What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m not capable? What if I don’t deserve anything better than this? If you’ve ever had these questions running through your mind, you probably know what it’s like to struggle with self-doubt (the mental habit of questioning your own worth or judgment).
Imposter Syndrome: What if everyone realizes I’m a fraud?
Imposter syndrome describes the condition of having persistent self-doubt (despite objective achievements) and fearing that eventually others will find you out as a fraud or imposter. Any success that you achieve is attributed to external factors, like luck, rather than being the result of your actual competence. If any of this resonates with you, rest assured that you’re not alone. Research suggests that between 9-82% of the population experiences some degree of imposter syndrome.
Feelings of imposter syndrome are associated with low self-esteem as well as fears of both failure and success. In the workplace, imposter syndrome can lead employees to experience increased stress, along with reduced job performance and satisfaction over time. Struggling with imposter syndrome can limit your ability to fully achieve your professional potential and contribute towards an increased likelihood of burnout.
Our minds are like judgment factories, constantly pumping out positive and negative evaluations of most of the stimuli we encounter. Because our minds evolved to compare ourselves to others, our judgment factory tends to specialize in negative self-criticism.
Becoming more aware of the narrative you have about yourself can help you identify when you’re getting caught up in the “I’m not good enough” story and stop the cycle in its tracks. Here’s a simple technique to defuse from self-doubt when it comes up:
Put your negative self-judgment in a sentence, in the form “I am X” (ex: I’m not smart enough).
Then, replay the thought with this phrase in front of it: “I’m having the thought that…” (ex: I’m having the thought that I’m not smart enough).
Finally, replay the thought again adding this phrase in front: “I notice I’m having the thought that…” (ex: I notice I’m having the thought that I’m not smart enough).
The aim of this technique is to help you respond to unhelpful thoughts more flexibly by creating a sense of separation or distance from these thoughts. Your mind is great at reeling you in with its stories, but not all of these stories are true or helpful to you. Cultivating some distance from these unhelpful thoughts can reduce their impact on you.
Maybe you feel that your self-doubt is valid because there are areas that you genuinely struggle more than others. Neurodiversity highlights the fact that there are natural differences in the way people learn, think, and function. There is no “right” or “best” way to function, and differences should not be viewed as deficits. We all have different sorts of limitations, some of which can be improved and others less so (ex: I was not blessed with a great singing voice. Taking vocal lessons could help make me less tone deaf, but I can’t change my biology to sing like Adele). Go easy on yourself and practice talking to yourself as you would to a close friend. Understanding and making peace with your limits can free you up to focus on your strengths.
This is something we all tend to do naturally and automatically. But the problem is that when we get reeled in by thoughts comparing ourselves to others, it usually prevents us from being the version of ourselves we truly want to be. More often than not, comparing ourselves to others only ends up making us feel worse and less motivated to take action on what’s important to us.
Practicing mindfulness (ex: “I notice I’m having the thought that…”) and self-compassion (ex: “I’m only human. I don’t need to be perfect. I am still worthy”) can help you to defuse unhelpful comparisons and get back to being the person you want to be!
Perfectionistic standards can often hold us back and be paralyzing. No one is perfect, everyone fails, and no one is criticizing you more than yourself. When you do experience failures (as we all do at some points), it’s important to try reframing them as learning opportunities rather than indicators of your incompetence.
Try to practice doing things imperfectly. For example, a fun (and challenging) exercise is to try writing a bad poem. It can be about anything. Just write without thinking too much and don’t correct yourself, don’t edit anything, and leave it as is.
Opening up to others and sharing your feelings can help you realize that you aren’t alone in your struggles. Importantly, the people close to you (who know your potential and competence) can sometimes help you to snap out of it when you’re feeling stuck in a cycle of self-doubt.
Almost everyone has some version of the “I’m not good enough” story. Whatever yours may be, remember that it’s just a really convincing story your mind has been perfecting over the years. You don’t need to give this story your full attention nor let it guide your life. Instead, you can learn to reduce the impact of self-doubting thoughts, be more compassionate with yourself, and place your energy back into being the person you want to be.