Read any advice column on how to improve anything from your love life to your career and you’ll learn the importance of positive thinking. But positive thinking involves much more than pretending everything is rainbows and unicorns. It means actively embracing challenges as well as examining and overcoming subconscious mindsets.
Many people go through life feeling like “fake it ’til you make it” is a permanent part of their persona. This can lead to mental illness and a sense of disconnection with others.
Here’s how you can identify imposter syndrome in yourself and dispel negative behaviors for good.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to your inability to believe that your accomplishments and strengths come from yourself. Rather, you attribute any success you experience to luck or fortunate circumstances.
Imposter syndrome develops in three ways.
- When you heard excessive praise as a child. When you were growing up, did your parents shower you with accolades such as, “You’re so intelligent,” or, “you’re so pretty?” While they surely meant well, such compliments imply you either possess a trait, or you don’t. In some cases, this gives rise to narcissistic behaviors as you internalize the message you can do no wrong. If you’re an introspective individual, however, you can feel like you’ve done little to earn such praise. Even when you accomplish something as a result of sustained effort, you attribute your success to your intrinsic talents, not your hard work. This leads to a sense of powerlessness over your destiny.
- When you’re different in some way. If you’re a woman who excels in a technical field, you may feel isolated in a field of primarily male peers. The same goes if you’re the first person of color to attend college in your family or if you suffer a disability but thrive despite it. You may feel you achieved what you did not as a result of your efforts but because you stand out in a field with few others like you.
- When you’re normally successful but experience failure. If you typically receive straight A’s, earning a C on a college assignment can rock you to the core. If you scored highly on every other performance review at work, a negative review shakes your self-confidence. While many who don’t typically excel take setbacks in stride, those unused to adversity equate struggles to improve with abject failure.
How Your Subconscious Guides Your Behavior
Consider the last time you drove your car. Did you consciously think, “I’m turning left — I better put on my blinker,” or, “Oh, there’s a stop sign — I best apply my brakes?” Of course not! Your subconscious mind, honed by years of getting behind the wheel, drove you to perform those actions without thinking.
Your subconscious works the same way when it comes to negative thinking influencing your behavior. When you experience imposter syndrome, you subconsciously believe you’re not up to the task. Because you doubt your abilities, you anticipate failure — which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When your thoughts derive from distorted perceptions, you must use a conscious process to correct them. Spend time in meditation or with a qualified therapist examining why you feel you’re inadequate. Then, identify the accomplishments you’ve made that indicate your capability. Write these down on a list you keep in your briefcase or bag. Take them out and read them every time you hear that voice inside whisper, “You cannot do this.”
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome and Negative Behaviors
If you recognize you’re sabotaging your success with negative thoughts and imposter syndrome, what can you do to overcome it? While you may benefit from some form of therapy if your symptoms are severe, you can overcome many self-destructive thought patterns and behaviors independently.
- Start a positivity journal. At the end of each day, write down a list of things you did well. Take care to identify your efforts when citing these accomplishments. These don’t need to consist of big items — you might write, “I composed an email free of grammatical errors,” or, “I overcame shyness by asking a coworker to coffee.”
- Get comfortable with not knowing everything. Do you know how many rejections Stephen King received before publishing a bestseller? How many trials the Wright Brothers failed before their plane left the ground? Everyone is new at something on occasion, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at first. Take your time, and remember, with effort, what seems foreign today will become a habit by tomorrow.
- Seek out a mentor. Everyone benefits from mentorship and a sense of community. Do you have career dreams that you’re having trouble meeting? See if your locale offers a professional networking group and find someone with plenty of career experience to guide and inspire you. If you identify as spiritual, finding a similarly minded mentor can help you find ways to live your beliefs more in your everyday life. The important part is that your mentor can share with you the adversities they faced and how they overcame them — and empower you to do the same.
Overcome Negative Behavior Patterns and Imposter Syndrome for a More Fulfilling Life
When you learn to appreciate your talents, you develop a strong inner sense of self-confidence. Overcoming negative behavior patterns instills faith in your ability to triumph over adversity. With time and effort, you’ll learn to stop beating yourself up for minor mistakes and instead embrace challenges as a way to thrive.
Kate Harveston is a journalist from Pennsylvania. She enjoys hiking, yoga and writing about health and wellness. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her blog, So Well, So Woman.
Image courtesy of Martin Newhall.