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imposter syndromeEden held a senior director job title, received glowing reviews, and her educational credentials and reputation were impeccable.

Yet she felt like a failure.

She lived in constant fear that her lack of ability would be discovered. That she would be exposed as the incompetent fraud she believed herself to be.

Eden was surprised there was a name for what she felt – the impostor syndrome.

What imposter syndrome is

While not an officially recognized condition, imposter syndrome is defined as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.  Those who suffer from it experience self-doubt and feelings of insecurity or being a fraud. Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, clinical psychologists, introduced the concept in 1978. 

Regardless of what level of success they have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have They believe they’re frauds. “Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Psychologist Albert Bandura defined selfefficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task,” a belief that’s missing in those who suffer from imposter syndrome. Self-efficacy determines how we feel, think and motivate ourselves as well as how we behave. Bandura regards self-efficacy as:

…the foundation of human motivation, well-being and personal accomplishments. Unless people believe that they can bring about desired outcomes by their actions they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. 

A wealth of empirical evidence documents that beliefs of personal efficacy touch virtually every aspect of people’s lives – whether they think productively, self-debilitatingly, pessimistically or optimistically; how well they motivate themselves and persevere in the face of adversities; their vulnerability to stress and depression, and the life choices they make.

Eden lacked self-efficacy. She didn’t see herself as the amazing woman that others saw. Eden didn’t believe she had the ability to pull together her social, physical, thinking, and behavioral skills to accomplish her goals. 

Without confidence in her own abilities, it was hard for Eden to have the courage to believe in herself. Having confidence in what we accomplish can remove the sense of failure and the irrational fear of being found out that so plagued Eden.

Confidence is courage with ease. ~Daniel Maher

How do we gain that ability to believe in ourselves that ends those imposter syndrome feelings? We courageously put ourselves in situations in which we gain experience in believing in ourselves.

2 ways to start believing in yourself

Bandura identifies four sources for building self-efficacy. Two of these sources—mastery and modeling experiences—helped Eden gain the confidence to see herself as an amazing woman and are described below.

1) Mastery experiences are best described as our successes. Success is the most robust sources of self-efficacy. Doing something well in our job is a mastery experience as is learning a new skill.

Nothing succeeds like success. ~Oscar Wilde

How do you get more successful experiences?

  • Evaluate your performance just as you would another’s. that is, looking specifically for accomplishments. Don’t be modest – apply an objective eye toward successful outcomes, e.g. when you improved an operating process, when someone you mentored was promoted, when your management resulted in significant bottom line improvements, when your involvement improved a community function, when you helped someone see through the darkness and regain their footing. These are all successes.
  • Write down your past successes as well as the knowledge, skill and/or abilities involved. Know, and accept, that you do have the requisite competencies to make things happen.
  • Establish specific, short-term goals that challenge you, yet are still attainable, and work diligently to achieve them. Move past thinking into action and results. Give yourself credit for making the results happen.

2. Modeling experience is defined as observing other people who are similar to us succeed at a task. Seeing their success strengthens our belief in our abilities to bring about a similar successful outcome.

How do you get more modeling experience?

  • Surround yourself with people committed to making their goals a reality.
  • Select well-known people whom you respect and whose interests, career goals, etc. track with yours, and watch what they do to make success happen for them.
  • Avoid the “Debbie Downers” and being sucked into their downward spiral of belief that comes from talking only about failures or what’s wrong.

How have you learned to believe in your achievements? How have you helped others believe in their abilities?

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