8 Ways To Combat Imposter Syndrome

imposter syndrome
imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome refers to the sense that you’re constantly “faking it”—that you’re secretly incompetent and will surely soon be discovered. And it doesn’t just apply to careers—it strikes parents and partners who constantly feel they’re falling short. Dozens of highly respected famous people have admitted to experiencing imposter syndrome; from fantasy author Neil Gaiman to World Health Organization chief Dr. Chan, no one is immune to the critical inner voice that says you’re about to be revealed as a fraud.

If you feel like you’re a guilty fraud at home or at work, consider following these eight tips to rid yourself of imposter syndrome.

1. Practice accepting compliments

It’s likely that “Oh, it was really nothing!” and “Well, it’s not that good!” are almost kneejerk responses to any praise you receive. If you start practicing replies that are more accepting and gracious, it will slowly get easier to assimilate these congratulatory remarks as accurate assessments. You don’t need to brag or act smug—a simple “Thank you” or “I’m really pleased you like it!” will suffice.

2. Test your skills in safe environments

Many people with imposter syndrome hold themselves back from things like giving academic talks or sharing the creative output, so they never end up getting the feedback that would help boost their self-esteem. It’s helpful to commit to testing out your skills when the stakes are pretty low—say, by showing a friend your work or giving an informal presentation at a small workshop.

3. Drop the comparisons

If you’re prone to comparing yourself to others and then using these comparisons to remind yourself that you lack worth or talent, it’s time to stop! It’s easy to paint others as perfectly capable or happy, but this is really just an idealized fantasy that chronically erodes your self-worth. No matter how talented or smart someone else maybe, they doubtlessly face their own struggles and experience self-doubt. In addition, there is enough success and love around for everyone—you have your own unique gifts to bring to the world.

4. Make a list of your achievements

Although it may feel arrogant or uncomfortable at first, you’ll really benefit from dedicating a notebook to a list of your accomplishments. Every week, write down the things that made you feel proud and successful in the area most intimately connected with your imposter syndrome. So, if work is your weak spot, be sure to note every validating remark you hear from a colleague or every good dialogue you have with a client. Meanwhile, if it’s your relationship that leaves you feeling inadequate, it can help to write down good things you did for your partner or to describe moments where you felt particularly close.

5. Put a time limit on “revising”

Rehashing things in pursuit of perfection is a common element of imposter syndrome, as you will find it hard to believe anything you produce is “good enough.” Try firmly setting time boundaries and start getting used to letting things go before they’re flawless. While this tip is most obviously applicable to work projects and creative endeavors, you can also use it at home—for example, by enforcing a limit on how long you spend cleaning the living room before visitors arrive.

6. Lower your standard of authenticity

It’s one thing to be habitually insincere, hiding every part of your real identity and constantly morphing your personality to try and get what you want—that’s a clearly unhealthy way of being. On the other hand, recognize that you don’t need to feel guilty about making subtle changes to suit the context. You won’t talk to your grandparents in the same way that you talk to your boss, and that’s okay—it doesn’t make you a fake.

7. Change your approach to failure

Fear of failure can be an integral component of imposter syndrome, as can assumptions about what failure represents. Think back to times when you struggle at something, and then come up with at least one useful lesson you learned from that challenge. Allow this exercise to inform your thinking about apparent failures—as clichéd as it sounds, failures really are chances to learn and improve. In many cases, a degree of struggle is a necessary precursor to success.

8. Increase your self-knowledge

Finally, many of the above tips are highly practical in nature, tackling your behavior and impulses in a way that will hopefully impact your imposter syndrome. However, it’s equally important to get a better handle on why you experience imposter syndrome. Ask yourself when it started, and if any significant life experiences or people played a role in its development. Were you ever humiliated at school? Did you grow up with a family that had unrealistically high standards? Have past partners downplayed your skills? Identify some of the precipitating factors, bring them out into the open, and work through the lingering emotions by writing in a journal or seeing a therapist.