Feeling like a fraud? Get over it! - Business Works
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Feeling like a fraud? Get over it!

by Laura Little, Learning and Development Manager, CABA Do you have strong feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? Laura Little, Learning and Development Manager at CABA provides strategies to help overcome this lack of confidence.

Perhaps you feel uncomfortable when people praise you, so play down your strengths? If the answer is yes, you may be suffering from 'Imposter Syndrome'. Imposter Syndrome was first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe the psychological pattern shown when someone feels a deep-seated sense that their achievements are not real.

Many people with Imposter Syndrome focus on their mistakes, rather than their successes. They tend to fixate on what they don't know, rather than what they have good knowledge of. Those with Imposter Syndrome feel overwhelming fear at the idea of one day being exposed as a fraud.

The syndrome may stop you from achieving your full potential. Even if you do accomplish a task, you may become more convinced you're a fraud. So, eventually you may avoid taking on any new responsibilities and projects, or revise your overall goals and become less ambitious in general.

Thankfully, there are strategies that can help change the way you think and overcome Imposter Syndrome - here are some you can try right now:

Admit it

If you recognise traits of Imposter Syndrome in yourself, try to accept them for what they are. Giving your feelings a name will help you start exercising control over them.

many other people have similar thoughts about their abilities

Remind yourself that many other people have similar thoughts about their abilities. Many people with Imposter Syndrome tend not to mention how they feel because, if they do, they think they'll be exposed as a fraud. Accepting these feelings is the first step towards overcoming them.

Track it

Keep a record of each time you experience feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy or other Imposter Syndrome tendencies. Write these thoughts down whenever they happen, as well as details of the circumstances (where you were, who else was there, what was said and so on). Note how you felt physically - was your heart pounding, were you perspiring, did you have butterflies in your stomach? Jotting the experience down can help you recognise when, and even why, you have such thoughts. Identifying a trigger will help you look towards certain tasks more positively. For example, if you're worried about public speaking because you fear you're not eloquent or knowledgeable enough, you could practice with a colleague first, or attend a course to improve your public speaking.

Reading your journal entries back on a regular basis may also help you realise that what you were thinking isn't real. You may gain a sense of perspective by reading a panicked entry at a time when you're feeling calm and in control.

Open up

Sharing how you feel with people you trust can be beneficial, as peers may offer reassurance and help you realise that your fears of inadequacy are irrational. You never know - the person you're talking to may feel, or have felt, exactly the same. If you're nervous about speaking with a friend or colleague, try an impartial coach or therapist.

For example, an employee may be nervous to broach the issue with their manager, for fear their capability will be questioned and responsibilities removed. It's important to remember that you're not alone (in fact, some estimate that 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome) and that admitting it's affecting you is the first step towards resolving your worries.

Nobody's perfect

admitting it's affecting you is the first step towards resolving your worries

According to experts, people affected by Imposter Syndrome also have perfectionist tendencies. If you're a perfectionist, you may experience feelings of self-doubt when something doesn't work out exactly as you planned. Even when your efforts are a success, you may still feel you could have done better.

Instead of giving yourself a hard time, remember that nobody's perfect. You can be the best version of yourself and excel in many areas. Try making a list of your strengths and achievements and read it back every now and then when you need reminding of everything you're good at.

There are many other things you can do to help combat perfectionist thinking - for example by practising reacting positively to criticism, or practising resilience techniques.

Take a bow

If you have Imposter Syndrome there's a good chance you'll happily blame yourself when things go wrong. But when something you do goes well, you may find it difficult to take the credit. Instead you might attribute your success to others or say that it was all down to good luck.

You can overcome this by trying to change the way you think about your achievements and by taking responsibility for the good as well as the bad. Give yourself credit where credit is due, and when somebody pays you a compliment or praises you, try to learn to accept and enjoy it (it may be difficult at first, but the more you try, the easier accepting praise will become).

Finally, the fear of being found out can be an excellent motivator, as it can push you outside of your comfort zone to strive for success. But watch out for signs of burn out. This approach can impact mental and physical health.

Building self-confidence and learning to overcome negative thinking is not only good for your development in the professional sense, but also in your personal life too. It can release a new energy and improve your overall happiness.

Laura Little is Learning and Development Manager at CABA, a registered charity that provides lifelong support to Charted Accountants and their families. The charity works with hundreds of people every year, providing emotional and practical support. CABA's services are free, impartial and completely confidential and more information can be found by visiting: www.caba.org.uk

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