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Imposter Syndrome

What to say about imposter syndrome. Ironically, I must admit first.... I feel like i am not capable of writing this article well. However, to admit that i know nothing about imposter syndrome seems far more like a humble brag then a statement of true humility. What i mean to say is that it has taken me quite a long time to formulate these thoughts, ideas, and actions for identifying and overcoming imposter syndrome. I may come to find out that everything i write about here is unimportant and that i completely missed my mark. I pray i lead no one astray in my wanderings. But in my soul searching on the topic, these are the strategies i have identified for overcoming that feeling that you are not worthy of your success or position or opportunities.

At a high level there are two main pieces, the first is a series of mindset adjustments and perspectives, and the second is a set of actions that you can take to put something in motion before your mind shuts you down. Much of the mindset ideas were taken from this video of Shadé Zahrai, along with some other nuggets i gathered along the way.


I think it’s important to note that imposter syndrome in and of itself is not really a bad thing. Feeling anything, is not really bad. Feelings are more something that happen to us, not things we generally control (more on this later). Imposter syndrome can however, negatively impact us if and when we let it impede our path to progress. When we let it hold us back from taking actions that would improve our lives, or when we listen to the fear and stay where we are, instead of braving into the wilderness. Imposter syndrome might just be the signal that you are pushing yourself to grow and exist outside of your comfort zone. So we are not really trying to “fix” imposter syndrome so that we never feel it again. Instead we are trying to learn to appreciate the feeling, but also learn to keep it from paralyzing us from action.

4 questions

There are 4 introspections that need to be asked periodically when you are experiencing this paralyzing imposter syndrome feeling.

1. Value

Do you value yourself? Do you think yourself worthy of good things? Worthy of things going well for you? Or is there some reason why you feel you should be suffering or failing?

If the answer is no, then there is likely a deep well of thoughts and emotion here. Perhaps you had a number of people in your life teach you that you were unworthy. This is painful and terrible, but a reality for many many people in the world today. I challenge you to explore these thoughts and emotions, though they may scare you and can be quite painful. I challenge you to find someone that you can talk to about these things in a safe setting. And foundationally change the way you see yourself. You are worthy of good things.

I would also challenge you to compare how you speak to others about their goals to how you speak to yourself about your own. Do you encourage your friends and family to chase their dreams? Do you pick them up when they fall and point out the good things that they have achieved? How does that compare to your inner self speak? I think often times we find we are incredibly hard on ourselves, and we would never speak to another human the way we speak to ourselves. Be kind to yourself. You are worthy of good things.

2. Believe

Do you believe you can achieve your goals?

In order for you to achieve anything in life, you must believe that it is possible.

There is a story of a runner named Roger Bannister. In the early 1950’s the common belief was that it was physically impossible for humans to run a mile in under 4 minutes. No one had ever done it, and most believed that it was would never be done. Then one day a man named Roger Bannister came along and he broke the 4 minute barrier. That day, he not only broke a record, but he broke the fallacy too. It WAS possible. Since then, thousands of people have ran a mile in under 4 minutes. What changed? When they stepped onto that field, this time, they believed it was possible. Les Brown Video on Belief

You must believe that your dreams are possible and that you have the capacity to achieve them.

Studies have shown that the bronze medalist is often happier than the silver medalist. This is because the silver medalist is always looking up, thinking about what they could have achieved and what they just barely missed. While the bronze medalist is looking down, thinking how glad they are to be on the podium and how close it was that they barely made it. It is so easy in today’s world to compare ourselves to everyone and wish we were just a little bit better. But it is so important for us to take time to appreciate how far we have come, how hard we have already worked to get here, and be thankful for the accomplishments that we have already achieved. This reflection time is key to curating the belief in ourselves that we can accomplish what we set out to do.

Cookie Jar

In David Goggins book Can’t Hurt Me he talks about going through incredible hardships in his early life. But then later in life he tells story after story of how he pushed himself to achieve incredible, mind blowing feats. Here is a short list of accomplishments:

  • Went through Navy Seal training, not once, but 3 times

  • Ran 100 miles in under 24 hours, with 0 training and preparation

  • Set the world record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (4,030)

This man is a true beast. But in the book he makes it clear time and time again, that the point of the stories is not show how great he is, in fact he considers himself to be less than ordinary. His goal for the book was to highlight what could be possible for the reader, if only they would be willing to put in the work. The physical accolades are really only outward reflections of his true accomplishments. His real victories are the battles that he has won inside his own mind. Overcoming the rules and limitations that his brain set for himself, and retraining his mind to think more infinitely, powered his ability to achieve whatever he wanted.

In the book, he talks about this concept called the Cookie Jar. When he pushes himself to achieve great things, he uses his past victories to fuel himself. Whenever he is running up a huge hill on his 88th mile of a race and he feels broken, he reaches into his cookie jar of memories and pulls out one of his past accomplishments to remind himself of what is possible and what he has already been through in his life.

This cookie jar and bronze medalist mindset takes practice and intentional reflection time. But as you start to stack up small wins, you will realize that your victories will slowly get bigger and bigger, as your belief in your abilities grows (more on stacking up small wins later).

3. Ownership

Are you focusing on the things that have happened to you? Or are you focused on your own actions and reactions?

We talk a lot about ownership on this blog. Much of my obsession with this word comes from reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. In the book they describe how every decision and outcome that happens to a team should be owned by its leader. The leadership position is one of extreme ownership. All things lead back to you, and you can either complain about your team, or the circumstances, or you can take ownership for the problems and then take ownership for the solutions to solve them. This is a mindset shift that is pretty rare to see these days. But it is essential for moving forward with your life.

Also note that i said “leadership position” not “authority position”. A leadership position is not bestowed with a title. Leadership is a lifestyle of protecting the person on your right, and the person on your left. Wherever you are, be a leader. This world is in desperate need of you.

“Whatever happens to you, may not be your fault. But whatever you do about it, is absolutely your responsibility.”

One of my favorite actors, Will Smith, has an incredible video about fault vs responsibility. In it he discusses that people get caught up on who’s fault it is that something bad happened. If their parents were alcoholics, or they didn’t get the promotion they wanted. Often we look to blame other people. And that may be correct. It might be someone else’s fault. It is definitely not your fault who your parents were growing up. But it is your responsibility to overcome those challenges and learn how you can move past it.

4. Mindfulness

How aware are you of your emotional state? Can you remove yourself from your current feelings in order to just observe how you are feeling?

Mindfulness is not just about meditation. Mindfulness really is about being present and aware of how you are feeling and what you are thinking. It is sort of like being your own third party. When you feel angry, noticing that you are angry in this moment. When you are getting distracted, noticing that you are losing focus. It isn’t judging yourself, or sitting still for hours in silence. It is about watching your actions, emotions, responses, feelings, as they happen. And in this practice you begin to understand what causes yourself to feel a certain way, both positive and negative. This third party perspective and view of your life allows you to tune into your own needs and well being. When do you need a break, when do you need more breath, more space, more sleep, more quiet. And you begin to understand that we can actually choose how we respond to our environment. Those reactions that seemed so involuntary and immediate, are actually trained responses. So if we decide that we can have a more appropriate response, or a response that promotes a better outcome, then we can train ourselves to react in that way.

As i said at the beginning, the feeling of imposter syndrome and not feeling worthy of your current accomplishments or position, is really not good or bad. It just is. Noting that you feel that way, without judgement or agenda, helps you to be able to see your emotional state for what it is. Just by merely having this awareness of self, even without trying to change anything, gives us a bit more peace about our current circumstances. Without trying to change anything, just accepting that your feelings are happening, brings a bit more calm into your brain.

While meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness, it has been integral to my journey, so i would be remiss if i didn’t drop a link to the app that i use: Headspace

Take Action

The reflections above are good practices to do periodically and they will help you to understand which areas of weakness are likely leading to your paralyzing demise (but don’t focus only on the weaknesses, remember the bronze medalist). But how then do we begin to build up strength and confidence in these areas? We must start to create a positive cycle by using our words intentionally, and our actions consistently.

When negativity comes, speak, don’t listen

The first part of the positive cycle is to speak the positive story of your life to your brain. So often we get in the habit of listening to our brain speak negative thoughts of doubt to us. But we need to get in the habit of doing more talking and less listening. In the video of Shadé Zahrai she tells an old story that i’m sure you have heard before. An old man is talking to his grandson and he tells him that in his mind there are two wolves. One is evil, fear, anger, jealousy, resentment, weakness. The other is good, love, joy, peace, humility, strength. They both fight for our attention and they both speak to our mind their opposing thoughts. The young boy asks who will win, and the grandfather responds, “the one that you feed.”

When your mind starts talking to you, telling you doubts, reminding you of fears, catch yourself listening to all of these things and then speak. Speak to your mind, speak words of encouragement, words of strength. Change your self story. Go into that cookie jar and tell your brain the way you have achieved in the past. Tell your body how it is going to behave.

Small actions, consistent progress

The second part of the positive cycle is to act. You must take small actions toward your goal or your fear. We talk about small habits a lot. Make a habit and stick to it. Start with something easy, and get through it. Then you take that small win, and you celebrate it and you stick it in your cookie jar. Then you can look back on it and say, look what i did! It is no mountain, but it is a big hill and i ran up that hill even though I didn’t want to. I woke up early even though i was cold and tired and my bed was warm and comfortable. I spoke up in that small meeting even when i wasn’t one hundred percent sure of myself. Take that win and store it away. Write it down or imprint it on your mind. Then find a slightly bigger hill, or just a different hill. This time study hard for your class, get an A on your test. It doesn’t matter what your earlier grades were and it doesn’t matter what your overall grade in the class is, just try to get a better score on the next test as you did on the last one. Take that hill too, and be victorious.

Get your habits done. Go through the motions. And every time you do this, you will build confidence. You will build belief in yourself.

What about failure?

When you fail at a task, rejoice. Do not despair. Rejoice. When you fail a goal it means that you have reached a limitation. Yesterday’s failure means you know what yesterday’s you was capable of. And now you can set about making tomorrow’s you a little better. Study your failure. Dissect it like an autopsy. What were the failing points. What preparation could have helped, what changes could be made to the process. Then take those notes and try again. Failure is good, we should seek it. You want and need it to get hard. This means your hill is getting slightly bigger. Remember what i said at the beginning, imposter syndrome never goes away, but it doesn’t have to be paralyzing. It can simply be a reminder that you are pushing yourself forward, and this cookie is gonna be a little bit bigger than the last one.

Reflect and Repeat

This is not a sprint. This will not be fixed all at once. This is a lifestyle. We iterate. We reflect and take pride in our accomplishments. We fill our cookie jar and we remind ourselves that it can be done. It is possible. Believe, and act.

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