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What Is Imposter Syndrome And How Do We Overcome It?

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

In simple terms, imposter syndrome is the feeling of believing yourself to be a fraud, meaning you achieved all your goals by dumb luck or possibly even unfair bias along the lines. Some say there are 5 different types of imposter syndrome which are;

1. The Superhero

The superhero types tend to overwork themselves to make up for how inadequate they feel.

2. The Perfectionist

Perfectionists are never completely happy with their work, and they tend to focus on only their flaws.

3. The Natural Genius

A natural genius will tend to set extremely high goals but then feel crushed when they don’t meet them.

4. The Soloist

Soloists tend to work alone and will never ask for help, fearing that they may appear weak or incompetent if they do.

5. The Expert

The expert types are never happy with their level of understanding and will constantly be on a mission to learn more.

Imposter syndrome has also been known as, the imposter phenomenon or imposter experience, it is not a disease nor an abnormality and isn’t always tied to depression, anxiety or self-esteem. Although everyone is susceptible to pluralistic ignorance, another phenomenon where we each doubt ourselves privately and believe we are the only ones who do so since people don’t tend to voice their negative thoughts towards themselves. This then makes it difficult for us to know how hard our peers work, how difficult or easy they may find certain tasks or how much they doubt themselves which makes it almost impossible to dismiss our feelings that we are less capable than others at work or elsewhere in life.

Even executives and some of the most influential people such as Albert Einstein report feelings of imposter syndrome and since 96% of people experience feelings of imposter syndrome, it is highly likely that some of your peers will also share those same experiences so it is important to remember, you are not alone. So what does imposter syndrome cause? Intense feelings of imposter syndrome can lead some employees to hold back from sharing their great ideas, more than likely fearing that their ideas aren't so great compared to everyone else’s. It can also cause some people to underachieve since they’re less likely to apply for jobs or courses that they do not think they are capable of doing even if they have the qualifications that show they’d excel.

Remembering the signs of imposter syndrome will help you not only self evaluate but also be ready to offer help to a colleague who may begin to experience the syndrome. One of the most common and obvious signs is the difficulty accepting praise, this is due to the negative internal monologue which will usually be saying quite the opposite of the praise they are receiving. When experiencing imposter syndrome it is much easier to believe our own negative thoughts than someone else’s positive ones and this can be true even without experiencing imposter syndrome, scientific research has been done on the topic of negativity that has proven our brains have developed to react to negativity stronger than positivity to keep us safe from danger, this is called the negativity bias.

Another common sign is constantly comparing themselves or their work to other employees. Although we all compare ourselves, it can develop into a habit that occurs far too often, which will then begin to develop negative feelings such as envy or low self-esteem. Perfectionists can also show signs of imposter syndrome through their desperate want to be the workplace superhero, what this means is that they will set impossibly high standards for themselves but very likely be unable to achieve it (as discussed earlier) this is what starts the toxic cycle of feeling like a failure even though their work could be outstanding.

When looking to combat imposter syndrome it’s important to remember that successes do not change the person beliefs since self-doubt has clouded their ability to assess their own competence skills, so no matter how many achievements they get, goals they meet or even awards they win, this will not be enough to combat imposter syndrome. A crucial part of any organisation is a close and friendly workplace, these help combat feelings of imposter syndrome by taking away the competitive edge and allowing employees to express ideas or concerns freely. Another strong way to overcome the syndrome is self-acceptance, of course, this isn’t easy even for someone who isn’t experiencing imposter syndrome, but it is often the lack of, that can be the cause of imposter syndrome beginning in the first place. The first step towards this can simply be taking extra time with your thoughts to try to realise, is this a fact or is it a negative opinion? If needed it can be useful to write down the thought and pick it apart, realise maybe you had only thought it because you aren't feeling so confident as of right now and you may realise the opposite is actually the truth. Additionally, although tracking progress tends to be unhelpful, an alternative could be a vision board that consists of goals already met and new ones, but don't just leave it at that. Add specifics about how you did these things well, what else did you learn or achieve through them? What makes you the best person to meet the new goals? It may be had to begin with, but over time this can become an incredibly very useful mindfulness practice.


The Modern Mind Group are emotioneering human performance not engineering it.

As people operations and performance consultants, we work with your business to identify and improve performance gaps so that you can be more profitable and professionally develop your people. Over 12 years of expertise in people operations and performance with results to back it all up. Why settle for the average when there is a world of possibility when you know how to achieve it? Untapped potential - Let's go get it!


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