Three Steps to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Dan Harris
March 24, 2023
Three steps to overcome imposter syndrome

Last week, meditation teacher Dawn Mauricio talked about the experience of imposter syndrome, and ways to work with it. This week, we share some tips from Dr. Valerie Young, who appeared on a special episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast co-hosted by Dan and Bianca Harris. Dr. Young is the co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute, and offers up three key tools for handling imposter syndrome in their conversation:

1. Normalize It 

There are perfectly good reasons, including expectations of your family and career, that you might “feel like a fraud.” Perhaps you’re a student, in a competitive job, or underrepresented in your field. Dr. Young says: “The goal is to contextualize more and personalize less. So the next time you have what I consider to be a normal imposter moment, it's about hitting that mental pause button … and to be able to say to yourself: of course I feel this way, most people would in this situation.’”.

2. Reframe It, Confidently 

Dr. Young points out that “The people who are humble realists, they're no more intelligent, capable, or competent. They just think differently about competence, failure, mistakes, and constructive feedback, and fear.” So next time you find yourself in a thought spiral, hit the pause button and ask, “how would somebody who is humble but has never felt like an imposter reframe this situation? What would they feel differently? What would they think differently? What would they do differently?This can include having the confidence to admit that you don’t know. As Bianca said: “I think one of the most important parts of recovering from this, if that's possible, is saying ‘I don't know’. And being okay with uncertainty, which is especially difficult in medicine, but being comfortable saying, ‘I don't know’ is quite a relief.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the feelings of not measuring up will magically disappear and that you’ll instantly believe these new thoughts. That’s where the next step comes in. 

3. Embody Imposter Confidence, with Humor

Learning how to change the internal narrative takes time and effort. One simple way to speed up the process is to act as if you already had the newfound confidence. And to remember the absurdity of the imposter! Bianca shared a story about a moment of realization in her own progress:  

A couple of years ago, I was writing a note in an electronic medical record and reviewing past notes on one patient. One of them was an older scanned note. I started reading the note, and was thinking to myself, “My goodness, this person knows so much. This note is so well written. The handwriting is beautiful!” And the subtext was: “I'm not like that. I can't think like that. That's not my handwriting. I can never do that.” However, I skimmed to the bottom of the page, and it was actually MY signature from 10 years before. And I had no choice but to laugh! It was a turning point for me. 

“It might have actually served me at one point, being too scared to belong, but not anymore. Having this imposter confidence–an imposter self doing the job–actually got me through a lot of scary times because I knew I could show up.
I didn't identify with that confident person, but I could play the role.”

Learning to treat ourselves with more grace and compassion is a life-long journey, and meditation can help. As Dan said:

I go on meditation retreats, sometimes in ways that are inconvenient for my wife. I do get a lot of self-doubt on retreat. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it right? How am I doing? And (meditation teacher) Joseph Goldstein will sometimes tell people in my situation, count the self judgmental thoughts. And by 282, you can't help but laugh.”

Dr. Young offers a final encouragement: “I think that deep down we know we have everything we need to achieve the majority of goals we set for ourselves in life—not easily, not quickly, not without help, not perfectly, but we really do know that we can do it. I think it's just that this debris of imposter thinking gets in our way.”

Dan Harris is the author of 10% Happier and host of a podcast by the same name. He wrote the #1 New York Times best-seller about how a panic attack, live on Good Morning America, led him to something he always assumed was ridiculous - meditation.

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