The HOW of Managing Disabling Emotions.
At the back of our minds lurks an annoying voice, an obstructive voice, an often-disabling voice. It tells us that we aren’t qualified to be in our field. When we are applying for a new grant or pitching our business to someone new, it tells us that we don’t know what we are talking about. When we are expressing our opinions on something that we care about, it tells us that our words don’t matter – because we don’t know enough.
We all think it must be only ourselves that hear this voice – but I have spoken to lots of very accomplished and experienced people who tell me that they hear it too! This voice is the voice of impostor syndrome. It’s the voice of the person inside you – an often highly convincing voice – that tells you that you are a fraud. And that, one day, people will come to see you for what you are.
The Frauds We Think We Are.
Psychology Today defines impostor syndrome as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalise their accomplishments.” You might believe that all the things that you have achieved are merely down to luck. That you were just in the right place at the right time. Or that you had it easy in life.
All this serves to mask your sense of your own achievement – identifying the key to your success somewhere other than in yourself. That little voice inside you tries to convince you that you are not responsible for your successes. Meanwhile, of course, it holds you totally responsible for the things that didn’t go so well.
The Effects of the Impostor Syndrome.
While impostor syndrome is not actually a medical condition – to the extent that you can’t be diagnosed with it as such – feelings of being a fraud correlate with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. And just as these can be debilitating, so can this so-called ‘syndrome’, as it can feed back into unhealthy thought patterns.
The primary effect of impostor syndrome then is stress. It makes you feel like you have to endlessly prove yourself. And you overwork – seeking perfection – until you’re exhausted. This, as we know from my article on sleep, feeds back into unhealthy thoughts, because when you are tired, you don’t think at your best.
In practical terms, your sense of feeling like a fraud can have real material effects on your work. For example, people who have reported the feeling seem to be less willing to ask their superiors for a pay rise – even when everyone around them sees that they deserve it.
However, for a leader, the consequences of the ‘syndrome’ can be troubling. And they start at your failure to see yourself as someone able to lead. You can begin to doubt your experience, strength, and decision-making capacities – and even begin to defer responsibility to others.
Battling that Inner Voice.
How, then, are we to get to grips with this obstructive mindset? What tricks and techniques can we use to get on top of it? As one writer has said, we can actually use these thoughts to our advantage.
Know You Are Not Alone.
Even top CEOs report feeling like a fraud – despite their self-evident achievements. You might even want to note that figures like Einstein, Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and Maya Angelou have all felt the same. This feeling is everywhere.
So, recognise, firstly, that you’re not alone – and that the person sitting opposite you in a scary meeting may well feel it too.
Honesty: Be Frank with Your Staff/Colleagues and Encourage Them to be Frank with You.
If everyone feels this way, there is absolutely no point in everyone pretending that they don’t. And remember, the best leaders are the ones who establish trust, who forget the façade of omni-competence, and who dare to show their vulnerability. You might be surprised the relief people feel, once they know ‘it’s not just them’!
Being frank about your feelings – both with yourself and with others – is key to a healthier mind. You’ll only gain respect, as it takes courage to be vulnerable.
Recognise Your Achievements.
Despite your fraudulent feelings, try and take stock of the things that you have achieved – and, as ever, of the reasons why you do what you do. The chances are that the list of your accomplishments is, really, pretty damn long.
Literally write this list of accomplishments: put it down in words. Look at it and remember that it was you who did these things.
View Obstacles as Opportunities – but Remember it’s Okay to Ask for Help.
The thing about impostor syndrome is that, yes sometimes you are sort of winging it. You are having to learn something new, explore the unknown, and be a little out of your depth. You have to admit you don’t know and ask for help.
When I face these challenges, when the little voice in my head starts talking, I think back to all the things I have done in the past. What it took for me to achieve what I have achieved. I realise that I’ve had similar situations happen to me before and I overcame them, but I frame each opportunity as a lesson. View obstacles as opportunities to grow and learn.
The only way for the unfamiliar to become familiar is through exposure. You can silence the impostor syndrome by re-framing the situation, keep daring, keep trying hard, keep being brave and get out there and try stuff! The more you do it the quieter the voice will become!