In this blog, Minerva’s Client Director Jennie Flower shares her experience of Imposter Syndrome and Three Steps to Clearing It.
Negative beliefs, once planted, can stick around for a long time
I first experienced Imposter Syndrome quite early in my career, working in a big London advertising agency. I was a group secretary, trying to break into account management when I was told I hadn’t attended the right school or university to join those ranks. And although I didn’t let that prevent me diligently pursuing and eventually joining that department, the belief of not being quite good enough had been planted. This belief stayed with me for a while.
Many of us fear being found out as a fraud
Fast forward a few years and I moved on to run my own business development consultancy implementing growth, change management and marketing strategies for advertising and marketing SMEs. At the same time, I became a lecturer in advertising to degree students. Standing in front of a group of undergraduates triggered typical feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome; of being a fraud. I didn’t know everything there is to know about advertising, or learning and development or how to support students’ wider needs. What if somebody found me out?
Imposter Syndrome is much more common than I first believed
My first introduction to the concept of Imposter Syndrome came when studying for my Certificate in Learning & Teaching in Higher Education. This opened my eyes to the fact that feelings of Imposter Syndrome are incredibly common. In terms of confidence and resilience building this gave me a real boost. It’s easy to believe that everyone around us has got it all under control. Yet by sharing experiences, it becomes apparent that so many of the most professional, most career-driven, most-senior amongst us have regularly experienced feelings of being an imposter throughout their lives. Importantly, it is also something that can be countered through effective coaching and training.
Three steps to clearing Imposter Syndrome
When Imposter Syndrome has popped up for me, there are a few things that have helped me to minimise its impact, in particular:
- Talking to others. Know you’re not alone in feeling this way. Research indicates that up to 82% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome at some stage in their careers. The more I’ve opened up to others, the more others have done the same, helping me to normalise Imposter Syndrome, it’s no longer a ‘dirty secret’, it’s something most of us encounter.
- Recognising that it is ok not to have all the answers, even the greatest of subject matter experts has to refer to others or check their sources from time to time. When challenged with something I don’t know, I’m comfortable to hold up my hands and say ‘I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I’ll find out and come back to you’. It is perfectly acceptable and also garners much more respect than bluffing in an attempt to respond in the moment.
- Choosing to actively challenge some of the beliefs that were preventing me from achieving my goals. We can carry beliefs for years that are untrue, or irrelevant and no longer serve us. Focusing too hard on a negative belief or the reason it exists can actually be counter-productive and give it extra power. Instead, I’ve learned how to challenge a belief, commit to no longer allowing it to hold me back and then actively choose to let it go. This frees me to focus on building new and more positive self-beliefs – and enhances my resilience building capabilities.
Building new beliefs takes time
There is no quick fix way to reducing Imposter Syndrome. There are practical things that can be done in the moment, such as breathing exercises. These are scientifically proven to reduce feelings of anxiety – often a bi-product of Imposter Syndrome. Tackling the belief system at the core of Imposter Syndrome however, takes time.
Building new beliefs requires building new ‘neural pathways’ in the brain which takes practice, focused attention and time. Like all learning and development or new skill, the more we practice, the stronger the pathway becomes until it becomes automatic. If we want to learn to write with our other hand, with practice it gets easier as the pathway strengthens. The old pathway of writing with our original hand may become weaker over time if we don’t use it, but it will never fully disappear. If we want to return to that hand, we can do so, it might be a bit rusty at first, but in a short time it will fire back.
Without focused attention, old beliefs can pop back up
This also applies to old negative thinking/behaviour patterns, or habits. As we divert attention away from them towards more positive beliefs, the old beliefs may wither, but they will never die. If we take our eye off the ball they are prone to popping back up. This tends to be when we are most stressed or burned out. Our thinking capability is diminished and we start to rely on the automatic habitual parts of our brain to run the show for a while.
Training, coaching and building a strong support network reduces the frequency and impact of Imposter Syndrome
Building our support network and taking care of ourselves through sleep, nutrition and exercise all contribute to boosting our resilience. It makes us less prone to stress, and more able to focus on building a new and more positive belief system. As a result we become less prone to experiencing Imposter Syndrome and more able to lead ourselves and others in a rapidly changing world.
Our online Clearing Imposter Syndrome programme enables learning and development to strengthen our understanding and to normalise, challenge and reduce the impact of Imposter Syndrome. For more information please click here or email email@example.com