Why didn’t I speak up?

That would be a question I’d be asking myself regularly as I kicked myself coming out of yet another meeting. What stopped me from opening my mouth and sharing my idea?

I’d get stuck in a pattern of fear and would freeze, afraid that I’d be found out as some kind of idiot.  Yet someone else would share the idea I’d had and they would get lots of praise and glory. If only I’d known then what I know now!

Have you ever felt like a fraud? Like you’re not good enough for the success you’ve achieved? Maybe you’ve accomplished something great at work, but instead of feeling proud, you feel like it was all just a fluke, and any minute now someone will discover that you’re not as competent as they thought. Or maybe you’ve been praised for your skills in a particular area, but you can’t shake the feeling that you’re just faking it and you don’t really belong there.

If any of this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. And trust me, you’re not alone. The more successful women I work with, the more I realize just how common this feeling is. But here’s the good news: Imposter Syndrome is a recognised thing, and whilst it’s not actually a syndrome, there are ways to overcome it.

The good news is that research has shown that the more competent you are, the more likely you are to feel like a fraud and lack confidence in your work. So if you’re feeling this way, take comfort in knowing that even some of the most accomplished women in the world have experienced it. Maya Angelou, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg – they’ve all talked about feeling like imposters at some point in their lives.

But why do we feel this way?

The root cause of Imposter Syndrome lies in our brains’ primitive desire to keep us safe from perceived threats. Back in the day, we needed to be on high alert for life or death situations, like being chased by a wild animal. But today, our brains still perceive something outside of our comfort zone as a threat, triggering anxiety. This is especially true for women in the corporate world or running their own businesses, who are constantly comparing themselves to others.

So, how do we overcome this feeling of being an imposter?  I’ve worked with a lot of women on this challenge, it rears it’s head right the way up to CEO.  It’s interesting, because people seem to think that when you get to the top levels of a company, that they’ll know all of the answers.  My experience of coaching many women at this level, is that despite their clear talent and competence, they can spend a lot of time doubting themselves!

These are clearly high achieving women, and I often say…imagine what you could achieve if you could believe in yourself.  Thankfully they don’t have to imagine for long, as after a couple of months working together they manage to tame that imposter and get on with being their brilliant selves!

As a reformed imposter, and coach of many others, here are my top four tips that will help you kick that imposter in to touch:

1. Journal daily on what you did well

One of the biggest reasons we feel like imposters is because we struggle to own our successes. We often downplay our accomplishments or attribute them to luck or help from others. To combat this, take time out of your day every day to write down three things you did well. By recognizing the part you played in your achievements, you’ll start to rewire your brain to become more aware of the things you’re good at. This will make you much more confident in them and in work in general.

2. Visualize success

Our brains can’t tell the difference between reality and imagination. By visualizing yourself doing something confidently and successfully, your brain treats it the same as if you actually did it. This can create a comfort factor, prime your brain to be successful, and provide the steps to get there. Repeated visualizations make it clearer and clearer.

3. Shift your focus

When you are feeling like an imposter, you are likely focused on all the things you don’t know, the experience you don’t have, the ways you perceive you may be lacking.  No wonder you don’t feel like you’re enough.  The simple shift is to focus on the opposite, and you can do that by asking yourself a couple of great questions…  What do I know about this?  Have I done anything like this before?  What skills do I have that could help me right now?  And these two are particularly helpful: When have I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing before?  How did it turn out?  You’re essentially compiling the evidence that you are capable, you can do it, and you’ve done similar things before.  That will give your brain reassurance, and a different focus.  Asking yourself questions gives your brain a direction for that anxious energy.

4. Feel the fear and do it anyway

Sometimes, you just need to take the plunge. Remember that nerves and excitement have the same feeling, so instead of telling yourself you’re nervous, tell yourself that you’re excited to identify an opportunity. Consider ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ usually, it isn’t world-ending stuff, so get over it. Think about all the times you’ve pushed yourself outside your comfort zone and succeeded. And if it makes you feel better, make a plan for the worst-case scenario.

In conclusion, Imposter Syndrome is a common feeling among high-achieving women, but it doesn’t have to hold you back. With the right mindset and a few simple techniques, you can tame those gremlins and boost your confidence. Remember, you deserve the success you’ve achieved, and you’re capable of achieving even more. So go out there and show the world what you’re made of!

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