How to overcome your fear of not being good enough

Last week I did a group coaching session with a Women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) around the ‘Imposter phenomenon’.

They asked me to work on this theme because they felt self-doubt was holding them back in certain situations and they wanted to ‘play bigger’ at work.

Maybe you recognise it as well, the thought of “one of these days people will find out that I’m not as good as they think”.

Well don’t worry you’re not the only one. 70% of the people are affected by imposter thoughts at some point in their lives[1].

It can manifest in different ways

The Impostor Phenomenon was first described in 1985 by Dr Pauline Clance, from her observations in a clinical setting. And she made clear that:

Individuals experience intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and they worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud. This can cause anxiety, fear of failure and dissatisfaction with life.

How to overcome fear of not being good enough

This can lead to:

  • Working very hard.
    Pushing yourself to the limit in order to prevent “exposure”.
  • Downplaying accomplishments
    I didn’t get to lead that project because I had the most experience on the team, I got it because the timing worked out.
  • Avoidance of feedback
    Not seeing feedback as an opportunity to grow but as a confirmation that you’re not good enough.
  • A reluctance to ask for help.
    Then they’ll find out I’m a fraud.
  • Turning down new opportunities:
    I can’t make it happen.
  • Failing to finish projects:
    Spending too much time on, for example, searching for information which makes it hard to complete tasks.

The good news is you can train yourself on making the impact of these imposter thoughts less.

What you pay attention to grows

Neuroplasticity – or brain plasticity – is the ability of the brain to modify its connections or re-wire itself. Without this ability our brain would be unable to develop from infancy to adulthood or recover from brain injury[2].

Your patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting have become soft-coded in your brain through neural pathways. A neural pathway is like a mental muscle.

What you pay attention to grows, right? If we water our plants they grow and become stronger. Well that’s the same with our neural pathways, our mental muscles.

what you pay attention to grows

To minimize the impact of the imposter thoughts and create a powerful mindset, you have to build stronger mental muscles in a different part of our brain. You have to train your brain.

Here are 2 ways that show how you could do that: by collecting evidence and by focusing on the gift.

Collect evidence

Let’s start with collecting evidence, in other words the hard data, the things you have achieved until now. Because don’t forget you have gained many great things in your life. You have to bring them to the surface again.

Evidence of your power

Make a long list of all your achievements. Situations where you have shown your superpowers. Situations where you were proud of yourself.

And they don’t only have to be work-related. Think about for example your study, sports, health or relationships.

Pin them on your pinboard, glue them in your notebook. Do whatever works for you, but make sure you regularly remind yourself of them. Because what you pay attention to will grow!

Focus on the gift

The second way to train your brain is by focusing on the gift.  Ask yourself ‘What is the worst thing that could happen?’

From this worst case scenario you always have a choice how to respond. You could listen to your limiting belief that is telling you: “You see I told you you would fail”. Or you could shift perspective and think about how you could turn this ‘bad’ situation into a gift or opportunity for yourself.

Focus on the gift

Let me give you an example. You’ve been asked to lead a new project, but you feel anxious and are thinking of turning down the opportunity.

Probably the worst thing that could happen is that you don’t fully deliver the results on time. Of course, that’s super disappointing. But, this also is an enormous learning experience. What were the reasons why it didn’t work out? What can you do differently next time? How can others help you with that? This is valuable information, because you can learn from it and you will do it better next time.

Or another example: You don’t dare to ask that question in a big meeting with lots of seniors. The worst thing that can happen is that you stumble and get a red face. What is the gift or opportunity from this situation? You got an answer on your question and you might have helped other people in the room as well. And don’t forget that next time it’s easier for yourself to stand up.

So, whenever you recognise an imposter feeling I suggest you take the risk, because the worst thing that can happen is that you grow from it!

All my best,

PS: Is self-doubt holding you back from taking the next step in your career and are you wondering what coaching could do for you? Always feel free to contact me.

PPS: Click here for more blogs with tips and inspiration for your work life.

[1] Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science6(1), 75-97.

[2]  Banks, D.(2016). What is brain plasticity and why is it so important.