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3 Ways to Outsmart Self-Doubt

Tell me if you can relate to any of the following:

  • You feel like you’re not qualified for your job or cut out for the work you do.
  • You’re uncomfortable when praised for your success, because you feel like you haven’t earned it.
  • You fear you’ll be “found out” and exposed for the fraud you are.

If these sound like thoughts that run through your head, you may be experiencing something called Impostor Syndrome.

And you wouldn’t be alone: over 70% of people report experiencing Impostor Syndrome at some point in their career. Impostor Syndrome refers to the inability to internalize success — when people have a persistent belief that they are unintelligent or incompetent. It manifests in feelings that you’re a fake who will be exposed as incapable or ill-equipped, despite plenty of evidence to prove you’re skilled and competent.

So called “impostors” habitually attribute their accomplishments to luck, chance, connections, charm, or other external factors.

How Impostor Syndrome Holds You Back

A core negative belief that you are inadequate and unworthy can greatly damage your professional growth. Because you fear being exposed as an impostor, you may do things to avoid embarrassment and humiliation. For example, you may procrastinate and never finish a project to avoid the shame of criticism.

Impostor Syndrome can also turn you into a productivity addict, which is just a convenient ploy to keep yourself addicted to the validation of working hard.

Overall, the fear generated by not believing in yourself can keep you playing small and hold you back from growing and advancing in your career.

The good news is that the beliefs and thinking that feed Impostor Syndrome can be unlearned.

3 Ways to Keep Impostor Syndrome in Check

1. Go on offense

Those with Impostor Syndrome are hyper-sensitive to criticism and are often crushed when they get feedback because they view it as evidence of their inadequacy.

Yet, one of the best professional and personal development skills you can develop is learning how to elicit and receive constructive feedback.

While getting unsolicited advice from out of the blue can hit us like a ton of bricks, research shows when we proactively solicit feedback, we perceive it as being more helpful.

Look for opportunities to show your work to other people — whether in regularly scheduled meetings with your team or with a trusted mastermind group of other entrepreneurs who support you.

Get feedback in low-stakes environments first, incrementally working up to more challenging situations. For instance, give a presentation to a small group before you have to step into the boardroom.

Make sure you communicate what areas or skills you’re hoping to improve upon and be both clear and honest that you’d appreciate constructive criticism.

When you get feedback and feel self-doubt creeping in, short-circuit the habit of taking it to too personally by asking yourself “How would a person who doesn’t take criticism personally respond?”.

2. Watch your words

Those with Impostor Syndrome commonly undermine themselves by using minimizing language like:

  • “Oh, it’s no big deal”
  • “That was nothing”
  • “I’m not a writer” or “I’m not a crunch-the-numbers type…”.

By demeaning your accomplishments, you’re diminishing yourself. Start throwing this junk language out of your vocabulary.

3. Welcome praise

Stop pushing compliments away. Accepting compliments or accolades for your work is not egotistical, despite what your inner critic might be telling you.

The next time you’re given a compliment, internalize it as fact. Don’t judge yourself against what was said, or analyze it for deeper meaning.

For example if someone congratulates you on landing a major client, accept it gracefully saying, “Thanks! I’m glad all the hard work paid off” or “Thank you! I’m really happy that you said so.”

Leave it at that. There’s no reason to launch into an elaborate explanation of about how you barely made the deadline, or it was just luck.

Quit volunteering more information than necessary simply to point out your flaws before someone else does (because that won’t happen!).

Try one of these techniques the next time you sense Impostor Syndrome creeping up. Because ultimately, holding yourself back and letting yourself be a victim to the impostor syndrome is the greatest risk of all.

3 Ways to Outsmart Self-Doubt

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Melody Wilding, LMSW is a performance coach, licensed social worker, and has a Masters from Columbia. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers. Her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She also helps entrepreneurs take bold steps to grow their businesses. Melody has helped over 10,000 smart, self-aware people like you. Her coaching gives you actionable strategies to reach your goals. You get concrete steps to overcome the complex struggles of success. Melody loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence. She can teach you skills for assertiveness and influence. Her specialties include better managing your emotions at work. Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC. She writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Click here and grab the FREE COURSE to go from insecure to unstoppable confidence 5 DAYS TO FREEDOM FROM SELF-DOUBT..

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APA Reference
Wilding, M. (2018). 3 Ways to Outsmart Self-Doubt. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 11 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.