6 ideas for overcoming imposter syndrome from the Physiopedia team

Imposter syndrome is common amongst any professions and particularly in high-pressure environments such as healthcare. The Physiopedia team recently spent time exploring the topic and here we share our ideas for understanding and dealing with imposter syndrome and ways to remove the barriers that can limit personal and professional growth. 

Every month our global Physiopedia volunteer team comes together to share ideas and experiences to support each other to learn and grow; most recently we explored the topic of imposter syndrome. We heard from journalist and media anchor Bre Clarke on how they first became aware of imposter syndrome, and yes – it isn’t just health professionals that experience this.  In fact we came to realise that just about anyone can experience imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome is a behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals – MR Huecker et al..

This commonly reported phenomenon can manifest early in our careers when we are learning new skills and forming new habits; but even as we grow and excel, these feelings of not being “experts” do not always leave us.  It can often be compounded by that common phrase we all know “Fake it til you make it”.  How often have you heard that? But what if it isn’t about faking it, but about becoming that person through repeated interactions and experience. Noone starts any journey knowing everything, but we are shaped by the wins and, quite often, the mistakes along the way. 

Many of our team were able to relate to feeling inadequate or fraudulent despite evident successes and accomplishments. Accepting how able we are to do our jobs and help people is important.  It is, in fact, the reason most of us choose to do the things we do!  Together we explored some of the ways we can make the imposter journey easier and come out the other end brighter, stronger and more confident.

Key strategies to overcome imposter syndrome:

  1. Recognise – imposter syndrome is a psychological occurrence; it does not mean that you are an imposter, but refers to unfounded feelings of self doubt or incompetence
  2. Open conversations – talking about your feelings, doubts and insecurities can help you understand that who you are may be different from how people see you.  Finding a supportive community is a sure way to realise you are not alone and actually discover people can see the ‘amazing’ you!
  3. Reflection – how often do you stop and reflect on your day? Did that one bad experience overwhelm you and blur all the amazing things you did today? 
  4. Make a list – for every negative thought, write down why that isn’t true.  Focus on the facts and the reality.  It will give you the truth!
  5. Accept compliments – it can be harder to accept a compliment than negative feedback; it is the way our brains are wired.  Practice not only giving compliments and positive feedback but also receiving them.  How often do you tell somebody when they did something right or extremely well?
  6. Celebrate your wins – focus on the facts and recognise your strengths and achievements.  We all make mistakes, but this does not define who we are.  It is how we learn and reflect from them that helps us grow and become even better.

One of the team, who is an expert in his field, says he often asks, “Why are these people coming to me for answers?” then, on reflection, he answers his own question, “Because I can help and actually I do have the answers”.  This is reinforced when he sees his patients recover and return to the things they enjoy.

From our session, we realised none of us are alone or immune.  The biggest weapon we have in our toolbox is our support network.  Through sharing our personal experiences, doubts, and coping strategies we can build resilience to overcome imposter syndrome.  However, the biggest takeaway from the session was to change the narrative in the words of Bre Clarke – don’t “fake it til you make it”; instead “try until you triumph”!

If you want to read more about overcoming imposter syndrome, revisit our earlier discussion in the Physiospot post: Feel Like a Fraud? | Put a Stop to Imposter Syndrome