Short Mantras to Interrupt Imposter Syndrome

Jul 09, 2020

One pernicious effect of imposter syndrome is a negative mental loop – your brain becomes attached to a particular judgement (“I’m not good enough to be here”) and as the thought bounces around your brain, you seek out more and more biased evidence in support of it.

How to escape this downward spiral? One strategy I’ve used for counteracting this process is to be prepared with alternative narratives to attempt to interrupt the process. The idea is to consciously consider these possibilities and work on accepting them as replacement explanations. This takes work and effort over time, but it does get easier.

Not all of these are appropriate for every person and every situation, and some may even be harmful, but hopefully there is at least one that is helpful for you!

When was the last time I asked for feedback, and what was it?

Seek to challenge your internal narratives with evidence. I like this framing because it suggests action: finding a way to get feedback that you trust, or figuring out the best way to act on feedback you’ve already received. Most of the time the answer to this question will be “recently” and “positive” – use this feedback to interrupt negative thought loops.

Some effort is better than no effort

Alternatively: “I may not be the best person to do the job, but I’m the person currently doing it.” In knowledge jobs, it’s quite common that if you are not pushing forward a particular project, no one else will. In most of those cases, any amount of effort is preferable to the project not moving forward. This mantra can counter feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have the skills”.

The company has a better idea of how much I should be paid than I do

If you feel overpaid, this is the mantra for you. The company knows every single salary of everyone who works at your company. They also probably know market averages, salaries at comparable companies, and all sorts of data that you do not have access to. They are paying you exactly what they think you are worth, and they are in a position to know that better than you do.

If I’m not doing a good job, someone will tell me

This mantra works best if you have a manager or mentors that you trust. Depending on your level of trust and the level of dysfunction in your workplace, reminding yourself that people don’t get fired for performance reasons without a conversation and an opportunity to rectify first may also be useful. If you’re still unsure, ask again for more feedback!

I’m doing the best job I know how to do

All we can do is give something our best effort. If that isn’t good enough, then so be it.

I don’t want to be at a place that doesn’t value this work

As you progress further in your career and start developing more options and confidence in your ability to find work, starting to deliberately practice confidence in your contributions can be useful. Paradoxically, this mindset can free you to be able to pursue potentially counter-cultural work that makes you even more valuable.

I am doing right by my team at worst

This is a particularly good one for managers. You will usually have a much better line of communication with the people on your team than other people in an organisation. If you’re regularly talking with and listening to them, you may be able to take solace that no matter what your boss thinks of you, you know you’re doing at least something right to the people close to you who matter.

This concious interrupting of negative spirals is just one small technique. The best thing you can do if feeling overwhelmed by imposter syndrome is find someone you can talk to about it – be it a manager, colleague, friend, or therapist. Imposter Syndrome is extremely common, and you are not alone in dealing with it.