5 Ways to Shut Down Imposter Syndrome at Work


Have you ever felt as if you were in over your head at work, despite outward success? Or worried that, one day, your boss will realize your accomplishments are all thanks to a streak of good luck? If so, you might be battling a case of imposter syndrome—a psychological phenomenon most of us will experience at some point in our careers.

“Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you’re a fake or a fraud,” explains Melody Wilding, an executive coach and human behavior professor at the City University of New York. “You doubt yourself constantly and you have trouble internalizing your accomplishments despite evidence that you’re smart and successful.”

On top of the feelings of anxiety it produces, this belief could hurt your finances, too—if, for example, you lack the confidence to negotiate for a much-deserved raise or apply for a better job because you don’t think you deserve it.

The good news? You can beat imposter syndrome (or at least tame it) with these moves.

1. Lean into the humble brag.

Instead of obsessing over what you haven’t done, give yourself permission to celebrate what you have. This can be as simple as creating a private “success folder” on your desktop, where you keep a list of accomplishments and screenshots of “good job!” emails you’ve received.

Seeing your wins in black and white can go a long way toward convincing yourself that you’ve earned your success. Bonus: This information will come in handy when you’re ready to hit up your boss for a raise.

2. Reframe negative thoughts.

One of the best ways to shut down self-doubt is with a tactic psychologists call “naming it and reframing it,” Wilding says.

Start by writing down negative thoughts when they bubble up. “You’ll probably find your inner critic repeats the same stories over and over again, [using phrases] like, ‘This will never work out’ or ‘I’m totally going to bomb,’” Wilding says. “Realize that these thoughts are simply habitual, protective responses.” Once you start to recognize (or “name”) these thoughts, you gain more power to reframe them into something productive.

For example, if your inner critic says you’re unqualified to lead a new project, ask yourself: What’s the worst-case scenario? Imagining how you’d recover if something bad happens can help you get unstuck—and tackle concerns ahead of time. Odds are, you won’t need the backup plan, but you’ll be prepared if you do.

3. Be kind to yourself.

“My favorite quick tip for beating imposter syndrome is to talk to myself like I would a friend,” says freelance writer Kristin Wong. This helped her fight back when her inner critic told her she was out of her league while writing a book.

“[I practiced saying], ‘It'll be hard, but you've done hard things before, and you'll do this,’” she says. “That's a much more motivating and encouraging mantra.”

4. Practice negotiating and asserting yourself.

Often, people struggling with imposter syndrome overcompensate by saying yes to too much—from unreasonably long office hours to low-ball job offers. “Learning skills like negotiation and assertive communication have been some of the most powerful to help me balance out my own tendency to people-please or take on too much,” Wilding says.

She sharpened her negotiating skills by creating high-level outlines of what she wanted to get across to colleagues, which helped her feel and sound more natural. She also focused on communicating more directly—removing “weak” words (like “kind of” and “just”) from her vocabulary—and not over-apologizing.

5. Take the compliment.

“When someone gives you a compliment, resist the temptation to explain it away,” Wilding says. “Instead, practice saying ‘thank you!’ and leave it at that.” Accepting praise can help us begin to internalize our achievements, which ultimately boosts self-esteem.

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