A reader asks:
I experience a lot of imposter syndrome, especially at work. I constantly doubt myself and feel insecure/inadequate compared to my peers. I know it’s not true objectively, so why does it keep happening? How do I get rid of this?
When most people talk about imposter syndrome, they’re referring to how they feel…
- I feel like an imposter whenever I speak up during a work meeting.
- I just get so anxious that people think I’m dumb and incompetent.
- I feel insecure around my girlfriend because she’s so confident in social situations and I’m an anxious wreck.
If you pay attention to your own imposter syndrome, what you’ll find is that you’re naturally drawn to the feeling part of it—which makes sense… that’s the part that hurts or is uncomfortable so it’s natural to focus on it.
But here’s the thing…
You can’t stop feeling like an imposter for the simple reason that you can stop feeling anything.
Emotions are not something you have direct control over:
- There’s no button you can press to feel happy.
- There’s no dial you can adjust to feel less anxious.
- There’s no switch you can flip to stop feeling angry.
The mind doesn’t work that way.
If you want to feel less of anything long-term, you have to figure out what thought patterns are contributing to those feelings and modify them.
When it comes to imposter syndrome, it’s not like you have a virus in your brain called Imposter Virus that makes you feel anxious and insecure about your abilities relative to other people.
If you feel like an imposter it’s because you’re in the habit of thinking like an imposter.
- If you feel anxious about what other people think of you, it’s because you’re worrying about what they’re thinking of you. And worry is a mental habit that you can learn to control.
- If you feel insecure about other people being more competent than you, it’s because you’re in the mental habit of comparing yourself to other people. And that’s a habit you can change with practice.
- If you feel afraid that other people are judging you or thinking badly of you, it’s because you’re in the habit of worrying about what others think of you.
In short, the way to get over imposter syndrome is this:
Stop thinking of imposter syndrome as something that happens to you and start thinking of it as something you’re doing.
- What are my habits of thought that are producing the feeling of being an imposter?
- How can I get better at A) catching myself in unhelpful ways of thinking, and B) focus on more helpful and balanced ways of thinking?
Mindfulness training can be very helpful for this.