Do you ever feel like you got where you are by mistake? Like you somehow deceived those around you to get where you are — and you are about to be found out? Anyone can feel this way, but if you’re a woman or a minority, you’re more likely to have experienced these feelings.
The nagging inner monologue that you’re a fraud is what psychologists call “impostor syndrome,” a term coined in 1978. But not only are you good enough to be where you are, you don’t have to live with the constant fear and stress that comes with feeling that you don’t belong.
To beat impostor syndrome, you first need to recognize it for what it is.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Let’s start with a scenario. After six months of working flat out, your boss sets a meeting with you and the management team. You spend the week dreading it, knowing what’s going to happen next. When the fateful day arrives, your boss informs you that your hard work earned you a 20% increase in your salary. What do you do? Do you graciously accept — or do you start to wonder how it happened? Maybe you reject the idea of more money because you’re not sure you earned it, and more importantly, you know you can’t meet the expectations that come with the raise.
If that kind of existential dread sounds familiar, you may be struggling with impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is a real experience, and although it’s often discussed in regards to gender or race, scientists say that 70% of people could experience these feelings at one point or another.
These feelings occur when you aren’t able to acknowledge your successes as something of your own doing, but they can also occur outside of the context of work. Why won’t your brain let you take ownership of the good things you do? Scientists aren’t sure. Some believe there are personality traits that prevent people from patting themselves on the back, but others say that there are behavioral causes that could stem from your childhood.
Either way, the intense level of self-doubt associated with impostor syndrome can lead to a very vicious cycle — and your lack of confidence can come back to bite you.
Why Giving into Self-Doubt Can Be So Damaging
When you take a step back from the crippling feeling of self-doubt or questioning whether you belong, you can see that in 99% of cases, those thoughts aren’t helping you. They could even be hurting you more than you realize. Beyond wasting energy on thoughts that aren’t reflective of reality, you could be damaging both your health and your performance.
Improving your self-esteem is critical for your physical and mental health. Research shows that people who have low self-esteem are more likely to struggle with crippling (severe) stress. Stress is a predictor of poor health because chronic stress can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. Poor circulation caused by stress also has knock-off effects that you might not consider, like the development or worsening of painful varicose veins.
When you combine the stress that comes with self-doubt along with other issues that accompany impostor syndrome, such as a tendency to veer towards work addiction to cope with your feelings, you could create a real storm of negative health effects.
What’s worse? You may not have anything to gain from all that pain. Study after study shows that self-esteem has an impact on your performance at work. If you carry around the burden of self-doubt, your work performance will follow your brain’s lead, even if you put in 60 hours a week.
How to Train Your Brain and Win
The first thing you need to do to leave your feelings of fraud behind is to realize that you are not alone. Some of the most successful people in the world admit that they feel like frauds half the time. Your experience isn’t unique, and by acknowledging that, you can begin to take ownership of those pesky thoughts and critically question them.
But how do you transition from recognizing that your feelings aren’t true to making a change that will reduce your stress and help you break free? You can start by changing the way you see yourself.
For some people, new self-perception requires a physical change. But you don’t always need to hit the beauty counter to change your brain. It can be as simple as self-talk that is loving and kind. Your first step is to remove negative language from the way you describe yourself. Because centuries of research shows that the way your brain thinks directly impacts the way you experience yourself (both physically and otherwise).
Here’s a challenge: look in the mirror and say your name plus one positive thing about yourself. If you can’t think of one, use something that someone else said about you, but you struggle to believe. Say it out loud. Then, say it again. Say it every day until it’s no longer painful or cringeworthy because then, you’ll have learned to love yourself.
Beating impostor syndrome is possible. After all, everyone else already believes you’re great. You just need to learn to believe it, too.
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About the Author: Sam Bowman writes about people, tech, wellness and how they merge. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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