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6 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome for Good

Stop doubting your capabilities with these six techniques.

Hedy Phillips CNET Contributor
Hedy Phillips is a freelance lifestyle writer based in New York. While she's not writing on topics like living on a budget and tips for city dwelling, she can usually be found at a concert or sightseeing in a new city. Over the past 10 years, her bylines have appeared in a number of publications, including POPSUGAR, Hunker, and more.
Hedy Phillips
5 min read
Concept of clouded thinking. Portrait of a women standing in from of a wall with a cloud on her head.
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Imposter syndrome is so common that there's a chance you've experienced it at least once in your life. Beyond doubting your abilities or striving for perfection, imposter syndrome can manifest in multiple ways -- like an unwillingness to ask for help -- and can hinder your mental or physical health. While plenty of us feel anxious about tackling new jobs or hobbies, imposter syndrome can quickly turn to self-sabotage, which can lead to setbacks in our personal goals.

Learn more about this experience and how to get over imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

According to Psychology Today, imposter syndrome is a feeling of being inadequate or undeserving of achievements in some aspect of your life. This feeling commonly occurs in work-related settings. You may experience imposter syndrome regardless of any success you've previously had.

But what does imposter syndrome feel like? Imposter syndrome often manifests as nervousness or anxiety and almost always results in negative self-talk or feeling like a fake. If you don't think you belong at your job, you might tell yourself that. For example, if you get a promotion at work or are appointed to lead a project -- due to your success and ability -- you might question it simply out of fear of failing. Imposter syndrome means some part of you doesn't believe you can do it. 

Imposter syndrome can affect your mental health, cause severe anxiety, and affect your physical health. When you're anxious, you don't always sleep well, and poor sleep hygiene can lead to various physical concerns like impaired cognitive function and digestive issues.

Common signs of imposter syndrome

  • You have consistent doubts about yourself and your capabilities
  • When you succeed, you say it's because you're lucky, not because you earned it 
  • You constantly try too hard to do everything each time
  • You set goals that are nearly impossible to achieve and berate yourself if you fall short
  • You have fear of not accomplishing everything you think you should
  • You sabotage your success in some way, shape or form

Types of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can look different for everyone. Here are the most common types of imposter syndrome.

  • The superhero: A superhero has to do everything and be the best at everything. 
  • The natural genius: The natural genius has to master every new task immediately because it should come naturally, and shouldn't take long to learn.
  • The individualist: The individualist refuses to ask for help and feels they must do everything independently.
  • The expert: Experts work in absolutes: If they don't know something about everything, they must be a failure because there's no in-between.
  • The perfectionist: Perfectionists believe anything less than perfect is a failure.

6 ways to overcome imposter syndrome

These techniques can help you beat imposter syndrome if you've had negative self-thinking.

Graphic of a man in a tie with negative thoughts over hid head, like "can't?" "good enough?"
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1. Name what you're feeling and accept it

Recognizing your issues is the first way to work through them. You probably know you're engaging in negative self-talk, so the next step is determining if it's imposter syndrome. If so, be open and honest with yourself about it. See which category of imposter syndrome you fit into and talk yourself through the feelings surrounding it. Try to figure out what may have started these feelings so you can understand why it's happening. 

2. Don't compare yourself to others

Comparing yourself to others is an easy way to feel bad about yourself. Everyone on this planet is different and is charting their own course. Your success will look different from those around you, and that's OK. If you commonly look at others to compare yourself, it's time to change the habit. Even judging yourself based on your previous achievements can lead to trouble. It's OK if last year at work you got a promotion and this year you didn't. What matters is that you're working at a comfortable pace for yourself and your lifestyle and celebrating your achievements when they happen.

3. Examine your negative thinking

It's easy to get caught in a cycle of negative thinking, especially if you already have doubts about yourself. Pay close attention to the thoughts in your head and each word coming out of your mouth. When something negative pops up, give yourself a moment to hear it and then spend the next few minutes deciding why you chose those thoughts and why they're not true. Counter the negative thoughts with positive ones so you can start to turn your attitude around and feel more confident.

4. Celebrate your accomplishments 

One way to counteract any negativity is to celebrate your achievements when they happen, even if they're small. If you're trying to counter imposter syndrome, you should especially honor the little accomplishments. Celebrating each step toward a goal can help you understand that you are worthy and successful. And yes, stopping negative self-talk is worthy of celebration, even if it doesn't feel like a step toward success. 

5. Practice self-compassion 

You aren't perfect, and that's OK. Don't expect to kick the imposter syndrome overnight. Working through your emotions and thoughts will likely take a while, and you'll probably slip up a few times. It's fine if you do, as long as you recognize what happened and get back on track. Don't be hard on yourself during this process. You're already dealing with strong emotions of failure, which means it'll be easy to think you're failing at this if you can't "fix" yourself right away. Give yourself time.

6. Talk with others

You're not alone. Reach out to family members or friends you feel comfortable with and open up to them. Tell them how you're feeling and bring them into your process. Let them know you're having difficulty seeing your success, and ask them to help you see your successes. You can also opt to see a therapist who understands imposter syndrome. They can help you identify your feelings, including the root causes, and work through them to help you gain self-confidence.

Too long; didn't read?

Imposter syndrome is common and happens to many of us. It's a normal experience that can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Once you've realized that you're going through it, you can start to work out your feelings and put yourself on a path to more self-confidence and more success that you're proud of in life.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.