Advice from Spill's therapists
Seven techniques to tryReframe your feelingsConsider your environmentRelated resources
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Overcoming imposter syndrome

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees dealing with imposter synrome.

How do I overcome impostor syndrome? I spend so much time worrying about whether I'm good enough that it's hard for me to concentrate on improving my skills and traits.

Our first therapist suggests...

Seven techniques to try

All the time that you spend worrying about whether you are good enough is adding further strength to the idea that you are not.

Feeling like an imposter becomes a fulfilling prophecy because once we believe something, i.e. “I’m not good enough” we work hard to prove it.  Humans never want to be wrong even if it hurts.

Try these techniques and consider talking to a therapist if you’re still having difficulty because sometimes feeling like an imposter is a more fundamental feeling we bring into our work rather than one created at work.

  1. Gather evidence.
    Write down the things that go well and all your successes so that you have a counterbalance to your negative fears.
  2. Ask for feedback.
    Ask peers and your boss how they think you’re doing. Other voices will break you free from the echo chamber of your own dark thoughts
  3. Create a balance.
    Make sure you invest time in the people and interests you have away from work because doing so puts work into context, makes it less all consuming and therefore easier to perform because you’ve reduced the pressure on yourself.
  4. Don’t look for perfection.
    Perfectionism isn’t good and if you’re striving for it set your goals more realistically. Nobody needs to be perfect.
  5. Celebrate successes.
    When something goes well celebrate it both internally by reminding yourself how well you’re doing and externally by doing something nice for yourself.
  6. Write a list of qualities.
    Write a list of all the skills and attributes that make you ideal for this job. Even if you aren’t feeling them you know logically how good you are, right? What landed you this job in the first place?
  7. Visualise success.
    Instead of focusing on how bad you are imagine yourself succeeding in this role and what that will feel like. Move towards that instead.
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Our second therapist suggests...

Reframe your feelings

Do you have imposter syndrome or is it feeling you’re not good enough? Over 70% of professional people have reported experiencing imposter syndrome at one point or another. It is when we feel we are not capable enough to do a job AND fear we might get ‘found out’ by our colleagues or senior management.

If it’s imposter syndrome, what if we were to define it differently? See it as a green light that we are about to engage in a challenge, perhaps. Sometimes our brain views experiencing doubt or a wobble in confidence as a warning that things may not go well. What if we reframe that doubt as a signpost that we are about to take on something important; something we can grow from and learn from? It may not be easy, straightforward or comfortable, but it will help us develop as a person (professionally or personally) and reward us with a sense of achievement. It’s a signpost to say we may need support, more information or extra resources in order to get where we need to go, so ask for it.

If it’s more a general feeling of not being good enough, I would encourage you to chat to a line manager and get some feedback on your work so you can find ways to reassure yourself you’re doing a good enough job. Also remind yourself of what has gone well and your achievements to date. If it’s really getting in the way, it may be a good idea to explore these thoughts with a Spill Therapist and find a way to manage them.

Worry is natural but if you feel it’s a barrier to you getting what you need then it needs shifting. Anxiety can lead to avoidance behaviour; this offers short-term relief but longer-term problems. There are many things you can do in your world to calm your nervous system so that your worry brain doesn’t take over, most obviously looking after your health in general. Ideas include exercise, sleeping well enough, eating and hydrating well enough, having systems that support you, having a support team, having fun, being creative, having boundaries, using breath to calm. Some exploration with a good friend, a Spill therapist or through reading therapeutic books can help you put some ideas in place (your scaffolding).

Our emotional brain often lies to us (don’t believe everything you think!) but rather than ignore it, just see this worry as a signal of a time to take action - to get uncomfortable, to take risks, to stretch yourself, to ask for help. You are a capable human being – this doesn’t mean you’re capable of every single task, or capable of new tasks immediately. Show yourself some compassion, offer yourself some time and slowly that imposter will settle down and realise how much they already offer and how much there is to learn.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Consider your environment

You mention that you often question whether you are ‘good enough’ which is one of the key indicators of imposter syndrome.

The following are thoughts and ideas to help you:

  • Do ask yourself if any issues in your environment are undermining your confidence. I often speak to people who doubt themselves and think they have imposter syndrome only to realise there is a real problem in their environment that is making them insecure. As an example, someone may feel like they are ‘not good enough’ because they lack appropriate support and resources in the workplace. If you realise there is an external issue, what is going to help is addressing that issue with your manager (or someone else who can help).
  • Aim to have a growth mindset. People who struggle with imposter syndrome are often perfectionists with exacting standards for themselves. When someone has a growth mindset it means that they accept mistakes as a natural part of life and know that they will grow and develop gradually over time.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength in the workplace. Often when we don’t reach out for help problems worsen and then are even harder to manage.
  • Keep track of your achievements. Write down every day what you enjoyed at work and what you did well. You may also wish to keep track of your learning.
  • Don’t make everything about work. Make sure you have a life outside of work which includes relaxation, connecting with others and things you enjoy doing.
  • Have patience! Imposter syndrome is particularly common when someone starts a new role. Confidence is likely to increase with experience.
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