The Imposter syndrome is defined as the syndrome of fraud or the syndrome of false success. What does it actually mean, what happens to us when we experience it and how can we fight it?

By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
#imposter #phenomenon #syndrome #leaders #success

Imposter Syndrome is a term that first appeared in the late 1970s and was introduced to describe the feeling that what we have achieved is not a result of our hard efforts and skills, but it’s something that just "happened". That feeling is accompanied by high levels of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and constant fear that the people around us will expose us as a scammer.

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term in a research paper, noting three critical features of the phenomenon:

1. The belief that others have too much confidence in our abilities.

2. The fear that we may be exposed as fraudsters.

3. Continuous tendency to degrade our achievements.

Although we may suffer from it throughout the whole of our lives, the syndrome tends to appear at critical moments of big changes, such as before starting a new job by assigning new roles and responsibilities or before changing the course of our career.

If left uncontrolled, it can lead to serious doubts about ourselves and our abilities, feelings of guilt and anxiety. Too often, when we suffer from imposter syndrome, we end up sabotaging our own work, developing an obsession with small and insignificant mistakes, or insisting on working much harder than necessary to prove our worth.

It’s important to be able to recognise the signs of imposter syndrome, as well as to develop tools that will help us fight it in time, taking into account that it can have a very negative impact on our performance and lead to long-term exhaustion or depression.

Some strategies and tools that will help us in battling the syndrome are:

1. Development of positive psychology

Many of us tend to downplay our achievements. Trying to be modest and humble, we attribute our successes to luck or describe them as a product of good timing. While moderation is admirable, the continual decline of our successes is very likely to hurt us, creating doubt about ourselves.

We are often overwhelmed by worries about the future or doubts about the past. The key is to consciously develop a positive psychology for the present. If we manage to focus clearly on the reality of the situation we are in, it will gradually become easier to leave negative thoughts behind.

For example, instead of thinking about how many mistakes we will possibly make in a job we have just been assigned, we can think about how much they trusted our abilities and assigned us the task.

Confidence coach, Tiwalola Ogunlesi, suggests that we keep a diary of success. On a piece of paper or on a computer, we create two columns: one with the type of success (small or large) and one with its description (what actions we did). This list becomes tangible evidence of our abilities and the basis for greater self-confidence.

Martin Seligman, the most distinguished theorist in the field of Positive Psychology, says: "The Imposter Syndrome is just a temporary memory loss, where you have forgotten all the amazing things about yourself. We can alleviate the symptoms of the syndrome by reminding ourselves of our strengths on a regular basis.”


2. Recognition of achievements

How do we measure our success? Most of the time, we tend to quickly skip something we have accomplished. After all, we usually don’t want to look egocentric. But this way we spend more time mourning our failures than celebrating our successes.

Celebrating our successes is probably the greatest way to fight imposter syndrome.

There’s no need for something extravagant. For example, a post on LinkedIn describing our success, what steps led us there and what we learned from the process will be just enough. Thus, we rejoice in the achievement but we can also help or inspire other people.

Another way to recognise a significant success is to do something beautiful or special for us. Going out for a special dinner or buying a small gift are some beautiful options and simple ways of reminding and emphasising to ourselves that we need to claim some time to feel our success.

3. Creating a plan

A very common mistake in our planning is to react as being surprised instead of anticipating something and this can act as an accelerator in the process of questioning our abilities - and thus deepening the imposter syndrome.

When negative thoughts regarding our capacities overwhelm us, we are more likely to panic. In these moments there is a great possibility of making mistakes. It’s these moments of panic that can lead us to make huge lists of goals with deadlines that aren’t humanly possible to meet. And when we’ll naturally and inevitably fail, the impression that we are indeed fraudsters will be reinforced.

So instead of relying on spontaneous reactions to data, the answer is to create a plan that is based on reality and is set up for the best possible result. Good organisation is the key to success!

Once we have noted our final goals, it’s good to make a detailed list of smaller steps for each goal. Thus, we’ll have a more objective picture of the demands and every time we complete a task, we’ll feel the satisfaction of a mini success.

Every day, we dedicate part of our time to doing small tasks that would otherwise be scattered throughout the day, interrupting us (e.g. emailing, word processing, etc.). This will allow us to work focused on each individual item of our list.

Finally, it’s important to remember that we all make mistakes. After all, this is the most basic mechanism for us to learn and grow. Even the most successful professionals have room for improvement – so why don’t we?

Every experience we face, every obstacle, every difficulty, every success and triumph is an opportunity to learn and to gather the data that will be the core foundation - the basis for our continuous development and success. The Imposter Syndrome can be a difficult battle but with practice and self-belief, it can be overcome.