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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome With Self-Compassion, According to Science

How can you overcome feeling like a phony at work? Self-compassion can help.

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BY Leah Weiss - 05 Sep 2018

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome With Self-Compassion, According to Science

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I can remember the first day I taught at Stanford. I looked out into a sea of eager future MBA faces and thought, "how will I ever connect with these students?" It was a mixed bag of insecurity and feeling like an imposter-- was I really standing at the front of one of the best business schools in the world talking to students that would eventually be responsible for shaping future workplace environments?

This feeling is known as imposter syndrome and recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences notes that 70 percent of Americans have felt this way and this is an essential bit of information. Recognizing that there are others around you going through the same thing is the crux of self-compassion and one of the best ways to combat imposter syndrome.

Self-compassion involves recalibrating your internal voice from one that might be nagging or critical to one that is forgiving and understanding. It is also a great reminder that everyone messes up at some point, and failure isn't the worst thing that can happen. Strengthening self-compassion can reduce the fear of failure and derail self-doubt.

A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that students with high rates of imposter syndrome had equally low rates of self-compassion. Vice versa, students with high levels of self-compassion had lower incidences of imposter syndrome. The study concluded that developing self-compassion is a useful and effective tool in building resilience to feeling like an imposter.

Psychologists speculate that the feeling of inadequacy stems from extreme pressures by the world around you or by yourself. If you happen to have a loud and judgemental internal voice, you may experience this feeling more than those around you. Or, if you are expected to perform at a very high level, you may begin to feel like you're not good enough or you don't deserve to be where you are.

This feeling can multiply and become more intense when you are promoted or given larger responsibilities. Using self-compassion techniques, the following steps can help to eliminate that feeling of self-doubt.

 

1. Re-frame the way you respond to failure.

Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes is the best way to accept that you will fail often -- and that's okay. Try and determine how or why you could have done something differently every time you make a major mistake. To that end, rethink what "failure" means. Did you really fail or did something just not work out the way you thought it would? Is that really failure? Sometimes perspective is key.

 

2. Separate emotion from fact.

Emotions can get the better of us and can turn low self-esteem into extreme anxiety. Try and stand back from your emotions and ask yourself, "is this really fact or just my feelings taking over?" If your emotions are crowding your brain, focus on the facts instead.

 

3. Know that you're not alone.

Someone, somewhere (even at this exact moment) is going through the same thing. This seemingly small piece of truth has major impact when you're facing a particularly anxious moment. You're not the only one doubting themselves at this very moment!

 

4. Realize that sometimes you will be out of your element.

It's normal not to feel confident when starting a new project or venture. Step back, figure it out, and go mindfully. Focus on one task at a time assuring yourself that you will get the hang of whatever it is you're facing.

 

5. Learn to accept compliments.

Often people facing imposter syndrome cannot accept or acknowledge praise, and this is damaging to your self-esteem. Give yourself a pat on the back when you accomplish a hard task.

 

Learning how to be self-compassionate in the wake of imposter syndrome will eventually lead to feeling more confident about your skills and position.

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