Do I belong here? Who am I to be doing this sort of work? I feel like a fraud, though I’m not doing anything wrong, but sometimes this feels wrong.
Dealing with imposter syndrome can be confusing. Someone who is feeling like an imposter may have these thoughts and emotions, one side telling you that you’re a fraud and the other working to rationalize the situation.
Note: Imposter syndrome is not an official psychiatric diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (DSM-5).
Who can be affected?
It’s common to have these thoughts of feeling like a fraud in an academic or work setting. Many people, both women and men, including experts in their field, will experience it. People in the helping and healing fields, like mental health professionals, also go through this. They may think something along the lines of, why do people come to ME for support with their issues?
Graduate students may experience this imposter sensation because they are at an in-between phase of professional development. They tend to feel unprepared and don’t fully acknowledge their strengths as they begin their career.
Why does this happen?
People will feel like they’re lacking a certain skill to get the job done. Realistically, people who are working in a constantly evolving field are sharpening their skills and learning new ones quite frequently to keep up with new technologies and research findings. There is an infinite amount of information to learn and an equal amount of skillful work to be done.
Remember, nobody is perfect and mistakes will be made, especially when someone is stepping into a new career. Not only should people acknowledge that their skills need dialed in, people need to also acknowledge their strengths.
The people who don’t acknowledge their capabilities and efforts tend to attribute their accomplishments to external causes, like luck, good timing, or effort that they can’t regularly expend.
If you are having difficulty pinpointing your strengths
If someone is struggling to recognize their strengths, a good way to figure out what those are is to schedule some time with a pen and paper and reflect on times that you handled something well.
What was the problem?
How did you handle it?
What were your strengths?
How can you use those strengths now?
Another way of finding strengths is to list achievements.
What short-term goals have you accomplished? These can be as simple as time management or maintaining a weekly schedule.
What long-term goals have you accomplished?
What were your strengths?
How can you use those now?
Journaling about talent that you use in school or on the job may be useful.
If someone is still having difficulty thinking of their strengths, they can ask someone whom they are close to, who knows them well, and are comfortable asking that person to list three things that they are good at. Next, the person should take those three things and journal about times they used those characteristics, and lastly, how to apply them in the present. Everyone has things they’re good at.
Recognizing expertise is important. People tend to be overly self-critical, on a level that is self-defeating or unhelpful. Over time, this behavior is destructive and likely smothering out productivity. If someone is working in Information Technology (IT) and they recognize a weakness in a skill, instead of playing into unhelpful thoughts, remembering what what one does well and playing to their strengths will combat this. It’s important to strengthen the weaker skill, but the person also must recall that they are good at. If the IT worker has strong communication and group work skills, then simply highlighting those should help. One can’t always be good at everything. Then, they can communicate to their team where they need assistance in getting the job done.
Pressure to achieve
Pressure to achieve comes from many places. People experience pressure to perform at a higher level from their peers, colleagues, managers, themselves, and messages from society (Think about the American culture, where it is practically a badge of honor to be overworked. This is an unhealthy habit.). Society’s message is that we must always achieve.
Research shows that certain people are more susceptible to fraudulent feelings stemming from their family’s beliefs on achievement and how parents praised or criticized their child.
One thing to be mindful of when going through imposter syndrome is perfectionism. People will attempt to do everything perfectly and might have an “all-or-nothing” mindset. Being aware and weary of perfectionism is important because it can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. “All-or-nothing” thinking is a cognitive distortion and should be reframed (Refer to the cognitive reframing article on how to reframe unhelpful thoughts into helpful ones).
We don’t always like to ask for help, a lot of times we’ll wait until we’re feeling completely overwhelmed by emotions and stress. While there are multiple reasons that we might behave this way, such as fear of failure or rejection, for example… however, this article isn’t about that. Let’s get right to the point. Ask for help when you know you’re stuck vs spinning your wheels and wearing down. Find out why and how.
The video below has more details, I hope you like it, literally!
Who can help?
There are many support, helping, and healing professionals out there: medical professionals; birthing coaches; personal trainers; dietitians; chiropractors; physical therapists; occupational therapists; mental health professionals; running coaches; life coaches; business coaches; financial planners; attorneys…
Turn to your network, coworkers, family, and friends, and begin to just look and see who might be able to help or who knows someone who can help. When we need a helping hand with something, we’re in a vulnerable place and sometimes asking for a hand might involve sensitive information. As you look for someone to help, be aware of confidentiality, protect your privacy.
Possible signs of needing assistance
There is a wide range of signs and symptoms that point in the direction that you should ask for help. Depending on your situation, you may experience tension in your body, stress build up, upsetting emotions arise, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, distress tolerance lowers, self-defeating thoughts, mental breakdowns… this can quickly start sounding like a commercial reciting the side effects of a meditation.
Go with your gut instinct and ask for help when you realize that you need it. Avoid the side effects.
Why you should ask for a hand
Don’t put off seeking help because sometimes symptoms will worsen. In some cases, the longer we spin our wheels, the further we sink down in the mud, the harder it is to get back out. The mud flies everywhere and then, blankets things around you. The longer we are stuck and sinking down, the greater the risk of other areas of our lives have at becoming harmed.
Keep in mind, this is incredibly important with mental health, that it is easier to be treated the sooner you seek help from a mental health professional. The sooner you reach out, the sooner you can feel relief.
Even if you haven’t felt stuck for long, still consider reaching out. It’s better to ask a question, to have a second opinion or additional set of eyes on something than going alone.
Possible benefits of a helping hand, a second opinion, and another set of eyes
By taking action, we create the opportunity to grow personally and develop professionally. There is much to learn from other people. They have different opinions, experiences, and expertise.
Overcome the risks you feel that are keeping you down by taking a chance [By the way, sometimes the risks aren’t actually there, but our minds tell us they are. For example, making a mountain out of a mole hill. Our thoughts are catastrophizing. This is a part of cognitive distortions.] The benefits of getting help typically greatly outweigh the potential risks.
Some potential benefits are accelerating towards achieving goals, learning something new, becoming more flexible seeing from another person’s perspective, lessening the chance of getting stuck again with that same thing, and making a connection with someone you might not have otherwise.
You’ll feel relieved after reaching out. Opportunity awaits! Achieving goals are on the other side seeking help. You deserve help, you deserve to reach your goals! You’ve worked hard to get to where you are now, everyone gets stuck at some point, acknowledge your hard work and achievements. Asking for help isn’t admitting defeat, asking for help is a strength.
Thanks for watching this video, I hope that it provided valuable insight and a nudge in the direction towards asking for help if you need it.
Please, help others find this video by “liking” it and “subscribing” to my YouTube channel. Your support is so appreciated!
If we made a small change in our lives every single day, just 1% better, what would our lives look like? How much improvement would we see? How much closer would we be to our goals?
We often don’t notice tiny changes or progress until they build up over time. We can also be quick to dismiss them, ah, it’s nothing, it’s not a big deal. Later, down the road, we look back and notice that our decisions (thoughts) and habits (behaviors) mattered all along. Depending on whether you made good decisions and led healthy habits, you might find yourself in a fantastic situation or a terrible situation.
If we make wise financial decisions over the years, invest properly for retirement, and maybe even follow a financial adviser’s advice, then we should be set up to have a lovely retirement.
If we make poor financial decisions over the years, we spend money excessively, living beyond our means, and we don’t even consider speaking with a financial adviser, then we probably won’t be able to retire the way that we wish to or even at all.
Tiny details matter! Don’t automatically count something out just because it is minor.
A little more on small changes
The change can be anything small. Think to yourself, what makes you happy? What would make you happy? Increase the value of your day by making a 1% change.
Creating changes involves good habits. Do your habits reflect your goals? This also has to do with identity. Who are you? Who do you wish to become? We behave in a way that reflects who we wish to become. Every time we repeat a behavior that reflects that envisioned person or goal, we’re creating a habit. The more we do that behavior, the more the habit is reinforced. Reinforcing the behavior is an important step, it must be repeated over and over. The more you act towards your goals, the more you identify with that.
Watch this video as I share about a current long-term goal and the tiny details that all add up, making my dream a reality.
I hope that you find this eight minute video informative and inspiring.
Please, “like” and “subscribe” to my YouTube channel while you’re there. I appreciate your support.
Do you prioritize your mental health? If your mental health isn’t one of the areas that comes to mind, consider moving it to one of your top priorities, elevate it. Here’s the short answer of why it’s important. When we work on our mental health, we improve all of the other areas of our lives. When we emotionally and mentally operate effectively and efficiently, other well-being pieces fall into place. Some pieces that are positively impacted are, sleep, problem solving capability, relationships, and productivity increases. All a ripple-effect benefit of elevating mental wellness. The benefits are truly endless.
Here are a few ideas of how you can focus on your mental health
What to intentionally focus on
Spend a few minutes a day addressing your mind. What areas need the most attention? Is it sleep? Anxiety? When was the last time that you did self-care? Focus on the area that needs it the most, not to feel overwhelmed, because there could be several areas that you feel could use love. Once there’s a rythm or a habit created for that particular area, move onto another area. Be gracious to yourself through the process of addressing the area, it might take some time and it’s hard work.
How to make it happen
Here are two ways to help you with planning that focus time
The first, is scheduling half an hour to an hour per day. The second, is sprinkling in the work throughout the day. The option of scheduling it in works well for people who like having structure or who are likely to procrastinate. Write it in your planner, including the time you will work on it and set an intention of what you’re going to specifically work on. – An attainable short-term goal. When the time comes, aim to do it for half an hour to an hour. Afterwards, notice or be mindful of the benefits of your achievement. Do what is helpful to you. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, reflect back to your past to see if maybe you did something helpful then, that you can apply to now.
What it could look like
This could look like journaling about your day or a problem that you have. Taking a long bath, free of distractions, and reflecting on the highlights of your day. When you wake up in the morning, thinking about something that you’re looking forward to in the near future. Participating in relaxing yoga before bed. Having a mindful meal.
The second way, sprinkling it in throughout the day, looks a little different and is go-with-the-flow. This strategy might work for someone who has a busy schedule or would like to see it organically integrated throughout their day.
What it could look like
This could look like doing a three minute breathing or mindfulness exercise while doing a simple tasks, such as household cleaning. Working on a gratitude list, jotting down what you’re grateful for as they come to you throughout the day. Stretch and do mindful movement when you’ve been sitting for too long. – When at a desk-job, get up from your chair once every 45-90 minutes for 5-10 minutes.
Doing mental wellness activities will be wonderful. Try both planning strategies, or other ways that you can think of, to see what fits best.
Elevate your mental health to reap all the great benefits. Start by identifying what needs the most attention and then figure out how to make it happen. Is it better for you if you schedule it or if you sprinkle it in throughout the day? Once you have a basic plan, just do it. There are multiple strategies and ways to improve your mental wellness. Do the ones that work for you consistently. Lastly, fully enjoy the benefits and continue the good work.
Think of something that you’ve always dreamed of doing. Travel? Opening a business? Contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time or ever? Dumping an unhealthy habit that you have been clinging to? It can be anything. It is probably overwhelming to think about and you might be afraid of the process. I’m talking about really stepping outside of your comfort zone and tearing down the protective barriers. Think about how freeing accomplishing that dream could feel… YOU DID IT! Think about all of the possible benefits of that accomplishment, like further opportunities, boost in self-esteem, feelings of gratitude and happiness, and reconnection.
Fear and Anxiety Holds Us Back
Being honest with yourself, what has kept you from doing that? If it is anxiety, you’re not alone. The feelings of fear and anxiety are there to protect us on a primitive level. These emotions help us to survive and make better choices. If we didn’t have these feelings, what would be stopping us from doing something dangerous? These are normal, healthy emotions and we can’t make them go away. We don’t want them to go away.
Our thoughts that hold us back can seem to come out of nowhere at times. Thoughts are naturally occurring and will come and go. Know that thoughts are thoughts and not reality. Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true. Identify the thoughts that hold you back, reframe them to better use, and learn how to better manage your anxiety. Even though we can manage anxiety, we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it at bay.
What was that dream accomplishment that you thought of earlier? How can you make it work? What small steps can you take to get the ball rolling?
My Real-Life Example
Here is a simple example of a long-term goal of mine and thoughts that I struggle with. This is in regards to participating in the BADWATER 135 ultramarathon (I am a seasoned ultrarunner). This is a goal that has been several years in the making and there are a few more years to come in this journey before I stand at the start line. Many doubts have popped up in my mind over the years. Doubts that I’m not good enough, and doubts that details would never come together to make this dream a reality. Anxiety comes and goes. I experience anxiety over what people might say or think if I ever bring up wanting to run The World’s Toughest Footrace, so I rarely talk about it. Anxiety over becoming injured and never being able to run ever again. These thoughts have been bothersome, coming and going, since I got started. I want this goal bad enough, and I’m going to give my best effort, so the thoughts aren’t going to keep me from doing what I am passionate about.
Reframe Fearful and Anxious Thoughts
The unhelpful thoughts are identified, now let me show you how to reframe this fearful way of thinking. The doubt that “I’m not good enough” can be reframed to, “I am hardworking and have been thoughtfully and skillfully working towards this goal for years. I have grown so much, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’ve come so far, I’m not going to give up now.” And “things won’t ever come together for me,” to “continue to be patient, every year you are steps closer to this goal, and you are diligent in catching all of the preparation details.” As for the anxiety, “I can’t ever tell anyone without being judged,” to “who cares what people have to say about it, this is something that I love.” For anxiety over injury, “I’m worried that I’m going to get injured in a freak accident on the trail while training,” to “I’m a careful and skilled runner. I rest my body and care for it enough, so that I can do what I do. My running coach is also mindful when it comes to injury prevention.” That is how to reframe, think realistically.
More Anxiety Management
There are multiple ways to manage anxiety. Self-care should be the top priority because it is the base from which we build upon. This includes proper diet, exercise, and sleep. Use the reframing skill from above. Learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy coping strategies. Talk with a licensed professional counselor to have support in sorting out the details and find what works for you. Practice yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Practice these things consistently overtime to create helpful habits. The process isn’t always easy, there are challenging times, stick with it, and give yourself grace. It is a true learning process. I have been using these strategies consistently for years and they work. As you do the strategies, you will find favorites and learn when to use which strategy, as one will be more helpful than another in any given scenario.
When Your Dream Becomes a Reality
When the time comes to tackle that dream, reflect on your journey. How does it feel to be where you are, today? What is the biggest thing that you learned in those smaller steps? How can you apply what you have learned in the future? Continue the helpful habits that you have established or are continuing to work on. Honestly, the work never ends, and having a healthy mind is a ton of work, but we absolutely need to nourish it.
When that dream becomes reality, be connected and in the moment with it. Take it in. What does it feel like physically, emotionally, and spiritually? What is the greatest part of the experience? How proud do you feel? What have you learned? When it’s all over, would you do it again? It is important that we acknowledge the benefits of the hard work and perseverance. There is a mountain of experience to take away from accomplishing a dream.
I hope that you found this article insightful and are perhaps examining anxious thoughts that are keeping you from achieving your dreams. Incorporate the strategies that I have discussed into your day-to-day life and notice the benefits. Keep striving towards accomplishing your dreams, soaking in that journey.