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    How to overcome imposter syndrome


    Many life coaching clients come to me because they’re wanting to overcome imposter syndrome. The first step is learning to identify your imposter type and once you’ve done that, learning to change the way you interact with yourself.

    If you’ve ever minimised your accomplishments and considered them to have been the result of luck rather than competence, or if you’ve ever had to fight the persistent fear that you’re a fraud who’s going to be uncovered at any second, then you’ve experienced imposter syndrome.

    Dr Valerie Young, internationally-known expert on how to overcome imposter syndrome and author of award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It has spent decades studying these feelings.

    She notes that in high achievers, imposter syndrome is the tendency we have to ‘discount or diminish obvious evidence of our abilities’. Dr Young has categorised five different types of people who suffer from imposter syndrome.

    What’s your imposter syndrome style?

    The first type is the Perfectionist, whose focus is on how something is done. Perfectionists set unrealistic standards for how something should turn out, and they believe failing to meet those standards is confirmation that they don’t belong.

    The second type, the Expert, is like the Perfectionist, but their main concern is around what they know. They expect themselves to know ‘everything’ about the arena in which they are operating. Anything that exposes that they don’t know ‘everything’ leads to a sense of failure and shame.

    The Soloist is the third type. They are focused on the who. In order to feel worthy of an achievement or accolade, they need to have done it all by themselves. They believe if they require help, then they’re not deserving.

    The fourth type in Young’s categorisations is the Natural Genius, who cares deeply about how and when accomplishments occur. If it takes more than one attempt for them to master a skill, or deliver an outcome, they feel a deep sense of failure and shame.

    And then there is the Superwoman/Superman/Super Student. These people measure their competence on how many roles they can excel at. If they are shining at work but falling short as a parent, they feel like a fraud. These people feel they should be exceptional at every role in their life all at the same time.

    You are not alone

    No matter which of these types you are, (and you may be more than one or even have aspects of all three) you’re not alone.

    It’s been estimated that over 70 per cent of people will experience imposter syndrome at some time in their lives and the irony is that people who feel like imposters are usually anything but. They’re more often than not the highest achievers.

    In order to overcome imposter syndrome, you need to stop thinking like an imposter. Start to recognise the thoughts that trigger you specifically. This will help you understand which of the five categories you best fit into, making it easier to catch imposter syndrome when it rears its head.

    Reframing your imposter mindset

    Once you have this awareness, try to set the bar of ‘competence’ at a more realistic level and reframe your self-critical thoughts. Over time, you’ll find that thinking differently will help you overcome imposter syndrome and choose behaviours that are more likely to boost your confidence.

    • Remind yourself that non-imposters seek constant improvement, not because they see themselves as flawed but because they see the benefits of continued learning.
    • Start to view constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve, rather than proof of your defectiveness.
    • Remember that mastering a new skill takes time. Not being good at something initially doesn’t mean you’re inept – it simply means you need more practice.
    • Keep in mind that no matter how good you are, no one does everything perfectly all the time. It’s okay to have setbacks and to make mistakes. It’s how you respond to them that counts.
    • Also, remember that it’s okay to not know the answer to some questions.
    • Not feeling confident about a certain task doesn’t mean you lack confidence overall. It only means you’re not confident in this one area (and maybe you don’t need to be).
    • When you do have a setback, make a mistake or experience embarrassment, use mindfulness and self-compassion as you allow for your disappointment.

    This is an extract from Kate’s new book, Change Your Thinking to Change Your Life. Order your copy here.

    Posted in: Self-belief
    Kate James

    About the author

    Kate James is an author, coach and mindfulness teacher. She works with female leaders and business owners to help them clarify their values and strengths and discover a mindset that allows them to live confident, purposeful lives.