Imposter Syndrome: Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?

Thank goodness for 2021, right? The new year is bringing all the good stuff. More energy, less fluff, less fatigue, more confidence. If you’re like 44% of the population, you’ve made a health-related resolution for yourself – and you’re totally psyched about it.1 You’re waking up early to exercise. You’re making time for an epic protein-packed breakfast. You’re limiting your screen time and practicing more mindful behaviours. Maybe you’ve even lost a few pounds.

Right now, you’re feeling all those I’ve-got-this vibes. But your subconscious has a way of screwing with your goals and soon there’s a good chance it’ll be sabotaging your early-morning workouts and telling you life’s too short to go without dessert-flavoured creamer in your coffee.

At first, that inner voice is subtle and somewhat ignorable. Then it gets louder and starts to sound like…

Who do I think I am eating healthy?

I’ve never been able to keep the weight off before. What makes me think I can do it now?

Everyone knows I’m not an exercise-person.

That’s when the doubt really sinks in and before you know it, you’re back to smashing the alarm clock and grabbing a low-fat yogurt and banana on your way out the door.

As a health coach, I see this all the time. And it’s not from lack of willpower or planning. It comes from a disbelief in your own skills and abilities, despite your accomplishments. Because of that, your inner critic (which, we all have, by the way) convinces you that you’re not the type of person that eats healthy or exercises on a regular basis or feels good in their own skin — basically proving that you’re a fraud and that soon, you’ll be embarrassingly exposed as such.

Psychologists call this sinking feeling, Imposter Syndrome. And if you’ve ever felt it, know that you’re in good company. Seventy percent of people claim to have felt like an imposter at some point in their lives, including everyone from celebrities to CEOs.2

What Exactly is Imposter Syndrome?

Coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, Imposter Syndrome (also called Imposter Phenomenon) is defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy in people who believe they’re not intelligent, capable, or creative despite evidence of achievement. Imposters suffer from the kind of chronic self-doubt that overrides any success they’ve had.

Imposter syndrome looks like:

  • Perfectionists with extremely high expectations for themselves
  • Struggling to ask for help for fear that you’ll be seen as in adequate
  • Feeling like you just got lucky even when you worked hard
  • Finding it difficult to accept praise from others
  • Overachievers who continue to move the goal post
  • Convincing yourself that you’re not enough
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Apologizing when you didn’t do anything wrong
  • Feeling like you don’t belong
  • Believing you don’t deserve success
  • Avoiding being confident for fear of what people will think

You’re Not a Fraud, You Just Have to Change Your Self-Talk

Research proves that how you talk to yourself can change the way you see yourself — from a neuroscience perspective, it becomes more of an internal remodeling. Take this paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology for instance, that suggests using your name instead of the word “I” when it comes to self-talk can be a game-changer for making changes in your life.

In the study, psychologists had two groups of men and women recall an anxiety-inducing experience. Here’s where it gets interesting. Participants were randomly assigned to reflect on their feelings around the recalled experience using first-person pronouns (I/my) or non-first-person pronouns (he/she) and their own name. While one group was asked to reflect on the question “why do I feel this way?” and “what were the underlying causes and reasons for my feelings?” the other group was asked to use their own name in the question. For example, if I were the participant, I would say “why did Erin feel this way?” and “what were the underlying causes and reasons for Erin’s feelings?”

Researchers discovered that participants in the non-first-person groups (who used their name vs “I”) had significantly higher levels of self-distancing than participants in the other group.3

What does that mean for you?

Basically, by saying “who does Erin think she is eating healthy?” instead of “who do I think I am eating healthy?” I’m able to analyze my feelings with a more objective outlook, less emotional baggage, and more easily get out of my own way.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

In light of that research and strategies I’ve come to use in my own health coaching practice, here are 7 ways you can start shifting your mindset away from fearing that you’re a fraud.

1. Catch Your Inner Critic

Notice when your inner voice says, “who do you think you are?” and more importantly, practice not reacting to it. If you’re doing something outside of your comfort zone, your brain is just trying to keep you safe from the unpredictability of what’s to come. Your inner critic will likely chime in when you’re trying something completely new, growing in positive ways, or working towards a goal that you or someone else previously said you weren’t capable of achieving.

2. Challenge Your Beliefs

According to the National Science Foundation, on average, we have up to 60,000 thoughts per day. The NSF says that 80% of those thoughts are negative and 95% are repetitive. So, just because a thought pops into your head, it isn’t an accurate indicator that it’s true. If it feels like you’re thinking the same things over and over again, start to lay down a new track by asking yourself, Is this really true for me?” Then rinse and repeat as necessary.

3. Keep a “Proof List”

Think you’re not capable of making changes? Keep a running list of all the times you accomplished something you set out to do. It could be small like getting to bed earlier a few nights a week or big accomplishments like not counting calories or obsessing over what you eat all the time. Add to your list regularly, and, this is important — own your accomplishments. Don’t dismiss them as “no big deal” or explain them away as luck. Own the role you played in achieving them. You might even play around with saying “I’m proud of what I accomplished” out loud.

4. Say Your Name

Like we saw in the study, the simple act of using your name in a sentence (versus saying “I”) allows you to look at your situation more objectively. Want to take it up a notch? Try using your name in conjunction with a positive affirmation, such as “Erin is awesome at sticking to routines” or “Erin loves her effortless relationship with food.”

5. Know You Won’t Know It All

Any time you’re embarking on something new, there’s always a bit of a learning curve. Having the expectation that you’re going to hit it out of the park is a recipe for disappointment. So, if you’ve been operating under the assumption that you should always know the answer or it’s wrong to admit you’re overwhelmed, knock it off. No one knows all the answers, all the time, even people who’ve been on their journey for years.

6. Fess Up to How You’re Feeling

Emotions like shame and embarrassment often keep people from fessing up about their feelings, but sharing what you’re going through can actually help take the pressure off. It also helps to know that some of the most successful actors, athletes, and authors have admitted to feeling like an imposter at some point in their lives – people you’d never guess had doubts about their abilities.

7. Flip Your Internal Script

When you’re in a situation that triggers your impostor feelings, consciously change the conversation. Feeling insecure in a fitness class? Instead of thinking, “I know everyone is wondering what I’m doing here” try “everyone here is dedicated to improving their health and I am too.” Like anything, it takes practice, but soon you’ll be flipping your script without even realizing it.

7 Ways to Stop Feeling Like an Imposter

Ready to ditch your Imposter Syndrome? Start 2021 off right and use these strategies to tell your subconscious (and the world) you’ve got this!

  • Catch Your Inner Critic
  • Challenge Your Beliefs
  • Keep a “Proof List”
  • Say Your Name
  • Know You Won’t Know It All
  • Fess Up to How You’re Feeling
  • Flip Your Internal Script

What about you? How do you deal with Imposter Syndrome?

About the Author

Erin Power

Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by Primal Health Coach Institute co-founder Mark Sisson.

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