OK, so now we know what it is and how you can recognize it. Then…

How Do You Change It?

Last time we looked at 5 ways the syndrome displays itself – the Perfectionist, Superhero, Natural Genius, Soloist, and Expert. From that same article, here are ways to deal with each manifestation.

Perfectionist – Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. In addition, push yourself to act before you’re ready. Force yourself to start the project you’ve been planning for months. Truth is, there will never be the “perfect time” and your work will never be 100% flawless. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.

Superhero – Imposter workaholics are actually addicted to the validation that comes from working, not to the work itself. Start training yourself to veer away from external validation. No one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself than you – even your boss when they give your project the stamp of approval. On the flip side, learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally. As you become more attuned to internal validation and able to nurture your inner confidence that states you’re competent and skilled, you’ll be able to ease off the gas as you gauge how much work is reasonable.

Natural Genius – To move past this, try seeing yourself as a work in progress. Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill-building – for everyone, even the most confident people. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviors that you can improve over time. For example, if you want to have more impact at the office, it’s much more productive to focus on honing your presentation skills than swearing off speaking up in meetings as something you’re “just not good at.”

Soloist –  Would you believe this article listed nothing to help the Soloist get out of the rut? Yeah, surprised me too. Fortunately, I found this nugget in a list of 21 ways to overcome impostor syndrome – “Realize that when you hold back you’re robbing the world. If you walk around feeling that you should be someone else or that you don’t deserve to be here then all your crappy vibes rub off on other people… Everyone has doubts, the best gift you can give the world is to move forward regardless of the doubts.” Part of that is getting the help you need, which means asking for it.

Expert – Start practicing just-in-time learning. This means acquiring a skill when you need it – for example, if your responsibilities change – rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort. Realize there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. If you don’t know how to do something, ask a co-worker. If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem, seek advice from a supportive supervisor, or even a career coach. Mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering can be a great way to discover your inner expert. When you share what you know it not only benefits others, but also helps you heal your fraudulent feelings.

I hope this doesn’t come across as “take these easy steps and everything will be great.” Clearly, the solutions are not easy. Looking at that statement that my work will never be 100% flawless makes me squirm. I suppose that’s because when I see work from people who claim to be world-class experts that is filled with spelling and grammar errors, I usually show no mercy as I mock them. I don’t mock people over 1 or 2 errors, just when there are a bunch of them. If they are conveying an obvious “I know everything” message, I go after them harder. I expect everyone to do that to me, even over one tiny error. So I review things a million times looking for the tiniest imperfections. I really need to stop that.

Additionally, Harvard Business Review lists these tips for overcoming the syndrome:

  • Recognize imposter feelings when they emerge. Awareness is the first step to change, so ensure you track these thoughts: what they are and when they emerge.
  • Rewrite your mental programs. Instead of telling yourself they are going to find you out or that you don’t deserve success, remind yourself that it’s normal not to know everything and that you will find out more as you progress.
  • Talk about your feelings. There may be others who feel like imposters too – it’s better to have an open dialogue rather than harbor negative thoughts alone
  • Consider the context. Most people will have experience moments or occasions where they don’t feel 100% confident. There may be times when you feel out of your depth and self-doubt can be a normal reaction. If you catch yourself thinking that you are useless, reframe it: “the fact that I feel useless right now does not mean that I really am.”
  • Reframe failure as a learning opportunity. Find out the lessons and use them constructively in future. This is a critical lesson for everyone.
  • Be kind to yourself. Remember that you are entitled to make small mistakes occasionally and forgive yourself. Don’t forget to reward yourself for getting the big things right.
  • Seek support. Everyone needs help: recognize that you can seek assistance and that you don’t have to do everything alone. This will give you a good reality check and help you talk things through.
  • Visualize your success. Keep your eye on the outcome – completing the task or making the presentation, which will keep you focused and calm.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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