In the 7 years I’ve been helping women improve their careers, a challenge consistently brought up by almost every client is Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is a fancy way of saying “insecure” but it’s specific to feeling like people’s good impressions of you are inflated. It’s the feeling that you can’t live up to the expectations put on you and can lead to feelings of anxiety and a lack of self-worth. The conversation around Imposter Syndrome is often framed by professional life but you can experience it at home as well–you can experience it anywhere you have to show up and be effective. But, remember that insecurities are a mindset and mindsets can be changed.
Years ago, I was unemployed, feeling very depressed and having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. I read an article about changing my mindset in a month by taking deliberate time to list three things I was grateful for each day for thirty days. I began with very broad things, like being alive and able-bodied. I repeated those for a while but soon realized I needed to expand my list. By the end of the challenge, I was grateful for things that were unique about me. My outlook on life had greatly improved which put me in a better mood and allowed me to show up differently in spaces. I found employment shortly after that. I learned first-hand that our emotions can affect our actions but also that our actions can affect our emotions. I didn’t know it, but I was practising Behavioral Activation, a skill taught in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT techniques require addressing your negative thoughts and core beliefs about yourself. Negative thought patterns can be detrimental to behaviour as they can lessen your faith in yourself and demotivate you. Although it’s normal to have self-defeating thoughts every once in a while, it’s important to make sure you’re able to maintain a positive self-image in order to perform at your best–especially at work. Confidence is the attribute that fuels you to learn more, share ideas, and be fully present. You’ll need to form new habits which can take as little as 18 days but on average takes about 66. (However, everyone is different and I definitely formed my gratitude habit in less than the month I did the exercise). CBT essentially teaches us to reframe our harmful thoughts. All you’ll need for the following strategy is a journal, whether it’s digital or physical. This will be known as your work journal.
Start filling out your work journal.
Make a list of your accomplishments (things you have done)
Make a list of your skills (things you can do)
Make a list of your opportunities (things you can get better at)
Daily take account of how you feel at the start of the day and how you feel at the end of it.
Pro-Tip: Keep important work-related notes in your journal so you’re likely to visit them every day. This is called “Habit Stacking”, pairing a new habit with an existing one to help it stick.
Continue all the practices from week 1 and add affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements that help you shift your mindset. There are numerous studies on the effects positive self-talk can have on the ability to hit goals. Stick a positive affirmation at the top of your page each day. You can do the same affirmation for a while until you feel it deeply or switch it up every day. The point is to get into the casual habit of appreciating yourself.
Continue journaling and using the practices in weeks 1 and 2.
But this week, tackle your negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are fleeting and situation-specific while core beliefs are more ingrained and harder to combat. CBT teaches reframing your thoughts in ways that are more beneficial to you. Telling yourself over and over “I can’t do X” will have more negative results than “I’m learning to do X.” The first thought teaches you to limit and doubt yourself, the second one teaches you to give yourself grace and be patient while also pushing you toward mastery of X. This reframe might seem simple but it can be hard to do at the moment which is why you spend a couple of weeks reviewing and affirming your accomplishments and positive attributes. Disproving negative thoughts might look like turning “No one at this company likes me” into “Actually, last week my boss said he appreciated A/B/C.” Teaching yourself to combat negative thoughts with positive thinking is the key to changing your mindset, so tracking positivity is important so you can call on things later and remind yourself of positive facts when your mind is making negative assumptions.
Tackle your core beliefs. As you continue to journal daily, note your mood at work and identify the negative thought patterns you experience most frequently. You’ll likely start to identify core beliefs you didn’t know you had. Most people have core beliefs about themselves that are positive: “I’m funny”, “I’m a good mom”, and “I’m a great friend”. But you might also have core beliefs about yourself that are harmful. “I’m lazy” or “I’m bad at public speaking”. You might not even think to purposely have better core beliefs about your professional self. You might assume that’s up to others to determine. It’s never up to someone else to determine your capabilities and worth.
Having negative ideas about yourself as core beliefs means you’re likely to feel like you can’t change them because they’re a part of who you are. You believe them to be true. But, people change and grow often and holding on to negative core beliefs robs you of the opportunity to do that. James Clear discusses core beliefs in his book Atomic Habits. He talks about changing the way you speak about yourself. If you’d like to read more, stop saying “I never read”. Read a little bit each day–even a paragraph a night makes you someone who regularly reads. Identifying as a reader will then drive you to read more often.
There’s something powerful about purposely listing out positives and embracing the good in who you are as a person and professional. Women as a whole are often taught not to “brag” and this tends to hold us back when it comes to advocating for ourselves. While the strategies listed here do take time to master and your negative thoughts might not be completely gone in four weeks, making an effort to provide yourself with indisputable positive facts about yourself and your professional impact will pay off. Not only will you be better at asking for what you want, but you will also be confident enough to get it from somewhere else if you are ever told “no.”