“You're a fraud”
“What if you mess up? Everyone will laugh!”
“You’re not experienced or capable enough to succeed in this.”
Many of us will be familiar with thoughts such as these. And many of you will have experienced something of an internal boxing match between thoughts in our heads; one chipping away at our confidence, suggesting we may not be good enough, the other attempting to instill confidence and motivation. Lots of people grapple with self-doubt once in a while. It is a part of the human experience that few of us are immune to - and this is okay! A little self-doubt is not only normal, it's healthy - it stops us from becoming overly confident and not fully thinking through decisions we make. However, persistent fear and self-doubt can hold you back from a life of happiness and success.
For many, this pattern of self-doubt could be recognised as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is where you hold false beliefs that you aren’t as capable or smart as others may think you are, no matter how much evidence there is that you’re successfully navigating your life, studies, jobs and relationships. You may have a fear that everyone else knows what they are doing except for you, and that those around you are going to figure out that you don’t know what you’re talking about and are a fraud.
During periods of unrest and change, we’re forced to tune deeper into our internal dialogue, and so you may have noticed that your self-doubt has increased over the past two years. You are not alone! The reality is that the adversity we have all faced has worn us down over time, and it’s clear that many of us need a reset. So while that voice in your head may be turning up the volume, we all have the ability to keep self-doubt and imposter syndrome from directing our decisions.
At its simplest, self doubt is there to protect you from falling flat on your face. So rather than beating yourself up when you hear that negative voice in your head, simply acknowledge that it’s doing its job to try and keep you safe and spare you humiliation. By accepting the role that self doubt plays in your life, you can recognise it for what it is- a feeling that is often not based on fact. Highly successful people don't let self-doubt derail them from what they set out to accomplish. They accomplish despite it, they may know it’s there but do not let it hold them back.
If you take a moment to google ‘imposter syndrome’ you will realise how many amazing, hugely successful people have spoken about their struggles while having amazing careers. Knowing this can help you to start challenging your own doubts when they creep in and to realise that no one is immune to feeling like they are incapable at times.
In the workplace, with your peers, wherever you are. Being open and vulnerable about your experiences can be liberating, and it invites other people to challenge any thoughts you may be having and give an objective view. Sometimes, a good chat with someone who knows you and supports you can help you realize that your imposter feelings are normal, but also irrational. Find a mentor if possible - the best kind will be forthcoming with their own struggles. If you can’t think of anyone you feel confident to confide in, come and share it with us! So many other students will be facing similar feelings and this connection can help to put things in perspective.
When you start to hear the negative self-talk creep in, catch yourself earlier in the process, before distorted thoughts get out of hand and drive your actions in unhelpful ways.
Ask yourself things like:
Is there any past evidence to support this thought?
How would my peer/colleague/mentor respond to this thought if I said it out loud?
When have I handled something like this before?
There will always be external proof that you aren’t useless, however our feelings of doubt unfortunately often override this evidence! Get a piece of paper and write down all of your achievements, everything you can think of. Then put the piece of paper somewhere you can readily access. Better yet, write it on sticky notes and stick them to your mirror! Use these as evidence and come back to them whenever you hear the negative self talk start to creep in. If you catch yourself thinking that you are useless, use these to remind yourself that the fact that you feel useless right now does not mean that you really are.
Comparing your own life to someone else's is a trap for feeling like you don’t measure up, especially when most of the time we only see the highlight reels of those around us. Focus on your own strengths, accomplishments and progress. Write yourself goals and compare your progress with your past self. Where are you compared to where you were at this time last year? Or five years ago?
We are all going through life for the first time. No one knows what they are doing all of the time. No one is perfect, and you don’t need to be. Every person you see in this world is going through their own journey, their own ups and downs. Whilst you may see confidence, and capability you will not be seeing the whole story. And whilst it might not be the same as yours, guaranteed everyone has their struggles and battles.
While these tips won’t prevent you from ever experiencing self doubt or imposter syndrome in the future, they can definitely be a useful tool to help you gain insight and information to quiet that voice in your head faster, and prevent these doubts from impacting your future decisions or potential. Remember, you are capable! Even the most successful people have been where you are today. We can always learn new things and we all have unlimited potential! Believing in yourself is the first step.