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Do you feel like an imposter?

[Image credit: The Design Team]

Do you feel like no matter how much you learn, read, or take certifications/degrees, you still feel like you aren’t good enough? Or that you don’t know enough? Are you terrified of not knowing the answer because you think you’ll be discovered as a fraud? Are you paralyzed with fear to act because you’re afraid of failure? Or maybe procrastinating making a decision to do something because you don’t feel like you’re quite ready?

You are not alone. It is very common. Actually, quite normal.

I was going to write about something else today, but this topic is something that keeps coming up in my world.

I have noticed in the last few days at least five different instances of people exhibiting imposter-like thoughts/beliefs. Some out-right saying on their social media page “I feel like an imposter.” People who I believe to be much more successful than me (out comes my negative self-talk), so I was surprised to hear/see their self-doubt.

The truth is, the only thing stopping you is you. This is something I still remind myself daily. That sounds harsh, but ultimately that’s it. And it’s one of the hardest things.

Negative self-talk, a symptom of imposter syndrome, is something we have to overcome because of our brain’s negativity bias. That’s right, we are wired to be negative, or react more strongly to negative stimulus. It’s a survival instinct.

So… don’t be too hard on yourself for being negative. Self-compassion is an important step in overcoming this.

What, you might ask, can we do about it? What are some steps to overcome and re-wire our brain to be more positive?

1. The first step is recognizing when it is happening. This is a type of situational self-awareness

At first, you might notice after the fact. That’s great, now you can take the time to reflect on it! Here are some questions to ask yourself about your mindset:

  • What is going on in my head when I’m being negative?

  • What things am I saying to myself?

  • What is my trigger?

  • What words do I say?

Also, check in around what your body is doing in those moments:

  • What emotions do I feel?

  • What happens to my body?

  • Where do I hold tension in my body?

  • What physical cues can indicate to me that I am in a negative mindset?

Asking someone that you trust to call your attention to your self-talk is also quite helpful. On that note, who in your life can help you become aware of your self-talk?

Once you have some answers to the questions above, you will likely be able to start recognizing negative self-talk as it is happening… (The order for the next steps aren’t particularly important…)

2. If you’re emotionally/physically worked up, calm yourself and/or release tension

There are a number of things that I do to release tension, relax and re-center myself when I am worked up:

  • I take at least 3 slow, deep breaths, and continue to focus on breathing

  • I focus my mind on something repetitive. Either counting backwards from 100, or a single word (“breathe” or “relax”) that I time with my exhale

  • Move my body, particularly parts that might be holding tension

  • Let out a guttural noise (like Ahh, scream, wail)… and hope no one is around. Just kidding

  • Meditation

  • Cry

  • Hug someone, or my dog

  • Sex

What works for you to calm yourself or release tension?

3. Reframe language to something neutral, or positive

Even if you’re not “stuck” in a negative self-talk mindset, there are still ways in which we often use language to describe our life with judgement.

I challenge you to pay attention to how your language affects framing.

For instance, we say “I should do xyz” a lot. The word “should” implies that we are bad if we don’t do the thing we say we should do.

Instead, even if we were to say “I need to do xyz” it is removing judgement. Also, we could say “it would be nice to do xyz” or “it would be helpful to do xyz.”

A positive framing could be: “doing xyz would move me towards my goal of abc.” That way we aren't attaching a moral judgement, and we are linking it to a broader goal.

What is something that you regularly say to yourself that you could reframe in a way that is neutral or positive?

4. Actively saying positive things to yourself helps build neural pathways that keep you positive

Positive self-talk is similar to #3, although #3 is more about re-framing something you've already said or thought. Positive self-talk is a way to pre-empt negative self-talk.

Making positive self-talk a practice, unto itself, is a great way to pro-actively put yourself in a positive mindset. It is also a great way to build the neural pathways that will help you stay in a positive mindset when something is challenging you. (As an aside, check out Amy Cuddy's Ted talk on “power posing.” It’s the body movement equivalent of positive self-talk.)

It might sound corny, but waking up in the morning and thinking/saying/writing positive affirmations will make you believe them.

Here are some of mine:

  • I am a masterful coach

  • I am a successful woman

  • I am a powerful woman

  • I am intelligent

  • I am taking the required steps to achieve my goals

What affirmations do you need to tell yourself to keep you standing in your greatness?

5. Talk to a coach

I am not saying this because I am a coach and want to plug coaching (although feel free to reach out). It is in fact a great tool to help people reframe the way they see and interact with themselves.

Negative self-talk is one of the most limiting things to athletes. At the highest level the game is 90% mental. That's why sports psychologists play an important role in the athlete's coaching staff.

While professional coaches are often not trained/certified psychologists, a lot of methods used by coaches are borrowed from psychology. Positive self-talk, visualization and imagery are three fundamental tools that sports psychologists use with athletes, Special Forces Operators use in military operations, and coaches use with clients to re-frame thinking towards achieving the impossible.

Believing in yourself is most of the battle. The “doing” part comes easier afterwards.

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