Reset Your Mindset to Tackle Imposter Syndrome

Mariel Witmond
Mariel Witmond

23 September, 2022

With summer coming to a close, September seems to be the month to reassess what we want and to reset our mindset in order to achieve it. Getting ready for the last four months of the year can create a lot of anxiety for many, which is why focussing on tools for the right frame of mind matters to avoid unnecessary stress and burnout. So when it comes to our mindset, what’s holding us back?

There is often a divide between who we see ourselves as and who we think we need to be in order to achieve what we want. The challenge most of us are confronted with is that limiting beliefs are easier to believe, boundaries are scary to implement, and fear tends to dominate our actions. What ends up happening is that we become high achievers who struggle to internalise our success or we have big dreams but then question who we are to achieve them. In other words, imposter syndrome trips us up before we’ve really even gotten started.

I spent 11 years in the entertainment industry. I was in my 20’s and as a young female climbing the ladder of so-called success I regularly doubted my position, my ability, and my accomplishments. I couldn’t seem to get to where I was going fast enough. My people pleasing and perfectionist tendencies were at an all time high. It’s little surprise that after 11 years I was burnt-out, struggling with stress induced illnesses and health conditions that impaired my quality of life.

Studies carried out in the US suggest that 70% of people struggle with imposter syndrome, and most suffer in silence not wanting to be called out for the presumed frauds they believe themselves to be. Signs that you are experiencing imposter syndrome include: frequent self-doubt, an inability to own your accomplishments (you attribute your success to things outside of your control), self-sabotage, fear of what others think, feeling undeserving of what you have, never doing enough, and an inability to make mistakes – to name a few.

Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on Imposter Syndrome, created 5 personality types to describe imposter syndrome in high achievers, which can be useful in identifying behaviours that limit our full potential. You may find you fit into one, several or all of these:

  • Perfectionists tend to have unrealistic expectations and feel that any trace of not getting things 100% right or not being the best, puts into question our capabilities and competence, sending us into a spiral of self doubt and often self loathing. 
  • Experts feel that they need to be fully qualified and know as much as possible before they put themselves out there, often signing up for countless courses and trainings to further their learning, not wanting to appear dumb in front of someone who might be more qualified than them.
  • The Natural Genius feels that if they have to actually work towards something, then it means they just aren’t good enough. The more effort they need to put into something, the more this validates them as a fraud. 
  • Soloists feel the need to do everything on their own and should they have to seek help then they are not worthy. 
  • Supermen/women work harder than those around them in order to prove that they’ve got what it takes. They must succeed at everything to prove their worth, often resulting in exhaustion and a busy=success outlook. 

Arguably this is just a part of the human experience. We become who we think we need to be in order to have our basic needs met. But what we adopted to “survive” in our childhood could be what is hindering our ability to thrive as adults. 

The only way to address imposter syndrome is to learn how to stop thinking as one. Here are 7 ways you can start:

  1. Recognise how it feels. Catch the signs which includes feelings of insecurity, anxiety, self doubt, lack of confidence, fear of judgement, or not feeling good enough. It begins with awareness and we can use these feelings as cues to then implement tools that help us reframe our thoughts. 
  2. Separate fact from fabrication. Our brains are really good at misconstruing information. When you start to feel like an imposter, challenge those beliefs. Remember that everything starts with awareness, so notice when those thoughts start to arise and get curious. What are you scared of? Is your thought 100% true? Can you find ways to contradict it? When you spot the lie, it loses its hold over you. 
  3. Meet yourself with compassion. Remember that everyone had to start somewhere, and that’s usually at the beginning! We all need to go through the trials and tribulations that make up our journey, but that’s also where all the juicy bits happen. Don’t try to skip the journey. Don’t lose sight of the now, or how far you have already come, for a future destination whose finish line keeps getting drawn further and further away as we get closer to our original goal. “Not knowing something doesn’t make you a fraud, it makes you a student.” Marie Forleo 
  4. Stop making excuses. Excuses are an easy way to not do the hard thing, but you need to make that next difficult decision to move forward. Planning can become just another form of procrastination. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before you take that next step. Press send. Hit the button. Take that first step. The excuses stop here.
  5. Build up your confidence. When we come at things from a place of authenticity, with a sense of belonging that starts with ourselves, and a connection to our why, confidence comes naturally. But many of us are very disconnected from these and place value on the wrong things. This is where having a life coach can be really beneficial to help you get out of your own way. And remember, just because you need help doesn’t mean you are an imposter!
  6. Reframe your negative thoughts. When your inner critic starts telling you you can’t, remind yourself you can. Take thoughts like “everything has been done already” and turn it to “there is always room for what is uniquely me” or “everyone is so much further ahead than me” to “their success is just a reflection of my own potential.” You can also create a jar full of the positive things you’ve done, your accomplishments, things people have said – and when you have doubts, pull from the jar.
  7. Use visualisation and affirmations. We have an incredible power to visualise situations invisible to the eye. Unfortunately, we overuse this creative ability to imagine the countless ways things could go wrong. We do it to prepare and protect ourselves from the worst when in reality, that can’t be done. Our thoughts and energy become wasted on things that can only create fear and anxiety towards the unknown. It’s time to start using visualisations for the good things we want in life. What would you like to happen in your life? What do you want your life to look like a year from now? Create it in detail, with specifics. Write it down. Allow the universe to conspire with you in achieving it. And use affirmations that you can repeat to yourself regularly to help you find confidence.
  8. Face it till you make it, don’t fake it. Competency takes time. You don’t have to know everything, you just need to keep showing up. Do what matters to you even when your mind is challenging your capability. You know the saying feel the fear and do it anyways? Well, get to know your fears and get comfortable being with them.

The funny thing with imposter syndrome is that we all experience it to varying degrees – even that person you look up to and aspire to become. It can help to remember you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch, to try something new, to get it wrong, to put yourself out there, to believe in your own potential. Know and understand your fears so that you can learn to sit with them without allowing them to control your actions. 

We are all students in this journey called life, so if there is one thing you can do as we make our way towards the end of another year – it’s to work on your mindset. Our brains are wired for survival, but we have the power to rewire our brains for happiness. Instead of focussing on what the rest of the world is doing or thinking, focus on you. There’s no better time than now to do it.

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