Turning negative self-talk into positive action (imposter thinking part 2)

In the last post – Do worry that someone, someday will find you out? (Imposter thinking part 1) – we explained a little about imposter syndrome. We also posed the question as to whether we could use this negative self-dialogue for good.

In this post we will give some practical tips to help deal with imposter thinking patterns.

Firstly, knowing that many people have similar feelings of being a fake, a fraud, or being caught out hopefully helps us realise that it is common, and can be addressed. If it couldn’t be dealt with, we would have a very dysfunctional and paralysed society!

The first step is being conscious of what is going on inside our head.

Ignoring your self-talk, or suppressing the thoughts is not the best option – let’s crash tackle this thing with some wisdom and logic.

An example…

You have a presentation to give to your peers. You start to prepare and then notice an inner voice saying “Who am I to give this presentation, to these people…they know a lot more about this than I do!”

Now, if you have a strategy to acknowledge and address this inner voice, it gives you the opportunity to pause, assure yourself, or to look for areas where you may need to do more work.

The key is to hear the voice and refute/question it; rather than hear the voice, believe it, add more negative comments and spiral into a paralysing pit of self-doubt!

Let’s step this out…

STEP 1: Be attuned to picking up the inner voice when it first starts – notice it consciously.

STEP 2: Find something simple to say internally to acknowledge the negative thought patterns. E.g. “STOP!” Or “Hang on a minute…!” Or “Whoa there!” Whatever word or phrase you use, it is simply something to act as a circuit breaker in the thought pattern. My friend and colleague – Dr Jaspreet Saini (check out his great website here) suggests using a fun phrase to refocus the mind. He used the phrase ‘purple baby elephants’ as a circuit breaker – brilliance.

Logic is better than drama!

STEP 3: Outline what the REALITY is. What’s the background for the project/ job application/presentation? What is the aim of my involvement? Am I really here to save the world?

This brings our logical thinking brain into play, rather than letting our emotions run away and create some false drama.

For instance, you might say to yourself “I’ve been asked to give this talk because of my experiences on this project. The goal of the presentation is to share ideas on improvements for the future. My perspective here is valid. I don’t have to be an expert, it’s just a point of view…” And so on.

Step 4: Review strengths and acknowledge any specific gaps. Notice how I say ‘specific’. With Imposter Syndrome, we often catastrophasize – “everything is bad” – we make it bigger than it is. Being specific identifies what it IS, not what we dread or fear it to be. What are my strengths? What valuable experience do I bring to this? Where have I succeeded in the past? Is there one thing I could maybe do to make this even better? What is a gap I can work on here?

Be aware of your inner voice and change the narrative.

While I do not suggest people should love their imposter thinking pattern, I do suggest that being aware of this inner dialogue is an opportunity to change the narrative; identify strengths, acknowledge a weakness if there is one, and develop a plan on how to move forward. Much better than cycling on perfectionist and unrealistic expectations, and berating yourself when you don’t meet them.

Rather than being scared of your imposter thinking, embrace it as an indication to pause and choose a more productive thought pattern.

In summary,

  • Imposter Syndrome is not a clinical condition, rather a pattern of thoughts that create self-doubt.
  • Being aware of your inner dialogue is critical to being able to address negative thoughts.
  • Reframing the dialogue to a more realistic and positive version is the key to reducing the impacts of ‘imposter’ thinking.
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