Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Do You Suffer from Imposter Syndrome? 4 Tips for Overcoming It.

Two years ago the phrase “Fake it til you make it” set something off in me. I heard the phrase many times and it always bugged me. All of a sudden I knew why. Who on earth wants to think of themselves as a fake? Who wants to do business with a fake? 

I immediately came up with a replacement expression: Own it While You Hone itThis phrase acknowledges that you have skill and talent, you just might not have stepped into it yet.

In "Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders(FT Press, 2011), Dr. Srinivasan Pillay talks about the Imposter Syndrome that happens to some (I suspect MOST) successful people.

Dr. Pillay writes, [The Imposter Syndrome] “arises because talented people experience gaps in their awareness of their success because leaps of success often involve unconscious processes and accumulation of unconscious processes can lead to these talented individuals seeking justifications for their success while they believe that something is unbelievable about this.”

In other words, the actions people take to get where they are, to become successful leaders happened so long ago OR came so easily and naturally to them that they are no longer conscious of the work, effort, or skill set that went into performing those actions. So when they look at all the success that they have accumulated, they have no conscious memory of what they did to get there and they consequently wind up feeling like a fake. But you DO already have all those skills. You just don't remember acquiring them.

If you'd like help discovering what sets you apart, you can grab a FREE download of the IT Factor chapter from my book, Standing Ovation Presentations. 

Dr. Pillay explains that the brain can become anxious because as a successful leaders, we don’t remember how we got where we are. And that anxiety can get in the way of leaders being able to think and plan. Is your current anxiety coming from the "Imposter Syndrome"?

So how CAN we tackle this pervasive phenomenon?

One of Dr. Pillay’s points is that the more people become aware of the fact that brain science can account for some of the challenges we face in our business and personal lives, the more effective coaching and training will be in helping us overcome and/or change some of the habits and patterns that keep us from being engaged, successful and fulfilled leaders and human beings. He believes that when we become aware of the brain science behind why we feel like we feel, it can help us to rid ourselves of the effects those feelings have on us.

Now that you know that your brain has either completely forgotten or was not even conscious of all the hard stuff you’ve done to become the great______(Fill in the blank) that you are. Here are four techniques that I use on myself and my clients to remind our brains of how fabulous we are. 

  1. Make a list of all of your positive qualities and keep it nearby. Ask your friends and colleagues what they appreciate most about you. Write those down too.
  2. Make a list of all of your accomplishments and spend some time recalling how you felt emotionally before and after each one. Some of the qualities you rely on now may have developed in you a long time ago. Keep that list handy too.
  3. Create a visual movie of a fabulous day in your life and “watch it” as though you were looking at yourself from the outside.
  4. Give yourself a "Successful. Powerful Avatar." Give it a different name and make sure she/he is a fully fleshed out person, not a fake. Think Clark Kent / Superman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman/ Beyonce/Sasha Fierce. Step into that “Telephone booth” and let him or her out any time you need to.
For more tips and to find a great list of positive adjectives, download a FREE chapter from my book, Standing Ovations Presentations.

Do you have any tricks you’d like to share?

And remember: Don’t fake it till you make it. Own it while you hone it. Nobody likes a fake!


  1. Thank you, Robyn, for talking about this! I also always hated that phrase, "fake it till you make it." I think part of my problem with it is that if you keep telling yourself you're faking it, then you'll never believe that you've made it. You're telling yourself you're a fake! To add to your tips about listing your great qualities and accomplishments, I recently did an exercise where I asked 5 different people in my life to tell me what they think my greatest gifts to the world are, and also how I have impacted their lives. The answers were so consistent it was eye opening. I now have a list of the great qualities that others see in me, and I am owning them! I highly recommend this exercise, because it's sometimes hard to see your own greatest qualities.

  2. Thanks Donna! Yes, that is a great exercise! Congratulations on Owning your Greatness!!

  3. Thanks so much Donna! That is a great exercise! Keep Owning your Greatness!!!

  4. I love the phrase “Own it while you hone it”! I keep a quote file and have added it for future use (crediting you).

    Of course, rhymes are one of many ways to help people remember your content. As you’ll see here, I tend to emphasise the others, so I could use some practice with rhymes:

    But I admire people such as yourself and Craig Valentine who have such a way with words. Well done!

    (Would be delighted if you choose to leave a comment on my blog, and links back to your own content are very welcome too.)

    1. So sorry for my delayed response to your comment Craig. Somehow it slipped through the cracks. So glad you liked my post. I will look at your blog now! All the best!

  5. Robyn - What a great piece! It completes my thoughts on the same topic by adding tips I didn't think of. LOVE the alter ego. Hope to meet you some day ;)

    1. Hi Linda,

      Glad you like it! Looks like we will meet soon at LTG! All the best.


Thanks so much for your comment!!