6 Signs of Imposter Syndrome and What You Can Do About It

Imposter syndrome is the internal belief that you're not as competent as others think you are. This article looks at six signs of imposter syndrome and how to overcome it.


Anne Albright

3 min read

Do you suspect you might be a fraud, and everyone will find out? It's natural sometimes to feel inadequate, but you could be suffering from a more serious ailment known as imposter syndrome.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the internal belief that you're not as competent as others think you are. It manifests itself when people give you praise or positive feedback. You might feel undeserving, even though all the evidence suggests you are highly skilled. At its worst, you may feel like a fraud. The concept was first coined in the 1970s by two psychologists, Drs. Clance and Imes, to describe an experience often felt by students, athletes, and business executives. They discovered that even the most recognized individuals often failed to understand their worth, which could cause performance problems. Imposter syndrome can hinder your work, career, and personal life, so it's essential to recognize the signs early and stop it.

1. Minimizing Your Achievements

People with imposter syndrome truly believe their achievements are not a big deal. When someone praises you, you instinctually rebut it and don't believe you deserve it. You may automatically point out the contributions of others to minimize what you did.

2. Chalking It Up to Luck

People with imposter syndrome attribute their accomplishments to luck. They overstate the role chance plays in their lives, completely missing the skill and hard work that made it all happen.

3. An Impossible Standard of Success

You may set an impossibly high standard of success for yourself and then feel that you don't deserve to achieve it. One way to tell if this is an issue is to determine whether you feel fear or anxiety when you think about the goals you want to reach. This is a symptom of perfectionism often at the core of imposter syndrome.

4. Fear You're Not Measuring up

People with imposter syndrome often secretly fear they don't meet others' expectations. These could be your boss's expectations at work, your family members, or even friends and business partners. No matter how often they confirm that you're doing a great job, you feel it's never enough.

5. You're on the 'Imposter Cycle'

The imposter cycle is a pattern that starts with anxiety leading to intense over-preparation and planning. Driven by the fear of not doing a looming task well, you go through a frantic process of preparing. This may be accompanied by procrastination and excuse-making. When the project is accomplished, you feel momentarily satisfied until you think of the next undertaking.

6. You Don't Ask What You're Worth

When you don't understand your true worth, you don't ask for what you deserve. This includes the pay you should be receiving. The feeling of inadequacy will impede your need to ask for a raise, quote your services, or make any other kind of big ask.

10 Tips to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

1. Know the Signs.

You've learned the signs here, so you can put this to use right now. Pay attention to your words and actions and interrogate the feelings that arise. Where are they coming from, and why?

2. Fight Imposter Syndrome with Facts.

The negative feelings you feel aren't based on reality. Looking at the facts can help. Gather evidence that shows how much progress you've made and how much you've achieved, then surround yourself with it when you need a reminder.

3. Share Your Feelings.

You're not alone in feeling the way you do. Did you know that such obvious high-achievers as Michelle Obama and Maya Angelou have expressed these same feelings? Reach out to others who think themselves inadequate and share your feelings. This will help you put things in perspective.

4. Learn Not To Compare.

Imposter feelings often arise from erroneously comparing ourselves to others. Remember that we are all different and have our own paths. Avoid comparing yourself to others.

5. Celebrate Your Successes.

If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you focus on your failures and shortcomings rather than your successes. Remind yourself of the amazing things you've achieved.

6. List up Your Strengths.

List your skills, qualifications, experience, and natural strengths. Use this list to boost your confidence whenever you need it.

7. Switch Negative to Positive.

We often have negative self-talk driving our feelings of insecurity. Recognize the negative talk and replace it with something positive.

8. Reframe Failure.

What does "failure" mean to you? Reframe it so it's not something bad but a valuable learning experience.

9. Visualize Success.

What would success look like? Imagine what it means to you and visualize yourself making it. This will help you with setting impossible standards and being more satisfied with your achievements.

10. Let Go of Perfectionism.

Focus on your progress and growth. Quit trying to be perfect. Adjust your standards and learn to do "good enough" while striving to improve.