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Imposter Syndrome: Embrace the Stretch, Evade the Stress

In my role as a coach, I have frequent conversations with clients who are struggling with imposter syndrome. Impostor syndrome is an internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony or a failure, despite any success or accomplishments you may have achieved.

Common signs of imposter syndrome include constantly doubting yourself and your abilities, worrying that others will discover your inadequacies – that you’ll be found out. You may feel like you don’t deserve your position or status, comparing yourself unfavourably to others or dismissing your achievements as luck or pure fluke.

Typically, as people achieve more and climb higher in their careers, the pressure and expectations increase, leading to self-doubt. Excessive self-doubt can have negative impacts on your mental health, such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and burnout.

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, start by recognising and challenging your negative thoughts. Do you feel like an imposter because you’ve been promoted into a position and don’t feel prepared to be able to do the job? Maybe you feel like an imposter if you don’t get something right first time, or it takes you longer to master a skill. Could it be you are experiencing being out of your comfort zone?

Using the learning zone model can be a helpful way of exploring what’s going on for you with imposter syndrome, identifying what’s helping you achieve and what’s debilitating your performance. The model is a framework that illustrates three distinct zones: the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone.

  • Comfort Zone: This is where you feel at ease, confident and familiar with what you’re doing. While it’s a comfortable place, it may also be a place of complacency, where’s there’s limited growth or challenge, leaving you feeling stagnant or unchallenged. When dealing with imposter syndrome, recognise that staying in this zone might reinforce your feelings of inadequacy as you may fear leaving this space of comfortable familiarity.

  • Learning Zone: This zone, also known as the stretch zone, is where growth happens. When you step into the stretch zone, you may feel a little uncomfortable or nervous, but you should not feel overwhelmed or overly anxious. It’s the space where you're willing to take risks, try new things, and be happy to learn from your mistakes – look at it as an opportunity for adventure! When dealing with imposter syndrome, the learning zone is crucial as it's an essential part of personal growth.

  • Panic Zone: This zone is where stress and anxiety overwhelm you. When you’re in the panic zone, the challenges or tasks at hand might be too far beyond your current capabilities, leading to feelings of distress and potentially hindering your performance. For those experiencing imposter syndrome, this zone often feels too close for comfort. It's important to identify when you're entering this zone and take steps to mitigate it.

Here are some strategies that can help you deal with imposter syndrome regardless of where you are in your learning zone.

  • Celebrate and acknowledge your accomplishments - make a list of your achievements, positive feedback, and success stories. It will help to negate feelings of uncertainty

  • Embrace your mistakes and failures as opportunities to grow – find a way to embrace the imperfect and acknowledge that mistakes are part of the path to growth

  • Develop a growth mindset that values learning and improvement – growth doesn’t always need you to criticise your weaknesses, it can often come from learning to harness your strengths

  • Create space in your job for your best self to show up – craft your job so that at least one aspect of your role brings out your strengths

  • If a task or situation feels overwhelmingly stressful it might be too far outside your current capabilities. Stepping back into the learning zone can help - break the task into smaller, manageable parts or seek guidance from a mentor or colleague.

By consciously moving between the comfort zone and the learning zone, you can

gradually expand your skills and confidence. Growth happens outside your comfort zone, but it's essential not to push yourself too far into the panic zone, as it may reinforce feelings of being an imposter. Celebrate your achievements and

acknowledge your progress as you navigate these zones - it's all part of the process of overcoming imposter syndrome.

Dealing with imposter syndrome can be challenging, but it's a process that many

people navigate successfully. You're not alone in experiencing these feelings and

taking small steps outside your comfort zone can make a big difference. If you ever need more guidance or support, feel free to reach out!


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