Imposter syndrome is the buzzword I’m hearing on everyone’s lips right now, almost to the point that it is becoming an excuse for failing.
Now, I am all for acknowledging our mindset challenges – I have built a business around it after all – but I think it is important to acknowledge them, and then figure out how to navigate them.
Too many people are acknowledging their challenges and then letting it hold them back.
They use it as a reason they have failed to do something so that they don’t have to fully accept the failure as their own doing.
This adds to how this term is so poorly understood and the actual issue of suffering from Imposter Syndrome is so often shrugged off.
As the cliche goes (and multiple motivational Instagram posts say) – you don’t grow in your comfort zone.
If you want growth, to push through, and reach those dreams I know you are having, then you need to step out of your comfort zone and not allow yourself to use mindset blocks, such as Imposter Syndrome, to hold you back.
Don’t get me wrong, Imposter Syndrome is very real but it does not have to be permanent unless you let it.
Imposter Syndrome is when you are feeling inadequate in a task, relationship, job, etc. even though there is evidence to prove otherwise.
Through this article, I want to share a little story about my journey:
I struggle with Imposter Syndrome in many elements of my life including my business, Engineer Your Mind, and my day job. It is my day job that I want to share a little with you about today.
How I overcame imposter syndrome
Feeling the odd one out or out of place is not unusual for me.
It’s often a situation I find myself in.
It is a pretty standard part of my everyday life.
How I react to feeling this way is not standard or regular but ever-growing and developing.
I have always been seen as an excellent employee. I have been put on high-potential programs to excel in my career, I have been given spot bonuses and had access to many incredible opportunities. So from an outsider’s perspective, whenever I was extremely nervous about doing something, it seemed bizarre to them because I was doing so well in many aspects of my life.
But the internal self-doubt was crippling. I would often be in the bathroom, in tears just panicking over what activity was happening next that I firmly believed I would fail at. It became a routine – I exhausted the self-doubt out of myself by just crying it out and insomnia that occurred subsequently was unmanageable. Because I was successful in my work often, to me, the routine worked. So why should I stop or try and correct it no matter how ill or exhausted it made me? It worked. I got through the event without embarrassing myself so let’s repeat that behavior for the same result.
Writing this back makes me really wish I had realized this issue sooner. I am not done working through it yet but I am definitely in a much healthier place with my self-doubt.
A few years back, I realized how much all of this was impacting my ability to progress in my career and life. I was spending so much of my life in a very dark place because I allowed my thoughts and feelings to stay in the realm of self-doubt and took no time to acknowledge my successes.
I started going to therapy – I had at this point been diagnosed with depression and anxiety – and worked on understanding myself better. Taking that time allowed me to appreciate myself more, understand my skills better, and how I add value to the life around me, plus it allowed me to build better and healthier relationships – including with my inner critic.
There were a number of tools I used in order to start this process. As an engineer, I like to be very logical and practical, so tools and activities I could do to support this process were key. One of these processes was significantly more impactful and I think it is going to really help you as well.
The Imposter Syndrome Tool: The Evidence Bank
This tool is called the Evidence Bank.
It does what it says on the tin – it collects and stores evidence.
Evidence of what? You.
Evidence of all the amazing and great things you have done and experienced.
Because acknowledging your success deeply is the key to diminishing that inner critic and the plague of self-doubt.
If you look back at my routine, I was spending a significant amount of time sitting with the feelings that I could not do X, Y or Z and repeating it regularly. It was a horrible cycle and made me thoroughly miserable. Keeping that constant focus on the negative self-doubt was unhealthy and fed my depression.
The best analogy I can think of is Bruce Bogtrotte from Matilda where he is forced to eat that entire cake for taking one slice.
My self-doubt is the cake, my harmful routine is my inner Miss Trunchball “teaching” me through pain and stress. I was force-feeding myself self-doubt because I believed it would make it better, bring me success and help me into a place of confidence – much like she force-fed Bruce to get him to learn to not steal cake again. The best way out – don’t eat the cake in the first place.
In order to do that, I needed to create a new routine and focus on what I could do and how that supported whichever impending activity was heading my way.
For this, I used the Evidence Bank.
Within the Evidence Bank I would store things that went well (which in itself was a nice little celebratory routine), or positive feedback I had been given – something to look back on when I felt the self-doubt coming. When we are looking to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone it can feel like a big jump to be successful in that push.
However, the Evidence Bank allows you to create a thought process that understands where you have built and proven skills that will support you in making that jump – your springboard if you will. It will send you on what is called a positive self-esteem cycle.
The positive thoughts and comfort that come from recognizing what you already know allows your anxiety to drop and your ability to focus and be productive to rise allowing for a greater – and in my case much less exhausting – trip to success.
The Evidence Bank is not merely a place to store great things you have done but really question yourself about them – maybe even journal out some of those questions so you can fully appreciate and celebrate your success.
There are additional benefits to keeping an Evidence Bank of your successes too:
- If your CV needs an update for a new job – you have a great wad of information you can copy across.
- Same with an interview and those behavioral questions you get asked (“give me a situation where you…..”) – all logged there and ready to go!
- Networking and need some relevant anecdotes to make sure you are getting noticed for the right skills by the right people – all in there for you.
- Works as a mood booster when needed – I have some recommendation letters I read to myself when I feel like I am failing.
- It helps you remember all your accomplishments over the years to reminisce about.
I know this sounds like a lot of work and you are probably sitting there thinking this is a little self-gratuitous which is probably making you a little uncomfortable, because isn’t it narcissistic to celebrate yourself?!
Firstly it is not and this is a whole other topic in itself as to the difference between being narcissistic and being self-appreciative and why we so firmly believe in the former in most instances. Something I will dig into another time.
Secondly, it is work but it is worth it and it works. Here is why:
The Imposter Syndrome Science
Definition: the brain’s capacity to change in response to experiences, repeated stimuli, environmental cues, and learning.
Let’s break this down.
Most of us spend time on social media and we have all seen by this point a video or post about how what you focus on affects your reality (the one that keeps popping up from me is from Simon Sinek). In those brief clips you are seeing, you will often think that you need to focus on the positives or see the good in everything. You are probably sitting there groaning whilst watching it about how this is just hurtling towards the land of toxic positivity and that you can’t possibly be positive always.
In the latter I agree – all feelings are valid and important to acknowledge. However, learning to train our focus is important for managing those moments of self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome. Understanding where we are pulling ourselves down or risking spiralling is an important point to acknowledge and bring that focus back to the “positive” aka what you know you can do in a situation using evidence you have collected to support you.
Your brain is made up of neurons that determine your experience and feelings. As you are going through an experience the neurons fire on up. The more you have that experience the more they fire up and those pathways in your brain strengthen and new synapses start to grow. (Synapse is the gap between two neurons in your brain where signals are transmitted). The more connected the neuron is, the stronger that particular part of your brain becomes. There is limited space inside your head (even if there are some people we believe have heads that are ever-expanding!) So neurons that are not being used will wither away to make room for the ones you are using most.
Over to you
What you choose to do, listen to, the people you speak to, and so on quite literally help shape your brain – this is why people say you are the sum of the people you surround yourself with.
So in my example, where I am spending hours in a negative “I am a failure” headspace, is strengthening those neurons for that to become the reaction when I am put in a challenging situation. It is the part of the brain I was programming day by day to be strong and determine how I reacted. The Evidence Bank is how I started to undo that behavior and spend time creating new neuron pathways.
Making this change takes conscious effort – this is where that focus comes in and how focusing on an area helps it become your reality. Right now, that can feel very overwhelming but just take 5 or 10 minutes a day to focus on what you are doing well or how your skills are going to allow you to take that next jump successfully. Struggling to do that on your own? Work with an accountability buddy, or friend or even hire a mindset coach or therapist.
Every time that inner critic comes up and tries to spin self-doubt around your head, bring the focus back to a positive. Having that record in your Evidence Bank can help when you are struggling to find that positive! Here’s an evidence bank template to support you.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes by dropping me a message on Instagram (@engineeryourmind) or an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I can’t wait to hear what part of your world you are taking on next with confidence because you and I both know you are an epic individual.