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The imposter phenomenon and how to overcome it

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The imposter phenomenon and how to overcome it!

“We can’t all be imposters, can we?”  - Jessamy Hibberd

In every meeting and catch up I am having, from interviewing candidates to meetings with leaders booking speaking and training, the imposter phenomenon is coming up. For PAs and EAs through to HR and the Board - it’s a shared experience. As a coach, it’s something I work through with clients and I find that my amazing team of recruiters, although confident and capable are are also susceptible. So how do we overcome it and move into our potential without fear? 

Have you ever felt a lingering doubt, even after achieving something significant, during an interview or in a new position? This doubt might be coupled with feelings of insufficiency and the mistaken belief that our triumphs are due to chance rather than our own diligence and expertise. This phenomenon is referred to as Imposter Syndrome. It’s linked with elevated stress levels, a rise in cortisol (a stress hormone with numerous physical impacts), and anxiety.

In this discussion, we’ll delve into the nature of Imposter Syndrome, the brain science that underpins it, and its connection to our journey of abstinence.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Since its initial identification in 1978, imposter syndrome has been the subject of extensive research. Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition where people express self-doubt about their successes despite having tangible proof of their talent and diligence. People who suffer from imposter syndrome live in constant fear of being exposed as frauds and mistakenly think their peers have overestimated their abilities and performance. Additionally, those who suffer from imposter syndrome believe they will unavoidably fail, which causes them to procrastinate and become less productive.

According to the degree of self-doubt, "imposterism" has been suggested to be either "true" or "strategic":

  • "True" imposters are characterised by having negative self-views and increased levels of anxiety. They are highly perfectionist and likely to procrastinate.

  • "Strategic" imposters are less anxious, have a generally better self-evaluation and are not as perfectionist and report feeling less stressed.

The Neuroscience of the Imposter Phenomenon

People with imposter syndrome project their lack of confidence, whether consciously or unconsciously. The amygdala, the almond-shaped brain structure linked to our emotional responses, actually detects this "signal" in a split-second timing. People notice when we doubt ourselves because the amygdala communicates this to them on a very basic level. It doesn’t matter how senior or how junior we are, it affects nearly 97% of us – you are not alone!

Here's where we come up with a plan to increase our self-confidence and dial up our inner coach so that we can demonstrate to the rest of the world that we believe in ourselves and remember a belief is just a thought that we think over and over, it isn’t a fact. So the more we chose different thoughts the more that becomes a belief system! Neuroplasticity, or the brain's capacity to form new connections, is the key. If we do things differently and practice novel ways of thinking, our thoughts will change, and so will our habits.

We can quickly alter our brains and overcome our imposter syndrome by following a three-step process:

  • Become aware of our self-doubt. By noticing our self-doubt when it starts, we can nip it in the bud. Learn to flag some common unhelpful thoughts such as "others are better prepared than I am" or "I don't deserve this".

  • Change the station. When our brain starts to tell us that we're not good enough, we can tell it the opposite. "I am ready to go!" or "I have done difficult things in the past" are good affirmations to use to turn our thoughts to more constructive and positive paths.

  • Move forward. "Feel the fear and do it anyway" (Thanks Susan Jeffers). If we practice this frequently, our brains will detect that change. We will naturally start to feeling and being bolder

Working on self-empowerment makes us feel more at ease and assured in our abilities, which lessens our sense of inadequacy.

Something that really works for me is noticing three things that I do well every day, no matter how small, and working hard on building an inner coach which helps

As the founder of London’s leading boutique EA/PA, HR and Business support recruitment agency, I’ve interviewed trained and coached thousands of candidates and clients over the years. The focus of my speaking and training is on mindset mastery as it is my mission to unlock potential.

C&C search is London’s leading boutique EA/PA, HR and business support recruitment agency.

Lucy Chamberlain is an international speaker, trainer coach, UN Women Delegate and W Corp Ambassador.

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