Impostor syndrome: Feeling like a fraud

Many small business owners struggle with the fear that their success is down to luck rather than hard work or talent. Known as impostor syndrome, it often affects high-achievers who are goal-oriented. If you feel like a fraud, try these tips to overcome your negative inner voice.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon rather than a clinical diagnosis. The term was coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Clance in the 1970s.

It often affects people who are driven and successful. It’s characterised by a sense of dread or anxiety that you’ll be found out as a fraud who doesn’t deserve your success.

If you have thoughts that run along these lines, you could be experiencing impostor syndrome:

  • I’m winning contracts but soon I’m going to be found out.
  • I don’t belong here, my work’s not good enough.
  • I don’t have the skills to do this, it’s going to fail.

How to deal with imposter syndrome?

Talk about it

Clinical psychologist Jacqui Maguire says if you’re plagued by self-doubt, one of the best things you can do is talk about how you’re feeling. “You have to name it to tame it. Often when we keep things in our mind, they get bigger.”

If your biggest fear is being found out as a fraud, then exposing that fear to others is likely to feel intimidating.

Maguire recommends finding people you feel safe talking to, like a mentor, close friend or other small business owner. Once you start opening up to others, you’ll probably be surprised at how common these feelings are.

Talk kindly to yourself

Rather than dwelling on everything you think you could’ve done better, make a conscious effort to take note of things you’ve done well.

“People are usually really good at remembering the things that go badly,” says Maguire. “We’re not so good at remembering the things that go well.”

Something as simple as writing down three things each day that you’ve done well can help retrain your inner voice. “If you can do that consistently every day, it’s shown to build up self-esteem and self-confidence.”

Keep track of your good work

External validation is also helpful, so Maguire also recommends keeping a log of positive feedback about your work, your business, or why people like working with you.

“Then if you’re feeling anxious you can go and have a look at all of the positive feedback you’ve collated.”

Experiment with new behaviour

Impostor syndrome and perfectionism often go hand-in-hand and can lead to burn out. “In order to keep people from discovering you feel like a fraud, you might work really hard, long hours and go above and beyond what’s actually necessary to get things done,” says Maguire.

Small behavioural experiments can be a useful way to adjust your thinking – and your workload. “If you usually spend 10 hours putting together a proposal, try cutting that down and doing it in seven, then see what the outcome is.”

“You’re trying to, over time, learn that you don’t need to be excessive in order to achieve good results.”

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