Imposter syndrome checklist
If you think you have "Imposter Syndrome", use this action list to tackle the symptoms. For further information, see our article, Imposter Syndrome.
- Write a one-paragraph reference about yourself that you feel is accurate.
- Rewrite it from the point of view of someone who admires you.
- If the two differ wildly, give your first draft to someone who admires you and ask them to amend it.
- Think about why the two differ and why it is that the other person has a more positive view of you than you feel yourself.
- "The journey of a thousand miles starts (continues and finishes) with a single step." If you are in doubt about whether you can do something or about whether something that you have achieved was fluke, luck or a fraud then seek to break the overall task down into small logical steps. You will soon see that, while there might have been a bit of luck involved in one or two elements, in reality all or pretty much all of what you have achieved or need to achieve is down to your own hard work, skill and consistent application as "the little engine that could" proved!
- Keep a diary and write down three things you do well every day and why it is that you feel that you have done them well. This will remind you what you’ve achieved and help you to find and to recognise success in things that you do in future.
- If you are struggling to find things then ask someone whom you work with and trust to help you to spot these things. As you trust them, trust what they have said to you about you - even if you do not feel entirely confident that they are right. Remember that it is hard to be dispassionate about ourselves and so others' view of us is sometimes more accurate than our own - to adapt an old expression "we are the 'wood' and so we are so close to that 'wood' that we cannot always see all of the trees".
- Keep a note of all the positive feedback you get at work. Think about what you did that made it positive and then seek to identify in things you are doing in future which have those same characteristics.
Body language, appearance and voice
- Look at yourself and address any issues such as slumped shoulders and poor eye contact.
- Don't dress sloppily or in a way that you hope will make you just blend away into the background. This is not to say that you should "power dress" nor lose your personal identity; it's just about making a fair presentation of you. Human nature is to start with first visual impressions and then to correct or to reaffirm them through contact. So it is better if the "book cover" of you gives a clear and, at least, neutral rather than a negative or confused initial impression of the "you inside". This will help the "real you" to be perceived quickly and without distractions by people whom you come into contact with (and, as there is nothing to be ashamed or worried about showing people the "real you", this is a good thing!).
- Aim to look confident as this will help you to feel confident. The TED video, Your body language shapes who you are, by Amy Cuddy may help. Think about the behaviours you want to show and try them out. To help you keep this up, use triggers to remind you, such as a photo or ornament that you’ll catch sight of frequently. This is one area where faking it can be helpful.
- Think about how to develop your voice and speech patterns. However, avoid turning it into something other than your own. Think about Margaret Thatcher after she was told to deepen her voice and slow her speech down. It worked but some people felt that it didn’t sound natural.
- Be careful about using jargon, as it can make you look as if you’re trying too hard.
- To have got this far in your career you are likely to be a reasonably competent communicator. So seek to make comments clearly, simply and only once rather than repeating the point several times over until you get a strong signal from the recipient that they have understood.
- Only use apologetic language (sorry’, ‘I just…’,‘I merely…’, ‘I only…’) when it is merited. We all make mistakes, upset people and forget things and, in those circumstances, a proportionate apology is merited - and sometimes this is better followed by a positive statement to help to move things on to seek to fix or remedy the situation. Don't leave an awkward silence which puts a burden on the other person to find an appropriate way to reply.
- Avoid using apologetic language as a "verbal tick"; as self-effacement because you are not sure that what you have done is right or enough, and you are using the expression to seek feedback, or because you actually want to trigger some form of positive feedback to make you feel better. All that you do in these circumstances is to present the recipient with uncertainty as to how they should respond which makes it more likely that they will either not respond at all or not respond in the way that you had hoped for. This means that you, they and your combined relationship is worse off as a result. While it is not always correct; it is often the case that if you cannot work out what you specifically have failed to do and identify a tangible resulting step that you can take towards remediating it then there is no benefit to the recipient in you using the apologetic language .
- Don't "try" - "do", or "do not". Language often betrays us. When we say "I will try" or "I might" what we often actually mean is "I am expecting to let myself to fail or to miss or to... and I am trying to condition the recipient's expectations so that my failure will not come as a surprise - I want them to become disappointed in me in small steps rather than as one big jolt". So focus on saying "I will because" or "I will not because" - as it will force you to make a clearer decision about what you will actually do and why this is realistic. This approach is also fairer on the recipient.
Your own vision of success
- Ask yourself whether you are really clear about what you want and what you’re trying for, or whether you're pursuing it because you think that you should or because you're just muddling along. You owe it to yourself to understand clearly what you really want out of your career as a whole and your current job in particular. So take the time to work these things out - including through using our other resources - and then recheck that your needs are still the same on a regular basis. We all change over time.
- If you’re worried about this, discuss it with a coach or mentor - this is no shame or stigma in doing this. It is a perfectly normal and sensible thing to do.
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