are you suffering from impostor syndrome?

Are you suffering from imposter syndrome?

A few years ago I got promoted at work. Despite being more than qualified, I spent the first year waiting to be pulled into a meeting room and told, ‘we’ve made a terrible mistake’. I lived in a state of panic and regardless of any positive feedback, I still couldn’t relax and enjoy my new role.

My experience is not uncommon. I’ve heard of chief executives googling how to run a company and high profile celebrities talking about feeling like a fraud. It’s so well known, it has its own terminology: imposter syndrome. This is where you believe you’re not good enough despite evidence to the contrary.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where feelings of self-doubt and low confidence levels are so intense they make you feel like a fraud. Researchers say it’s more common in high achieving women. However, statistics show 70% of millenials have experienced imposter syndrome at some point.

Whilst I think it’s a far nicer character trait to be under confident and overachieving, as opposed to overconfident and underachieving, the reality is that imposter syndrome can stop us from realising our true ambitions without us really realising it.

So what can you do to overcome it?

  • Awareness of an issue is generally the first step to overcoming it. Take notice of your feelings, thought processes and whether you feel a fraud for no real reason.
  • Try tracking your achievements so you can look back and see how far you’ve come. Some people keep a compliments folder or write lists.
  • Recognise lots of other people feel this way and you are not alone. It’s a sign that you care.
  • Open up to friends about how you’re feeling. Their perception is likely to be different to yours and it might be useful to get an impartial view.
  • Focus on adding value in the short term and remember you won’t feel this way forever.

The pre-mortem technique and how I use it on my overthinking brain

The pre-mortem technique (and how I use it on my overthinking brain)

I recently went on a leadership training course with work. Admittedly, we did one exerciseabout how to evacuate a village, but the rest of the time was spent on management skills and decision-making abilities. This is where I learnt the pre-mortem technique.

What is a pre-mortem?

A pre-mortem is opposite of a post-mortem – where you look to see what went wrong after the event. With a post-mortem you do it before. You take a scenario, pull it topieces, write down everything that can go wrong, then choose the top 2 or 3 and put solutions in place.

For someone withoverthinking, worrying tendencies like myself, the pre-mortem technique has helped me work through some of my negative thought processes. We (as in me and my family) have been thinking about moving house and the mere thought sent me into a tailspin of anxious thoughts. What if my son gets bullied at his newnursery (my son is 2)? What if we don’t like the area (we’ll still be inLondon..)? And even, what if there isn’t a Turkish grocer nearby (erm.. I’m not Turkish)?

I get annoyedwith myself because moving to a new house is a privilege and I shouldn’t look for the negatives. Equally, the last time we did it, I found the move to a different area so much better. I end up feeling really frustrated thinking why I am like this?

Writing down my thoughts has really helped me understand what’s whirling around in my overthinking brain. Even though those thoughts may be somewhat irrational (Turkish greengrocer, anyone?), it’s good to address them head on.

I have found thepre-mortem technique useful, particularly when feeling overwhelmed. I always knew my brain worked at double speed, I just didn’t know how to separate my thoughts out and work through them one by one. Challenging my thoughts, understanding what’s going on and writing it all down has alleviated most of my worries. And I now feel positive about our plans to move.

Dealing with overwhelm

Coffee with notebook by the side open ready for writing in It feels ironic that this week has involved International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day given that I’ve felt like I’m failing in pretty much area of my life.

I’ve made silly mistakes at work through rushing to get things done and I’ve felt guilty for not being fully engaged with my child because my mind is elsewhere.

In my case, feeling overwhelmed triggers headaches and an inability to focus properly. My mind struggles to switch off and then a lack of sleep affects my ability to rationalise things the following day.

It’s pretty much impossible to design a life which is fully stress-free. However, it is important to understand the impact feeling overwhelmed has on the body. It releases the stress hormone, cortisol which longer term can lead to health issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease, low immune systems and many, many others.

How to deal with overwhelm

So what can you do to get this under control?

1. Respond rather than react

Your emotions cause you to react but try instead to respond. This is something I’m learning to put in place (admittedly I did shed a few tears in the work toilets last week). It doesn’t mean you should suffer in silence, just instead take the emotion out, assess the situation and consider the best response.

2. Prioritise

The Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman describes the sense of overwhelm as, “the mismatch between all the things you’d like to do, or feel you ought to do, and the far smaller capacity of things you’re actually capable of doing”.

Look at what needs to be done urgently, what can be done in a few days and what really can wait. The likelihood is not everything needs to be done straight away.

3. Be kind to yourself

Feeling like I’m not on top of things leads to a pattern of negative thinking. I find it hard not to start telling myself what a failure I am. Actually, caring about doing something well is a really positive thing. Remember, you are doing your best.

4. Done is better than perfect

Sometimes you just have to accept there aren’t enough hours in the day for perfection. You just need to get it done and move on.

5. Ask for support

Don’t suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong in asking for help or speaking out. My sister in law took my son for a walk yesterday. In that hour, I finished two pieces of work and feel like I’m going to start the week on a more positive note.

6. Practice self-care

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I get busy, healthy eating (by which I mean good nutrition) goes out of the window. I’m eating packet food and craving anything high in salt and fat. That’s quite a normal response. Stress increases our appetite and so we immediately crave food which will give us a quick burst of energy. Longer term though, it’s not really doing us any favours.

Try to take time out just for you. Run a bath, read a book, watch TV – anything to give yourself a break. Better decisions are made with a clear head.

7. And breathe

I can feel a bit teary when things get too much. If you do feel really overwhelmed, focus on your breath and take a few minutes just breathing in and out. It helps, I promise.