Overcoming ‘imposter’ syndrome and building confidence

The words ‘imposter syndrome’ often find their way into the media, workplaces, or even inside our own heads! Many famous people – like Tina Fey, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Howard Schultz (ex Starbucks CEO), Kate Winslet and Emma Watson have all been reported as saying that they worry they are a ‘fraud’ and one day ‘everyone will find out’! Emma Watson once described this ‘fear of being caught out’ in an interview. “I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am’. A 2019 review (shared by Health online) of 62 studies on imposter syndrome “suggested anywhere from 9 to 82 percent of people report having thoughts along these lines at some point.”

This feeling of being a ‘fraud’ – or thinking we are less than we are – is sometimes called ‘imposter syndrome’. It is actually a psychological condition – that seems to be a common partner to the ‘high achiever’. It is said to be very common amongst women – but men can suffer from it too – and it stems from our thinking processes. And it doesn’t just happen to people who have a performance element to their roles. Take Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization, for example.  In an article on ‘imposter syndrome’ published by Forbes, Dr Chan is quoted as having once said: ”There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”

Does this sound like you? Do you suffer anxiety and self doubt about what you do (when you shouldn’t!!)? Do you over-prepare or procrastinate because of this fear? Do you have trouble taking compliments and think luck or good timing played a part in where you are now? Do you set the bar too high and beat yourself up when you just make it? Do you feel relief rather than pride when you finish? Do you focus more on what you should do better than recognise what you have achieved? Do you worry people think you know more than you think you do or worry you know less than you should?

Many of us wrestle with confidence challenges. In fact rarely a few months go by without one of our clients mentioning something that sounds like this in our dealings with them. Something ‘new’ comes into our line of sight and our default response is to ask ourselves ‘Can I do that?‘ This can be a result of many factors including previous criticism, fear of the unknown, extremely high personal standards, seeing competency as part of your identity, feeling unprepared, a belief in a lack of skills or knowledge, poor time-management, constant comparisons to others, a need to be respected and of course, previous failures.

The good news is you can slowly overcome ‘imposter syndrome’ and build your confidence by actively following some of the tips we have described in the info graphic below. Confidence is a state of mind and can be learned. You can’t change your DNA, but you can focus and be determined to follow through on these ideas if you are going to move forward.

Practical Ideas

Managing your thinking, making time to practice, getting more exposure, improving knowledge or pursuing further education, and talking to other people are all useful ways to help improve or boost your confidence levels. Here are some more specific and actionable tips that :

a) help you to overcome ‘imposter syndrome’, and

b) help you to build self confidence.

how to improve confidence

Click here to download a copy. (Tip : right click save or print picture)

Want to know more? Click here for a 4 min TED video on Imposter Syndrome