3 ways to tackle the impostor phenomenon

Worst nightmares

Last night I woke up in a cold sweat, having had that dream again.

You may know the one.

Sitting in the school hall aged 18, I was about to sit the all-important final exams, but with just one slight problem: I’d done no preparation or revision whatsoever (shudder).

Writing this down in the cold light of day it seems silly, of course – but I have this fantasy bi-monthly on average, and it’s always a huge relief when I awake to discover that it was just another night horror!

The impostor phenomenon

The impostor phenomenon or impostor syndrome is a persistent internalised fear of being ‘found out’ or one’s life achievements being exposed as a fraud.

The condition was first recognised in the 1970s, and encapsulated how common it can be for those exhibiting the syndrome to feel undeserving of their success.

It’s useful to understand that the predicament impacts almost everyone to some extent; by definition to be a high-achiever you’ll need to experience unfamiliar events, kick new goals, and scale fresh heights.

3 ways to tackle the impostor

You’re far from alone, then, and here are 3 useful tools for batting the internal impostor to the fence:

(i) Keep a victory log – I learned this concept from my great friend and US author of Rich Habits, Tom Corley.

As a self-protection mechanism, we’ve evolved to recall bad events & adverse outcomes more vividly than our successes, but you can correct this imbalance by keeping a success journal.

This can smash the corrosive habit of focusing unduly on negatives, through reminding yourself of the value you’ve added through your many successes;

(ii) Failures as learning opportunities – everyone makes mistakes, and arguably many of the most successful people have made the most errors – and learned from them.

Perfection isn’t realistic, so learn from the failures; and

(iii) Write your own obituary – while everyone’s journey will be unique, and thankfully we’re all different, there is one thing that we all have in common: we’ll all be counting worms one day.

It’s all too easy to be swept up in the minutiae of life’s swift current, but the great day of reckoning will arrive soon enough.

Penning your own eulogy can help you to live intentionally.

Good night, sleep tight…

These are tremendously useful exercises for the next time you feel that nagging sense of inadequacy.

Tonight, then, I plan to read my victory log before drifting into a pleasant slumber, instead of hallucinations about falling, turning up to work naked, running hopelessly late for a meeting, or my teeth falling out!

Sweet dreams!