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10 steps to reduce the impact of the Imposter Syndrome

10 steps to reduce the impact of the Imposter Syndrome

Let me start this by introducing myself. I'm Matheus and I’ve worked on different positions in different projects and verticals, on companies and research institutes: development, business analysis, requirements analysis, technical leadership, innovation policies, and project management. Over time I’ve moved on to senior leadership roles and the past few years I am serving as Managing Director for Thoughtworks Spain and also part of the company’s global leadership team.


A few weeks ago, I had a session with one of my mentees. He asked me to talk a little bit about the famous: Imposter Syndrome. To prepare myself for this session, I took notes of stuff that helped me to overcome my own Imposter Syndrome in the past. At the end, we had an amazing discussion! So I decided to remove all personal examples and anecdotal stories and share what was left here. I did not invent most of these items, I  have collected them from books, presentations, and articles I have read and a few are from personal insights. But everything here is related to practices I’ve tried personally and have worked for me. Without further ado, here are the 10 steps to reduce the impact the Imposter Syndrome has on you:

1. Break the silence

  • Talk about it with someone you trust from time to time.
  • Understand that everyone feels it.
  • Give names to your feelings (This is a powerful tool used in therapy sessions)


2. Separate feelings from facts

  • There are times you’ll feel foolish. It happens to everyone from time to time. Realize that just because you may feel foolish, doesn’t mean you are.
  • Measure your results and the results of the teams you lead. Focus on that, not on your negative feelings.


3. Ask for feedback

  • Ask for specific feedback on areas you may feel as an Imposter. Say you think you are not doing well on communication, you can go to someone you trust and ask: "How did I do on the last presentation? Anything I should do differently?" You'll be surprised with the results.


4.  Focus on the positive

  • Celebrate your wins, really.

  • Accept positive feedback, do not always diverge from them by bringing the team or others. Just say thank you.

  • Focusing on the positive and on the solutions instead of focusing on the problems will get you and your team to an amazing place.


5.  Develop a healthy response to failure and mistake making

  • Making mistakes, learning with them and pivoting is how we grow. The day you stop making mistakes you'll be stuck!
  • "Build - Learn-Improve - Build again" is way better than falling into the "Build - Build - Build" trap.


6.  You do not need to know everything in advance, you can ask for help

  • If you’ve been operating under misguided rules like: “I should always know the answer,” or “Never ask for help”, rethink. A good leader will acknowledge when they do not have the answer, and that is fine.

  • Recognize that you have just as much right as the next person to be wrong

  • Showing vulnerability is not a bad thing.


7.  Understand your triggers/symptoms

  • “Oh my God everyone here is brilliant" thoughts like these, are very likely to be a trigger for Imposter Syndrome. Try to understand what are the triggers or symptoms of your Imposter feelings and get more and more aware of that.

  • Being a minority in a group (age, gender, tenure, ethnicity, etc.) can also be triggering.

  • New roles, new teams, new clients... are usually triggers.

  • Recognize your triggers and what emotions they triggered. Only by doing that, eventually they lose power over you.


8. Accept that you do bring something to the table

  • Everyone is unique and can contribute. You are not here by mistake.


9. Fake it ‘till you make it

  • Feeling an Imposter and having fear is a common pattern. 

  • Fear has a biological reason to exist. In Thoughtworks Brazil we say “Courage is not lack of fear, but doing it anyways even when afraid”.

  • The problem is if it becomes pathological, if that’s the case, try these steps here and/or ask for help.

  • The more you act confident within your capabilities, the more you will feel confident and show it to the world.


10.  Find ways to be spontaneous

  • Put some limits on the last one, fake it ‘till you make it.

  • Using "masks" all the time, or making a conscious effort to "behave" or "prove yourself" all the time requires a lot of mental energy that could be used for creativity instead.

  • I suggest you find out what kind of environment makes you more spontaneous and leverage it.

  • Being spontaneous will bring the best out of us.

And to wrap up, Imposter Syndrome still happens from time to time. The trick is not to give up, follow these steps and you will see how gradually your confidence in yourself and your abilities will increase.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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