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Feel Like an Imposter? Practice These 5 Habits to Beat Your Imposter Syndrome We are all our own biggest critics.

By Jason Zickerman Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • For those who suffer from imposter syndrome, recovery is a gradual process.
  • By gaining clarity, embracing objectivity and rejecting perfectionism, even the most diehard imposters can transform themselves into the business leaders they long to be.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Picture this. You are a successful business owner with a thriving company and many stark, raving fans. You have got a great team. Your books are in order. You are on a massive growth trajectory, and you can draw substantial income from the business. It sounds like a pretty great spot to be in. But now imagine that even with all the prosperity and success coming your way, you feel like a complete and utter fraud deep down inside.

It is called Imposter Syndrome. The term was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their research paper titled "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention." Clance and Imes described the experience as the pattern of feeling like a fraud. Or the self-perception that one's accomplishments are the result of luck rather than one's own abilities, most often despite evidence.

Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common among high-level professionals and entrepreneurs. According to a recent NerdWallet survey, a whopping 78% of business leaders reported they have personally experienced imposter syndrome in the workplace, resulting in 59% of them considering resigning from their positions, even after finding substantial success in their roles. Perhaps not surprisingly, the prevalence of imposter syndrome tends to skew higher in high-stress, competitive environments. It also appears to affect women almost twice as often as men, possibly due to common struggles balancing work and family obligations.

On the surface, it hardly makes sense that even when backed by evidence, facts and irrefutable competence, many business owners are still inclined to chalk up their successes to luck, chance, or some inexplicable twist of fate.

While nobody can claim to understand the exact cause of imposter syndrome, studies suggest a combination of issues are likely at play. Perfectionism, fear of failure, and hypersensitivity to criticism most likely lead to the list of contributing factors; however, the phenomenon is far more complex.

But really, the biggest takeaway here is that many business owners feel pretty lousy about themselves and the value they add to their organizations. And that's just sad.

Related: 4 Ways I Overcame Impostor Syndrome as an Entrepreneur

Almost everyone experiences self-doubt

You might feel you are successful in business, but your lack of formal education is holding you back. Or perhaps you believe your family ties and elite education gave you an unfair advantage. Or you are not getting your hands dirty enough and instead letting others carry most of the weight.

It is natural to feel insecure and experience self-doubt from time to time. It's when those negative thoughts become pervasive that you have a problem. Recognizing your imposter mentality as faulty is the first giant step to greater self-acceptance and less stress. The act of peeling back the layers of your "stinking thinking" can elicit greater self-awareness and a more objective view of your credentials and the value you bring to your leadership role.

While self-reflection isn't always easy, it truly is the number one antidote for imposter syndrome. But there is so much more you can do to quiet your inner imposter.

Related: Every Entrepreneur Has Imposter Syndrome. Here's Why We Need to Talk About It.

Five effective ways to combat imposter syndrome

As mentioned, imposter syndrome can be a complex and multifaceted diagnosis. I have personally known business owners and executives who have admitted to feelings of fraud. While I am by no means a doctor, in my capacity as a friend or colleague, I have attempted to rationalize with these people and systematically quantify their expertise, knowledge and credentials. Yet that pit in the bottom of their stomachs generally remained intact. No doubt, feeling like an imposter can be a scary, invasive, and debilitating mindset, and sufferers should always consider seeking professional therapy or other appropriate support.

But there are also some effective strategies to help silence your inner Doubting Thomas that mostly boil down to self-awareness, self-compassion, and a good dose of objectivity.

  1. Identify negative self-talk: The narrator inside your head can be ruthless. Do your best to intentionally redirect that voice to one of compassion, objectivity and self-respect. Focus on your strengths and past successes rather than obsessing over your perceived shortcomings.
  2. Recognize personal achievements: Acknowledge that regardless of how critical you are of yourself, you have indeed experienced tremendous personal sacrifice and amassed at least a modicum of success along the way. Celebrate your accomplishments and perhaps keep a running scoreboard of all those wins.
  3. Request feedback: Again, your head can be a noisy and unreliable narrator. To gain objectivity, initiate conversations with key players like your leadership team, colleagues or trusted employees. These discussions don't need to be positioned as analyses of your leadership capabilities; instead, ask open-ended questions during project debriefs or all-hands meetings on how you can best support your team. Then listen.
  4. Set realistic goals: Having lofty goals as a business leader is terrific – but these benchmarks need to be attainable. Yes, dream big, but don't thwart yourself by setting unrealistic objectives. Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound), then break them down into manageable tasks. Every step forward for you is a step back for your imposter.
  5. Understand perfection Is impossible: There isn't a project in the history of the industrial world that was completed without a bump or two along the way. Falling short from time to time on your leadership journey is a given, and expecting perfection is both unrealistic and self-defeating. Failure is an essential component of the learning process. So remove judgment and leverage mistakes to your advantage.
Jason Zickerman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of The Alternative Board | Business Development and Growth Advisor

Jason Zickerman is the President and CEO of The Alternative Board, an international organization helping business owners and their leadership teams improve business and change lives.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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