Imposter Syndrome

Why most people feel as if they’re faking it…

It’s a funny thing, is imposter syndrome, though it doesn’t actually feel funny when you’re on the inside of it. What’s funny about it is that almost everybody has it to one degree or another… from the new mother who is sure that everybody else already knows what she’s frightened to ask in case her child gets taken away, to the high-flying CEO who believes that everybody will soon realise he’s just a big fat fraud if he doesn’t shout loudly or long enough about what great ideas he has.

            It’s such a common reaction as to be pretty much normal – almost everybody fears that others doing the same job are more skilled, better informed, more focussed, properly trained and jolly good eggs all round. They, on the other hand, are certain they are secretly totally inadequate, lacking some vital element of brain, and somehow or another missed the ‘life-instruction’ book that others seem to have read.

The origins of this uncomfortable reaction, like so many of our psychological processes, are rooted in our human intelligence! Now, you might think that a truly intelligent person would not be afflicted with such a pointless and uncomfortable concept. But we’re not talking here about especially high levels of intelligence, just of the amount needed to be aware that there’s ‘stuff’ associated with whatever you’re doing that you don’t know. You might even realise that you don’t even know what it is you don’t know… just that there’s definitely something… but that on its own is not enough to trigger Imposter Syndrome. What does that is the excruciating belief that other people doing the same thing, whether it’s caring for an infant or a multi-billion-pound company, would smile condescendingly as they ask you how on earth you managed to miss such basic information.

Of course, it’s all totally fake.

The fact is that every single person in every single field of work knows only what they know. Every single person has gaps in their knowledge about almost anything you can name, and the vast majority will also be completely unaware of something that almost everybody else does know. The odd thing is that even when you understand this, it’s likely that you still feel uncertain, that others are better at whatever you’re trying to do… and that has its roots in your personal history. Here are some typical ‘roots’ of the problem.

  • In the past, you’ve decided to do something, boasted about it, but then failed – to the delight or amusement of others.
  • You were told repeatedly that you had some very strange ideas.
  • You were taught never to have ‘ideas above your station’ or that ‘you often get above yourself,’ or similar.

And here’s the important thing to ‘take on board’ – whoever ‘the others’ were, they were just telling you what they thought. Talking about themselves, that’s all. But the vital element of it all is that you believed them and so absorbed the idea into your subconscious that you were somehow lacking, along with the notion that the others could see this because they weren’t! But now consider: why would ‘they’ be so delighted when something didn’t work out the way you’d planned? There has to be something in it for them. And every great invention in the world started out as a very strange idea – but it was only strange because no one else had thought of it. And if people only thought about what others had told them they could think about, no new ideas would ever come into being. In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this because we’d still be back in those days before the invention of the wheel… which, in its day, was a very strange idea indeed!

So, here’s a little routine you can use to overcome the problem – do it a couple of times every day and you will eventually completely defuse that Imposter Syndrome. If you feel in in several areas, work on them one-at-a-time until it’s gone. It works better if you memorise it and do it with your eyes closed:

  1. Imagine yourself doing whatever it is and make it vivid.
  2. Zoom out so that you’re looking at the image from the outside.
  3. Fade the colours so it’s like an old black and white movie and view it for just a couple of seconds then imagine turning the light off.
  4. Turn the light on and see an image of you doing that thing with supreme confidence and looking exactly like you imagine others feel – or even better. As soon as you can see it, change it to full colour and sound like an HD movie. Make it truly vivid and watch it for a count of 5.
  5. Zoom right in to actually become that image and enjoy it for a count of 10.
  6. Think of something else entirely for a few moments then repeat a couple of times if you wish.

That routine uses timing, emotional and sensory input to recondition the automatic responses from your subconscious mind and at some point soon, you’ll discover that at step 1, you’re already seeing the ‘new you’.

Job done!

©Terence Watts, 2020