4 steps to tackling imposter syndrome

Do you feel plagued by feelings of self-doubt? Have the feeling you don’t know what you’re doing despite having done it before? Feel like everyone else is better than you? Fear someone will find out you aren’t who they think you are and expose you as a fraud?

If you’re nodding then you may have imposter syndrome. It’s a collection of symptoms and behaviours that stop us living life to its fullest. It is very common but cleverly fools us into thinking we are the only one feeling this way.

These are ways it may show up in your life:

  • You have high expectations of yourself and put things off until they are perfect.
  • You procrastinate, feeling like you’ll be ready when you finish the next training course.
  • You feel like you don’t know what you’re doing even though you’ve done it before.
  • You feel like things should be easier for you to learn.
  • You always somehow feel not good enough.
  • You’re plagued with feelings of self-doubt.
  • You disregard positive comments by thinking that they are just being ‘nice’ or feel sorry for you.
  • You’re always comparing yourself with others even though they are at a different starting point than you.
  • You feel like a fraud.

I have felt imposter syndrome at several times in my life when I’ve started a new job and also when I began my coaching journey. For example, I procrastinated on submitting my audio for assessment for many months because I thought I wouldn't be good enough, might fail and I would be exposed as a fraud.

Over the years, I have collected a number of strategies and tips. Below I share what has worked for me and what I work on with my clients:

Four ways to overcome imposter syndrome

Work through the following with a notebook, pen and an open mind to try new ways of thinking and behaving:

1. Uncover the roots of the imposter syndrome

Start from why it’s there and how it shows up in your life.

From my personal and coaching experience, the roots of imposter syndrome often stem from childhood when we’re criticised. We internalise that and feel it defines who we are.

This doesn’t mean we can’t move forward. It means we are stuck at a point of our development path and need to uncover our authentic self so that the path becomes more obvious.

The emotional rather than rational part of the brain often wins, and when we try to do something different, we end up treating ourselves in a way we would never treat anyone else because ‘we’re not good enough’.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do the needs of others come before me?
  • Why do I let my imposter syndrome symptoms get in the way? (eg what’s in it for me? On some level it’s working for us).
  • What’s the impact on my personal and professional life?
  • Choose three of the ways imposter syndrome shows up in your life to work on – which would have the biggest impact if they were eliminated or shifted?

2. Know your imposter syndrome script

We need to acknowledge where we are today, where we have got stuck in our development journey, and grow from that point.

During our childhood, we are often told things about ourselves which lead us to decide the way that we need to be, but we can hit a point where it no longer serves us.

Our brains think between 20,000-60,000 thoughts a day and around 80% of those thoughts are negative and what we think today we’re going to think tomorrow as those negative pathways are entrenched into our brains. We need to become more aware of our automatic thoughts – know it, acknowledge it and challenge it.

  • What is your inner critic saying to you?
  • Was that a helpful thought?
  • Does it move me to my potential? If not challenge it – is it true or is it an automatic script which you’ve outgrown?
  • What would your wisest friend/family member say if they heard the script you’re telling to yourself?  
  • What successes have you have had? Take time to enjoy the successes - our brain takes around 60 seconds for a positive thought to imbed.
  • Use affirmations - affirmations work to reprogram your mind, helping you believe that you have already achieved your goal. "I am... (enough/successful/influential..)." How does it make you feel when you say this – name the feeling (but keep saying the affirmation several times a day!)
  • Say affirmations out loud and create post-it-note prompts around the house – this helps build new neural pathways and build conscious awareness.
  • Keep a journal – record the automatic thought, acknowledge how it makes you feel, and note the helpful thought your wiser self is going to replace it with.

3. Rewrite your imposter syndrome story

Question your current story and rewrite it.

We are not our stories. Take time to clearly understand your story and become aware of negative thoughts through journaling and reflection.

  • Write your thoughts down for 20 minutes each day for a week and reframe them. Are they true or is it an automatic emotional response?
  • What is the story you want to create - what is your desired vision for the future? Our story is grounded in our script – we use it to stay small and safe. We can break out of survival mode when we have a vision.
  • Work on daily and regular affirmations. Start your affirmation with "I am.." this works by fooling the brain that you’ve already achieved your goal.
  • Use journaling to measure your progress.

4. Reprioritise your authentic self

Build your sense of entitlement and work through the resistance to fulfil your potential.

We came into this world with unique abilities which differentiate us from everyone else. Nobody else has had the same experiences, all of the natural talents, and the various skills you have learned. Often these superpowers come so naturally to us, we might not realise they are something special.

  • What energises you and makes you feel strong? Keep track of how you spend the next couple of days. What are you always doing or thinking about?
  • Reflect upon what you are naturally good at and write it down.
  • Ask five people to tell you what they see as your unique abilities.
  • Do a combined reflection and declare it and say it out loud!
  • Create a scrapbook recording all of the achievements you have made and all of the positive things people have said to you.
  • Start a nightly gratitude journal – this trains our brain to look for the positive rather than negative thoughts.

As you work through the reflections in this article, you’ll learn to identify the thoughts which are holding you back and get clear on how to deal with them. It takes practice on a regular basis to see yourself in a true light.

If you would like help in uncovering the principles outlined above, maybe consider working with a life coach. To find a professional, qualified life coach use our search tool on Life Coach Directory

This work has helped to change my life and I truly wish the same for you.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

Share this article with a friend

Written by Joanna Lott - Career and Executive Coach

I am a qualified Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) L7 Executive Coach and Mentor and qualified Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) HR professional.

As a specialist confidence coach, it’s my job support you in unlocking your best self so that you can live and work from a place of authenticity, peace and strength.… Read more

Written by Joanna Lott - Career and Executive Coach

Show comments

Find a life coach offering Career Coaching

All coaches are verified professionals.

Real Stories

More stories

Related Articles

More articles