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Learn & Practice

Workplace Wellness: Using Insight to Fight “Imposter Syndrome”

By The Healthy Minds Team

In this week’s Workplace Wellness we explore how practicing insight can transform your mind to help you break thought patterns.

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash 

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, “impostor phenomenon” or syndrome occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Do you ever have moments of self doubt or an exaggerated sense that you don’t deserve your professional level or success, or that you will eventually be “found out”? Imposter syndrome is associated with impaired job performance, job satisfaction, and burnout and is commonly associated with feelings of depression and anxiety. Because of this, it can be a real impediment to your well-being.

In this week’s Workplace Wednesday, we’ll use the third pillar in the Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being, Insight to reduce the effects of these feelings.

With Insight, we build the skills of self-knowledge concerning how our emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape our experiences and sense of self. We do this through a process of reflection, most of which starts from a place of Awareness, the first pillar in the Healthy Minds Framework. 

Insight is about time and practice – not about unlocking some secret code. By practicing insight, you won’t automatically make imposter syndrome disappear, but you will be able to question whether your self perception is accurate and potentially break thought patterns.

As mentioned, the first part of Insight is practicing awareness. Just noticing. Over the next few weeks, every time you have a thought related to Imposter Syndrome (for example: “I’ll never be able to achieve that goal – I’m not good enough!” or “I’m so much worse at my job than my colleagues, everyone can tell.”), stop and reflect. You can even write it down. Notice the way your body feels and what words and pictures are playing in your head. Notice what begins these thoughts, and how long they last (do they lead to other thoughts, provoking more anxiety?). All you are doing is watching and learning––looking for patterns in your mind. 

Once you spot the patterns, you’ll be able to respond better, not react. You can now practice self inquiry. Can you challenge the stories you tell yourself? What thoughts are true reflections of fact, and what thoughts are made up? (Here’s a 10 minute active practice you can use to get the hang of it.)

Here’s an example: You have an upcoming review and in your mind you have already played out the terrible feedback you will receive. You are riddled with anxiety that you will be found out. What do you do?

  1. Notice your thoughts. How does your body feel? How is your breath? 
  2. Ask yourself, “can I predict the future? Are my thoughts an accurate representation of what will happen? Or, do I not know?”
  3. Reflect. Keep asking questions.
  4. Practice something that feels good like a compassion meditation, or a walk.
  5. Repeat when other imposter syndrome thoughts occur.

When we view challenging situations as opportunities to gain insight, we can learn and grow from them, and even transform our minds through deep self-knowledge. We get better at observing the interplay between our thoughts, emotions, and the body’s stress response.

Learn more about how the Healthy Minds Framework can support your workplace well-being with Healthy Minds @Work or join our intensive public MasterClass to learn the Healthy Minds Framework for Well-Being on your time.

HM@Work Mental Health Naomi Osaka Workplace Wednesdays