professional development

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


6 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

PUBLISHED Aug 11th, 2020 & UPDATED ON Mar 3rd, 2023

Is there a voice in your head that’s telling you day in and day out that you’re not qualified? Or maybe that voice is telling you people will finally “find you out” as if you’ve been living some sort of lie. Or maybe your perfectionism is getting harder to live with each day. Whatever your reason, you’re here and interested in learning to overcome imposter syndrome. We’re glad. 

Take a moment, then think of the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase imposter syndrome. For us, it’s this. 

Fear of failure, fear of not being able to do your job properly, fear of not being good enough. Sound familiar?

This helpful (and v cute) TED-Ed video explains the basics.

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes noticed that many undergraduate students had high grades but still felt like they didn’t deserve their spots at the university. Thus, imposter syndrome was born.

According to Gill Corkindale of the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People who suffer from imposter syndrome fear that they will be found out as a fraud and that their accomplishments are the result of pure luck.

It’s estimated that 70% of people will experience an episode of imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. It’s not just you; it has affected people like Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein, too. So, while you may think you’re alone in these feelings, you’re definitely not. Funny how that seems to be the case for a lot of things… 

Imposter feelings will likely vary from person to person, but there are some common characteristics of imposter syndrome.

characteristics of imposter syndrome include self doubt, attributing your success to external factors, berating your own performance, an inability to realistically assess your skills, and fear that you won't live up to expectations

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally recognized expert on imposter syndrome. We bet you’ll never guess what spurred her doctoral research. Just kidding, you totally will. She realized she was suffering from imposter syndrome too. 

Here are Dr. Young’s five different subgroups of imposter syndrome:

The Perfectionist

Not surprisingly, imposter syndrome and perfectionism are quite similar. In both cases, the bar is set extremely high. If their (unrealistic) standards are not met, individuals in this category believe that they are simply not good enough, and therefore, not deserving of their achievements.   

Tip: remind yourself that mistakes are normal and part of life. They do not define you. 

The Superhero

Superheroes, as you may have guessed, are people who push themselves to work harder and harder just to measure up to their other colleagues. Those who fall into the Superhero category often rely on external validation, which can be damaging. 

Tip: instead of relying on validation from work or other people, try to prioritize validation from yourself and yourself only.

The Natural Genius

This one is pretty self-explanatory: natural geniuses believe they should be, well, natural geniuses. They believe they should be able to pick up new skills immediately, and if they can’t they believe they are a failure. 

“These types of imposters set their internal bar impossibly high, just like perfectionists. But natural genius types don’t just judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations, they also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try.” – Melody Wilding 

Tip: focus on specific areas of improvement rather than believing you’ve failed all together. Also be patient. No one is expecting you to master a skill on your first try. And if they are, that’s another issue. 

The Soloist

Soloists believe they should be able to do everything on their own. People in this category think that asking for help will make them frauds and prove their inadequacy. 

Tip: it’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to ask for help. IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP. No one will think less of you for asking a question. 

The Expert

People in this category believe that they will never know enough. As a result, they feel completely unknowledgeable. 

Tip: you’re not expected to know everything at all times. Instead, learn things as you need them. Plus, remember what we just talked about? Don’t be afraid to ask others for help on topics you’re not as familiar with.

6 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome & Keep It in Check

Identifying which subgroup of imposter syndrome you belong to can provide insight into the best way to combat those feelings. But wait, there’s more! We’ve compiled another list of tips for keeping imposter syndrome in check. These are more general and work for everyone, no matter which subgroup you fall into.

They’ll work for you, your boss, your neighbour, your teacher, your daughter, your dog. Everyone. 

1. Acknowledge and Explore Your Feelings

Maybe you’ve never even heard of the term before. Once you have your lightbulb moment, the next step is to acknowledge your imposter feelings when they pop up. Make note of circumstances where you feel imposter syndrome creeping in and explore how those feelings impact your day. 

As always, we recommend journaling. Journaling is an easy, yet powerful way to sort through your feelings and did we mention, it’s free? DiveThru can help your journaling practice by offering guided exercises on two areas of life that are often closely related to imposter syndrome: work and school. 

There are countless other free resources in the DiveThru App that can help you work through imposter syndrome. Check it out!

2. Talk About Your Imposter Feelings

You may be worried that talking about your imposter feelings will just out you as an imposter… But what is actually going to happen is that talking with others will probably remind you that you’re perfectly capable and qualified. If nothing else, talking about your imposter feelings will likely prove that others feel the same way as you. Remember, 70% of people feel imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. 

3. Assess Your Skills

Since imposter syndrome makes you feel like you’re not qualified for the job, prove it wrong. Write down a list of your skills, certifications, and achievements and compare the list to your impostor feelings. You probably have a pretty good idea of what you’ll find. You’ll see that, contrary to those negging feelings, you are completely 100% qualified to do your job.

You can even take your assessment one step further if you’re up for it. Instead of thinking that you need to be better at every single area of your life, write down two or three areas that could actually, realistically use some improvement. By doing this, you have somewhere to focus your energy and attention rather than trying to focus on improving every single thing.

4. Change Your Self Talk

When you feel negative or imposter feelings creeping in, do your best to shift them into more realistic, positive thoughts. Be patient. This will be a gradual process, but an important one. It takes time to break down patterns of thought that have been ingrained in your brain for months, years, and maybe even decades. With persistence though, you can do it. 

5. Visualize Success, Not Disaster

We’ve all been there. The night before a big presentation and we’re thinking absolute worst-case scenario. “What if my hands start shaking and my paper starts fluttering and I can’t read my notes and I say something completely wrong? What if I put the wrong statistic up on the screen and then everyone will know that I have no idea what I’m doing?” 

Instead of visualizing all the things that could go wrong, try to visualize all the things that could go right. “What if I present my research findings and people are fascinated by them? What if I deliver my presentation flawlessly and everyone in the audience gives me a standing ovation?” Give it a try next time and see the difference for yourself!

6. Celebrate Every Achievement, No Matter How Small 

With imposter syndrome, you often believe you don’t deserve your achievements. You do. Making a point to celebrate each victory, no matter how small, will reinforce your achievements and break the cycle of imposter thoughts.

Spoke up in a meeting? Treat yourself to a coffee.

Talked to a co-worker about your imposter feelings? Hellooo pedicure!

Gave a presentation at your company’s annual convention? Take a day off and enjoy the sunshine!

The best reward of all? Being kind to yourself. You’re trying your best. 

There you have it! With these tools, you now know how to overcome imposter syndrome. You’ll be well on your way to recognizing and combating these feelings starting literally right now. Instead of a neighbourhood superhero fighting crime, you’ll be a neighbourhood superhero fighting imposter syndrome.

Just as impressive if you ask us.


Read More: Self-Sabotage: What Is It & How Do We Stop Doing It?, 6 Ways To Take Care of Yourself While Working Night Shifts,