama. Consider her quote below:
“I still have a little imposter syndrome…It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
So, what can you do about it? Simply performing well is not going to get you out of thinking like you’re an imposter. After all, you will probably just attribute your good performance to dumb luck. Therefore, you need to take active steps. The following are some suggestions.
Be Mindful of Your Thoughts.
Often times we get so caught up in a spiral of negative thinking that we don’t even notice we are perpetuating. Be aware of what you are thinking in the present moment because it is in that awareness that you can start the process of changing those repetitive thoughts. However, that’s not to say that you should “fight” the negative thought since the more you fight it, the more attention and energy it draws from you. Rather, allow yourself to be a passive observer of what’s going on inside your head without judging it as “good” or “bad”. They are just thoughts, and you can choose to react to them and allow them to dictate your day, or you can choose to let them be and go on with you plans in spite of them. A mindfulness/mediation practice will definitely help with figuring out how to do this.
Reframe the Discussion in Your Head.
Reframe the Discussion in Your Head by listing your abilities and accomplishments. Once you become aware that you are in that moment of self doubt, make a list of all the things that you are good at and the things that you have accomplished. Ask yourself questions such as: When have I taken on a new task and was successful? When have I argued a motion before court before and was successful, or argued particularly well? What did I do to make sure I was successful? How hard did I work to accomplish my success? If you dig deep enough and give it an honest assessment, you will find that there a number of things that you excel at and that there are a number of things that you have accomplished through hard work and applying yourself – it wasn’t all luck!
Decide to Accept that You Are Good Enough.
You choose how to think, and you can change your thoughts. But, like anything else, just telling yourself one time that you are good enough is not going to be enough. You may not realize this, but we think anywhere between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. Of those thoughts, up to 90% are repetitive and up to 80% are negative (Kristen Willeumier, PH. D. Biohack Your Brain: How to Boost Cognitive Health, Performance & Power, pg.167-169). So, this means that it’s more natural for us to think negatively than positively. So, if you want to change this pattern and get better at thinking positively about yourself, like anything else in life, you have to practice.
You may be asking yourselves: How do I practice thinking that I am good enough? Start with a daily positive affirmation practice. It will help you start programing your mind to think more positively about yourself. I can tell you from my own experience that combining it with the other techniques that I have described in this article has worked wonders for me. My impostor syndrome moments are now much fewer and far between than they were, and when they do come up, they are much easier to overcome since I know that I’ve done it before.
Change How You View Mistakes.
Treat mistakes as a learning experience and tell yourself that you will do better next time. Be passionate about learning and realize that it takes time to get good at something. As babies, we did not stop trying to walk after the first time we fell. Rather, we kept trying with unbridled enthusiasm and until we got the job done. So, act like a baby, get back up and try it again. Sometimes you just have to let your backside do one of its jobs, and fall on it a few times, before you get something right.
Change the Way you Critique Yourself.
We are often our own worst critics. Think about the last time you did something – how did your inner discussion go? Was it something like – “Wow, that was terrible! I did this wrong. I did that wrong. I am so bad at this.” Stop judging yourself in a negative manner and instead say something more positive like: “I argued that part of the motion really well and here is how I can improve and do it even better next time.” This will put you in a more positive frame of mind and will motivate you to work on improving in the areas you need to.
Next Time You Accomplish Something, Celebrate!
We often fail to stop and savour our own accomplishments. This reinforces our negative thinking that we don’t really deserve our success. So, the next time you accomplish something, take the time to celebrate it without that negative self-talk. Pat yourself on the back, go to your favourite restaurant, or eat your favourite ice cream. Celebrate in a way that is personal to you and don’t minimize your accomplishment.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.
Comparison is a zero-sum game. I guarantee you that, in your own eyes, you are always going to find someone that you consider to be smarter than you or “better” than you. Accept the fact that each one of us has our own unique abilities and talents and it’s a good thing that we’re not all of the same. Think of all of the wonderful different things in this world that were created because a bunch of people with different abilities and talents got together and shared their thoughts and ideas.
In the same vein, release your thinking that you ought to “be” a certain way because that’s the way society thinks that you ought to be. There are enough examples of societal assumptions that turned out to be horribly incorrect, that we need to be constantly questioning them, against our own inner compass and values.
Share Your Feelings.
Share how you are feeling with someone you trust, like a friend or a trusted mentor. It helps to talk about it and to know that you are not alone in these experiences. Also, they can help give you a realistic assessment of your capabilities. If it’s a persistent ongoing feeling that you struggle with, then consider seeking the help of a professional.
Struggling with developing your resilience? I’ve been there. Feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com and I can help you on your path to improving your resilience.
*I would like to acknowledge all of the following whose readings and ideas contributed to the thoughts and ideas expressed in this article:
Louise Hay. You Can Heal Your Life (1999: Hay House Inc.).
Arlin Cuncic. What is Impostor Syndrome? (February 26, 2021: verywellmind.com).
Abigail Abrams. Yes, Impostor Syndrome is Real. Here’s How to Deal with It (June 20, 2018: Time.com).
Mind Tools Content Team. Impostor Syndrome: Facing Fears of Inadequacy and Self-Doubt (Mind Tools.com).
Jennifer Litner. How to Handle Impostor Syndrome (September 29, 2020, medicalnewstoday.com).