5 Psychologist-Approved Ways to Get Over Imposter Syndrome

woman leading a meeting2

Pretty much everyone experiences self-doubt from time to time, and that’s OK. What’s not OK is letting imposter syndrome and negative self-talk keep you from trying new things and achieving your goals. That’s the general gist of The Imposter Cure, a new book by clinical psychologist Dr. Jessamy Hibberd. Here are five of her best tips for stopping imposter syndrome in its tracks.  

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

First coined by two clinical psychologists in 1978, Hibberd defines imposter syndrome as “a condition in which people believe they are not worthy of success and have a persistent belief in their lack of intelligence, skills or competence.” Who does it affect? Lots of people, specifically those who are successful, accomplished and, per Hibberd, “who have no obvious reason to feel insecure—especially those who find it hard to internalize their achievements or recognize the good parts of themselves.”

How Do You Keep Imposter Syndrome From Holding You Back?

1. Internalize Your Achievements and Recognize Your Strengths

Think about the last time you got positive feedback at work. You were probably really psyched for about three minutes, before moving on to the next project on your to-do list. In The Imposter Cure, Hibberd writes that when we don’t take the time to really celebrate our successes, it’s easy to forget how much we’ve already achieved. “When you internalize your achievements, this gives you a log of everything you have done, so you know your capabilities.” The more you become your own cheerleader, the less you’ll rely on external validation to feel good about yourself. 

confident woman at work1
Luis Alvarez/getty images

2. Walk the Walk

In terms of the link between physical presentation and emotional feelings, Hibberd ascribes to the Amy Cuddy school of thought. If you’re not familiar, Cuddy is the power pose TED Talk lady. Pointing to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Hibberd notes that participants who sat up straight in their chairs rather than slouching were more confident about the things they were then asked to write down. The study also discovered that posture builds a sense of strength and confidence in social situations, too. “The idea of ‘fake it till you make it’ really does work,” she writes.

3. Stop Making Excuses for Your Success

Hibberd isn’t saying you should be arrogant, but she does argue that too many people take self-deprecation a little too far in an attempt to seem humble or grounded. Let’s say you get an awesome new job. Instead of saying, “I got lucky,” acknowledge that luck doesn’t disqualify success; it’s just one small part of it. Hibberd says another common refrain is to say, “I’m a good actor.” “Basically, I’ve fooled them all.” To that, she says, “No one is such a good actor that they can keep up an act at all times. Your competence is part of who you are; it’s not an act.” So there.

4. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

One of the most unfortunate symptoms of imposter syndrome is the urge to stay in your lane for fear of failure. “You might have believed that hiding away and not challenging yourself would make life easier, but it means living with feelings of insecurity, guilt and regret,” Hibberd notes. Understand the limits of your comfort zone and try to venture outside of it. When you do try something new, remember that everyone feels discomfort in new situations, and it’s better to try than never to know.

5. Avoid Making Comparisons

In some cases, Hibberd writes, comparing ourselves to others can be productive, “but you need to make sure that you don’t make assumptions about others that aren’t necessarily true, such as that they are clever, they never doubt themselves, they’re managing everything or they have self-belief.” Her advice? Avoid comparing the way that you feel on the inside to what others show on the outside. Chances are, the image they’re projecting to the outside world is very different than how they’re feeling internally. So yes, it’s OK to motivate yourself based on what others are doing—just do it within reason. 

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...