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How to Cope With Imposter Syndrome

by Charlotte Worth

Harry Potter is definitely the imposter in this image, but he is also the King of Imposter Syndrome. He never quite thought he was good enough to be a wizard and it took him a good while to believe that he deserved his place at Hogwarts. Yet despite all his self doubt he still went on to be the greatest wizard of them all.

Imposter Syndrome can be a very limiting infliction that causes persistent self doubt and a sense of feeling like a fraud when achieving success. It is something that even the most successful people at some points in their career feel (see below). In fact, according to the International Journal of Behavioural Science about 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome. So, if you suffer from it then feel assured you are definitely not alone in your feelings.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes who believed that women were most affected by the syndrome. Since then research has gone on to prove that both sexes may experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their life and that it can happen to anyone. Perfectionists who are not satisfied unless everything is 100% are disposed to it. Those that require ever single detail before they take on a project or are unable to speak up in a meeting in case, they make a fool of themselves are all prime examples of people who suffer. If you are known for being an expert in your field but find that you feel like you have failed if you make a mistake, will no doubt have that nagging little voice in your head telling you that you are fraud.

It is exhausting and sometimes restrictive to have feelings like this constantly running through our heads, so what can you do to rein them in and reprogramme your mindset?

  • Try and recognise and acknowledge the thoughts as you get them. Make a note of when they appear, what they are related to and see if there is a pattern. Also, if you can stop what you are doing at the time and try and put them into perspective.

  • Try and learn to value constructive criticism. In the unlikely occasion that your little imposter critic is correct then being able to genuinely recognise your weaknesses and work on them will really help you to develop.

  • Make a list of all the things that you can do that make you equal to the people you are comparing yourself to and also see if there is anything that you can do that they can’t. If it helps, also look at what evidence there is to prove that you can’t do it as well. I suspect if you do, you won’t find much proof.

  • When trying to convince yourself that you are good enough, talk to yourself as if you are another person. In 2014, Ethan Kross from the University of Michigan found that ‘self-talk’ can help us to feel better about ourselves and bolster our confidence. However, he found that it was most successful if done in the second or third person as if you are coaching someone else out of their confidence crisis and not yourself. After all we never take our own advice but will often take the same advice from someone else. So instead of saying “I can do this”, use your name instead. So, for me I would say “Come on Charlotte you know that you can do this”.

  • Try and own your accomplishments. Don’t tell yourself you got lucky or anyone could do it, instead appreciate what went in to running that project or getting the job and actually be proud of it and keep telling yourself how proud you are. The more you practice saying it the more natural it will start to feel, and you might start to believe it.

  • Being a perfectionist can be very useful at making you successful, but it can also add unnecessary pressure. In order to achieve an equilibrium between the two try to realise that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes. Do a great job, but allow yourself some breathing space. It is okay take your foot off the accelerator and slow down once in a while.

  • Things naturally will go wrong sometimes and when they do try and adjust the way that you think about them. Instead of feeling like you have failed, turn it on its head and look at it as a learning process and work out what you can do differently next time.

  • Start to realise that you are not failing if you need to ask for help. I bet if you asked your colleagues and friends who you admire, I am sure a lot of them would all admit to having asked for help or guidance at some point in their careers rather than focusing on the things you can’t on.

  • Be like an athlete. Athletes and sport persons visualise themselves running over the finish line in first place or scoring the winning goal. Start visualising how you will successfully run that new work project you have been given or handle that up coming job interview.

  • When you catch yourself thinking or saying negative things like “I can’t do this,” or “I’ve never been good at this,” replace those thoughts with more positive talk. Start telling yourself that you can do it or that it is something that you think you would be good at. If you still feel daunted by the prospect, work out what elements you can do and what you need to work on. Start by doing some of the things that you can do to help build your confidence up. Then start breaking down the areas that you are not so confident in into more manageable pieces and chip away at them and before you know it you will have done them. Remember to keep looking back at what you have already achieved.

  • Create a supportive network both inside and outside of work that you can turn to for encouragement. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you are feeling is normal and knowing others have been in your position can make it seem less daunting.

  • Remind yourself that it is normal to not know everything. That even the geniuses of this world are constantly learning.

Finally remember that most people will suffer from moments of doubt and it is how that you deal with those moments that are critical. So, when you start to get those thoughts again try and do some of the above. However, also remember some of the most successful people in life also feel just like you and have their own little nagging imposter voice that fills them with their own dose of self doubt.




Tina Fey admitted that she’s often felt like a fraud. “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So, you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”


Howard Schultz, former CEO and Chairman of Starbucks believes that “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

Civil rights activist, author, poet and Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou admitted that at times, she often felt like a fraud, once saying, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”

Co-Founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington has admitted to feelings of self-doubt “The greatest obstacle for me has been the voice in my head that I call my obnoxious roommate. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom.”

Tom Hanks believes that “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”

Michelle Obama famously revealed to a group of London school children that “I still have a little bit of impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

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