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PERFORMANCE & PRODUCTIVITY

Feeling Like a Fraud? 5+1 Steps to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome

May 20, 2021, 5-min. read
5+1 Steps to Overcome the Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome, also known as perceived fraudulence, is no news – but what it certainly is – is bad news. You may have already heard of it, or even be experiencing it. After all, some studies say that up to 85% of people sometimes feel it at work, and with the massive use of home office nowadays it can be even more prevalent.

So - what is impostor syndrome?

The definition defines impostor syndrome as an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in the belief that all your accomplishments are due to chance or luck, and that you are in fact incapable. That doesn’t mean it never seems to you that luck played a bigger role than your capabilities from time to time, this isn’t a disorder. But if such a feeling prevails despite objective facts and if additionally you’re worried that surely it will soon be discovered and others will find out you’re just a fraud, it starts getting serious. Such feelings can deprive you of sleep, peace-of-mind, and well-being; you’re living in permanent stress and fear of being exposed.

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Where does it come from?

Even famous and successful people can’t evade impostor syndrome. It’s actually the other way around.

Researchers associate impostor syndrome with low self-esteem, perfectionism, high demands on oneself, inability to accept praise, severe unjustifiably critical behavior or, on the contrary, exaggerated undeservedly praising behavior.

The fact is that impostor syndrome may also be due to the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect. The fact that it often affects extremely capable and successful people is proof of that. Mr. Dunning and Mr. Kruger discovered that people who are exceptionally incompetent have an unreasonably high opinion of themselves. They are often so incompetent that they cannot distinguish between good and bad performance. In practice you can see them, for example, as the celebrated losers in singing competitions. It's a mystery how those people could be so convinced they are great singers when their singing makes your ears hurt. Unfortunately, the Dunning-Kruger effect also works the opposite way. The better and more exceptional you are at something, the more sensitively and critically you perceive how much you still lack to achieve perfection. This bothers you and you underestimate your abilities, unlike the majority of people who can’t even distinguish such small flaws.

What to do about it?

In any case, if you are suffering from impostor syndrome, know that there are ways to deal with it. And if the tips below don't help, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist or find a therapist.

1. Don't be ashamed to confide in others

Don't be afraid to share your feelings with someone you trust and respect and who will listen to you. First off, it can give you objective and valuable feedback, and you may also find that even people you look up to sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome. You may learn you are far from alone, and it will also help you gain a little insight.

2. Don't compare yourself to the best

This advice may sound a little backwards. All our lives we hear that by comparing ourselves to the average we’ll go nowhere and that we should follow the example of the best. This can undoubtedly be motivational and developmental. But if you use an unattainable role model, there’s a risk you will never be satisfied with yourself and will continually be confronted with your incompetence. It’s the same as a graduate who would like to compare him or herself to the CEO immediately after getting their first job and then struggle with the fact that they’re not like them. At times like these remember the Dunning-Kruger effect. Appreciate your ability to see the difference (meaning you have the potential to be truly exceptional) and steel yourself with patience. Becoming a general simply takes a while, it also takes experience and time, and it can’t be rushed.

All our lives we hear that by comparing ourselves to the average we’ll go nowhere and that we should follow the example of the best.

3. Try to accept yourself even with your mistakes

People are imperfect and making mistakes is human. That’s a fact. You can’t change it. And the fact that we don't know something, aren’t able to do something, or make a mistake doesn’t impede or reduce our abilities and skills. Quite the reverse, mistakes can be a great path to further development. They are useful and help us advance. So learn to love your mistakes and be glad when they move you forward.

4. Give things a positive framework

People often tend to limit themselves in terms of failure: I can’t make a mistake, I can’t disappoint, I can’t ruin it. As a result they are under a lot of pressure. Fear of failure can make them put things off unnecessarily and procrastinate. On top of that, by thinking about mistakes there is a greater chance that they will actually make them. Go ahead and try walking down a few flights of stairs while concentrating on not losing your footing and tripping. Most likely you will feel completely clumsy by the time you get to the bottom. You’ll realize that you’ve never had a worse time on the stairs, and you may even misstep several times or have to grab the rail to avoid tumbling.

So try to frame tasks and goals positively. Instead of "I can’t make a mistake", think about how you’ll do everything necessary to work things out and plan exactly what that will be. Also think about what it will be like when you're done. In the stairs comparison, imagine all the way down that you are thinking of the awesome things that await you at the bottom and in the world at large. Then you can run down the stairs easily and completely involuntarily without a single hesitation.

5. Become a collector of your achievements

If you see only shortcomings in yourself, and when you do succeed in something you’re convinced that you were only lucky, it’s high time to start making a list of your successes.

If anyone says anything nice about you, find it and keep it in a visible place. Sit down and write out your successes. For each of them, state what made them happen. And when you run out of external reasons; coincidence, luck, favorable circumstances, keep the pencil in your hand and write down what is behind them from your side (effort, preparation, time you put into it, experience, ideas…).

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6. Bubbles – an excellent remedy for - and deterrent against - impostor syndrome

If taking a relaxing bubble bath or having a bottle of chilled sparkling wine comes to mind after reading the title, then you’ve missed the point. Both are definitely nice, but with impostor syndrome they probably won't be of much use.

Many outstanding people are needlessly bothered and afflicted by impostor syndrome. We also know the tips above are useful for such people, but they seldom truly implement them. Writing their successes seems embarrassing and inappropriate, and they consider positive feedback to be buttering up. These are just some of the reasons why we came up with Bubbles.

Bubbles by LutherOne allow you to appreciate others and tell them what you think makes them unique. They are simple, fast, playful form of feedback. It’s like a game. Game that helps you and your colleagues understand their strengths, soft & hard skills, and much more. Curious? Your first Bubble is just a click away.

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