Imagine sitting at a poker table with cameras and lights in your face, millions of people watching you live on ESPN, and the chance to win $2 million. The pressure is on.
Oh, I forgot to mention you also feel like the “odd man out” because you’re not like the other competitors.
In 2004 this odd man out was actually a woman named Annie Duke.
She was the first woman to win a multi-million dollar payday in poker. She beat out tough competition, including her own brother and Phil Helmuth, a poker hall of famer who has won the World Series of Poker 14 times! In a dramatic last hand, Annie Duke beat Phil to win the $2,000,000 pot.
I know what you’re thinking…”Wow, she must have a ton of confidence and believe in herself so much in order to bluff, strongarm and battle stiff competition to win first place.”
Well, you’d be shocked about what she said about that experience in a recent NPR interview:
“I went in there with this incredible fear that my play that was in front of cameras...would prove that everybody was right and I was actually a terrible player, despite the fact that I had spent the last 10 years making my living playing poker at the highest levels of the game...that I didn’t really deserve to have ever won anything and I was bad and I had just gotten lucky and everyone would know it.”
I couldn’t believe that a poker winner who won $2 million would ever feel this way.
But I can relate. Can you?
HERE’S MY STORY
A few years ago I was also at a poker table. I was at an invite-only event for startup founders with some of the most successful startup entrepreneurs surrounding me. I was the only female there. Yes, I had my own startup but it was nowhere near the levels of the others.
I’m also not a poker player, I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully the buy-in was only $20.
Needless to say, I felt like an impostor. Sure, I had raised $100,000 in capital, but as I was sitting at that table all I kept on thinking was “How the heck did I get here? I don’t belong here, these guys are way ahead of me and are worth millions of dollars!!"
But I didn’t just feel like that at the poker table. Those thoughts haunted me...all the time.
When I was pitching my business, when I’d wake up in the mornings, when I’d be at networking events where I felt people were more important than me...it was constant.
I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but it still hits me. I’ve recently joined the blogging world as a communication coach and there are still times where I think, “People actually listen to me?! Why??” even though I have helped numerous students transform their lives.
Like Annie, I feel like an impostor
WHAT IS IMPOSTOR SYNDROME?
In 1978 two social psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes came up with a definition for it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.”
If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t truly deserve a promotion or that the reason you’ve gotten to where you are is because of a mistake, luck or other things outside of your control you’ve suffered from impostor syndrome.
But here’s the problem with constantly feeling like an impostor… you will act as if you are one and those actions will strengthen that false belief.
As Tony Robbins says, “the story you tell is the life you live.”
Coming from someone with firsthand experience, impostor syndrome is not black and white. It’s a feeling that hits you in certain moments: when you get promoted, when you’re about to speak publicly, or when you’ve just achieved something important.
But for some people, those moments happen way too often.
To help you fight this, I want to share five action items that have helped me crush my feelings of being an impostor.
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO BEAT IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
1. KNOW THAT YOU'RE NOT ALONE
Admit it, did you find some solace in hearing my own impostor story? That’s okay and totally normal. The feeling of sharing a burden with other people can often make us feel more “normal” and not as guilty for feeling a certain way. Feeling like an impostor can be isolating and lonely.
Now if you’re reading this blog, you’re likely an ambitious person and therefore more susceptible to feeling like an impostor.
Suzanne Imes the researcher who coined the term says that, “the impostor phenomenon seems to be more common among people who are embarking on a new endeavor.”
But the good news is you're not alone. The truth is in the statistics.
Firstly, impostor syndrome affects both men and women to an equal degree and this has been shown in study after study. Even people who are successful by society’s standards also feel like impostors from doctors to two-thirds of incoming Harvard Business school students, and other high-level professionals.
Action Item #1: Connect with Like-Minded People
Connect with others who are going through what you’re going through. For example, if you’re a startup founder, connect with other startup founders who are at the same stage as you are. I’ve recently joined a community of ambitious bloggers, many of whom are at the same stage of their online business that I am and it has been comforting to realize that they struggle with a lot of the same things I do!
If you’re not sure where to look, you can try meetups, networking events or even online forums to connect with other people who may feel the same way you do and have the same obstacles you do.
Finally, look for someone who was once at your stage but has succeeded and pick their brain. You can find a mentor who can coach you and share their own experiences about how they used to feel when they were at your stage. You’ll be surprised to hear that they probably once felt (or even still feel) like an impostor.
Here are some helpful sites:
2. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Your brain is wired to be social. So much so, that even in rest your brain is in social cognition mode. Leading UCLA neuroscientist, Matthew Lieberman defines social cognition as “thinking about ourselves, others and relations of ourselves to others in our world.”
Meaning that even during rest, your brain is thinking about social standing, how you're perceived and how you compare to others!
There are two types of comparisons we make.
- Upward social comparisons – are when we compare ourselves to people who we perceive to be better off than us. This may cause frustration and jealousy, but it can also serve as a motivator like when you put a picture of a fit person on your fridge to encourage you to eat better and exercise.
- Downward social comparisons – are when you compare yourself to someone worse off than you. They may have fewer resources than you or may be going through tougher times. Generally, doing this will increase your self-regard and make you feel better.
I’m going to assume that you fall into the “upward social comparisons” category. But how can you blame yourself? Social networks make it so easy to compare.
There’s your friend Franky who’s taking a private jet to Vegas, Lisa who has a beautiful home and just had her second flawless child and Jerry the globe-trotter who’s posting photos from his amazing trip in Florence.
The problem is that people only bother posting the best images of themselves on social networks.
You rarely see posts about how someone just worked a 15-hour day, woke up at 6am to hit the gym or toiled on their e-book for 8 months….what you do see is the post about how their company just raised $10 million dollars, how someone lost 20 pounds or the how the book launch just went viral.
Spending time on social networks can actually affect your mood and how you feel about your life. This study showed that more than one-third of respondents reported predominantly negative feelings after using Facebook. They were also more likely to feel envious and experience lower levels of life satisfaction.
Action Item #2: Limit Social Media
It’s a lot easier said than done to stop comparing yourself to others, but let’s take one small action step today that can make a huge difference- limit your time on social media.
- Timebox it- Only allow yourself a certain amount of time on social networks per day. You can use apps like RescueTime or MinutesPlease to track and limit your time on social networks. Get specific set a realistic goal like only giving yourself 20 minutes per day to peruse Facebook.
- Add some friction- try deleting the social networking apps from your smartphone, this will add a barrier (the step of going to your computer) to get your “social media fix.” If that’s too drastic, one small adjustment you can do is drag and drop your social networking apps on the very last page of your smartphone screen, forcing you to swipe a few more times than you usually do to access them.
- Stop cold turkey- If you’re totally sick and tired of social networks, you can always suspend or deactivate one of your accounts. It may be too hard to delete all of them, so choose the one that tempts you to compare yourself to others the most.
3. GET CLEAR ON VALUES TO DEFINE YOUR OWN SUCCESS
Getting clear on what matters to you most will help you create your own definition of success, rather than relying on what other people perceive as success.
Launching my new blog has been an awesome experience for me, personally and professionally. But when I look at others in my field who are making 6-7 figures, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like a phony. But when I channel some of my values--specifically helping others, I fight off those feelings of inadequacy and focus on doing great work that others can benefit from (which is my top value).
In an interesting study by Crewel and Sherman (mentioned in Amy Cuddy’s book called Presence), subjects were asked to speak publicly in a socially anxious-ridden environment. There was a panel of judges scoring the subjects and they were instructed to come across as stern and unfriendly. The subjects were then asked to count backwards from 2,083 in intervals of 13 while judges were barking at them to go faster!
Prior to the experiment, some of the subjects were randomly selected to practice self-affirmation by writing about a core value that was important to them, why it was important, and a story about it.
The other participants were instructed to write about a value that wasn’t particularly important to them.
To test stress levels they tested saliva samples of the subjects for cortisol (the stress chemical), and those who wrote a self-affirming story showed no increased levels of cortisol and significantly lower levels of cortisol compared to subjects who wrote about a meaningless value.
They were able to replicate a similar study with university students and mid-term exams.
The university study also surveyed students prior to the exam about social judgements i.e. “I worry that people will think I’m intelligent if I do poorly” or “I often worry that people will dislike me.” It turns out that students who worried the most about being judged benefited the most from affirming their own values before anxiety-ridden moments.
The takeaway is that understanding and reflecting on your personal values can reduce the anxiety that you may feel by being an impostor. Getting in tune with your values adds to your self-definition. Being secure with who you are and what your values are, will shield you from relying on others to pass their own judgements on you and create your own definition of success.
Action Item #3 Define your Values
One of my favorite exercises for getting clear on your values comes from Tony Robbins’ book, Awaken the Giant. He explains two types of values that dictate the direction of your life.
Move toward values - pleasurable emotional states that you want to get to like happiness, love, security, success etc
Moving away values - emotional states you want to avoid like humiliation, fear and insecurity
- List out your top 10 move toward values, then rank them 1-10
- List out your top 10 moving away values, then rank them 1-10
- Analyze the 20 values and they way they’re ranked. Ask yourself if those are the values that you need (and in that order) to achieve the type of life you want.
- If you need to, reorganize them the way they should fit in order to build the type of life that you want to build
Is there a mismatch? Are there values that you realized you forgot the first time around that you only remembered when you thought about the life that you want?
For example if you want true love and your #1 moving away value is vulnerability, then you better reasses either your values or what you really want because being vulnerable is inherent in finding love!
Once you begin to realize what values matter most to you, you can leverage them when you feel like an impostor. You can do what the subjects did in the study and write about your #1 move toward value and why it’s important to you when you begin to feel like a “phony.”
Action Item #4: Give yourself Credit by Reflecting on Past Success
When you’re done ranking your values, think about moments in the past where you experienced success. It could be that time you made a tight deadline or a time where you feel like you made a meaningful impact on the world. Whatever those successes are, vividly imagine them and write them down.
Reflecting back on times where you felt like you achieved something will help you beat feelings of impostor syndrome and feel confident in your self-definition. You can also refer to this list when you begin to feel down to channel the skills and traits that you embody.
4. GET GRATEFUL
When you feel like an impostor you see everything with a negative lens. You begin describing yourself as things you’re NOT. “I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, brave enough…” I could go on and on.
When you think about all the things that you’re NOT or the things you don’t deserve, you forget about the things that you DO have.
Suppose you’re a new entrepreneur, just being thankful for the opportunity to be creative, impact the world and change other people’s lives is something to be grateful for!
Focusing on the things that you DO have will cause a major perspective shift. For one, it will put you in a positive frame of mind and secondly, it will distract you from feeling like a “phony” and focus on all the incredible things you have in your life.
Being grateful has been proven to be a keystone habit.
Charles Duhigg defines a keystone habit as “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
Numerous studies have shown that feeling grateful will improve other areas of your life and also allow you to feel more comfortable and happier with yourself. Gratitude has been shown to improve physical health, overall happiness, reduces stress and makes it easier to cope with trauma but most importantly studies have shown that it improves self-esteem.
Earlier we talked about downward social comparisons, something we usually don’t do because we’re too busy comparing ourselves to people who have more.
But downward social comparisons can actually help improve self-esteem especially when you experience major setbacks. Part of that downward comparison includes being grateful for the things that you have that others don’t. Think about all that’s going on in the world, the truth of the matter is if you have access to clean water, a roof over your head and a computer to read this on….you’re pretty lucky.
Action Item #5: List out what you’re grateful for
One effective way I’ve made being grateful a habit in my life is by using the 5-minute journal. It’s an awesome way to quickly list what you’re grateful for every single day.
If you’re not into writing, you can take 5-10 minutes of your day to do a quick mediation and incorporate what you’re grateful for into the meditation. On Tim Ferriss’ podcast, Tony Robbins shared a three-phased approach to meditation where he thinks about things he’s grateful for, people he sends blessings to and the things he wants to achieve that day.
Here’s an example, step-by-step:
- Schedule a time on your calendar either when you wake up in the mornings or before you go to bed
- Turn off all distractions
- Sit down with your legs crossed, eyes closed, dim or natural lights (if it’s night you can turn off the lights and light a candle). Take deep breaths in and out through your nose
- Close your eyes and think about:
What you’re grateful for, the big and small things (i.e. your job, your home, clean water, the sun, your spouse, etc)
The people you send blessings to (i.e. family, friends, coworkers, even strangers you met that day!)
The 2-3 tasks that you want to get done today. If it’s night time, think about the 2-3 things you accomplished that day
Whether you write, meditate or reflect on what you’re grateful for, build it into a habit so it becomes part of your life and builds your self-esteem simultaneously.
CONCLUSION & FREE MINI-COURSE
Feeling like an impostor can be lonely, debilitating and frustrating. But the good news is that you can take action to beat these feelings. By connecting with like-minded people, quit comparing yourself to others, getting clear on your values and practicing gratitude you can build your own self-esteem and give yourself credit for the things you’ve achieved.
This is a guest post by Katrina Razavi, communication coach & founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. If you liked this article, visit her site to sign up for a free three-video mini course called: Crush your Inner-Critic & Have Charismatic Conversations. It covers 6 secrets to social confidence, the #1 strategy to improve your life and how to have natural conversations….even if you’re socially awkward.