Why, Why, What a terrible time to be alive…
Understanding Imposter Syndrome
“Man help me out… I fear I’m on an island in an ocean full of change… Can’t bring myself to dive in to an ocean full of change… Am I losing touch… Am I losing touch now?”
He said “Why why, what a terrible time to be alive… If you’re prone to overthinking and… Why why, what a terrible time to be alive… If you’re prone to second guessing”
– George Ezra
On my run this morning (very muddy btw!) I was listening to a random shuffle of music on my phone and Pretty Shining People by George Ezra popped up. I love this. It’s so clever in capturing the thoughts of a generation hampered by self-doubt.
We live in an era of abundance: of food, of wealth, of ‘stuff’, of opportunity, of communication, of learning, of experiences – and yet we don’t embrace it, instead we worry about what other people think of us, how we measure up, that we’re not good enough. All that overthinking and second guessing…
During my talk a few days ago at University of Surrey (December 2018), I touched on this subject – Imposter Syndrome – and how it’s fed by ‘Comparisonistis’ compounded by ‘Infobesity’.
Imposter Syndrome (which was first identified in 1978) is the gap between ‘who I think I am’ and ‘who I think I should be’. We might attribute our achievements to external factors, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, and we certainly put considerable pressure on ourselves to maintain the façade, often exhibiting high levels of perfectionism and workaholic behaviours.
It’s the stories we tell ourselves that allow us to self-sabotage. It comes from that primitive part of the brain, trying to keep you safe by questioning your abilities, how deserving you are, giving you excuses not to challenge yourself. And it can even give you physical reasons to keep you at safe home, like stomach pains, headaches, sore muscles, panic attacks…
Unfortunately ‘safe’ is not always what we want or need.
You might have heard people say “feel the fear and do it anyway” but that can lead to even more anxiety, more stress. It only serves to widen the gap between the ‘I see myself as this’ but ‘I need to be this’.
Imposter syndrome lies deep within your identity, the ‘who am I’ bit – so it’s important to get to know yourself, your motivation, your values and beliefs, because the ‘who I am’ feeds into those, which in turn inform our thoughts and drive our actions.
We are social animals, and deep within the primitive part of our brain (the limbic system) is a finely tuned ‘social radar’ which alerts us to survival threats and through the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, it gets us ready for action: freeze, flight or fight. Survival threats include being ostracised from our groups – as primitive beings our lives depended on fitting in with our tribe, together we were strong but as individuals we were vulnerable to predation or death by starvation.
So we are predisposed to look over our shoulders, to compare ourselves against others which means that stress response system is also activated when we:
· See a post on social media from an acquaintance having an ‘awesome’ holiday
· Hear someone you know has achieved something big…
· A friend posts pictures of their ‘perfect’ family, loved up with their new boyfriend/girlfriend, having so much fun… fill in the blanks
And our ‘village’ is so much bigger than it used to be – we no longer just compare ourselves to our actual neighbours or peers, but to people we don’t even know on the internet, through social media, celebrities, youtubers, complete stangers.
Our consumption of information has increased 350% in 30 years, now we have information streamed to us constantly, emails, texts, messages, whatsapps, social media…
How do you pull it back, how do you stop overthinking and second guessing?
3 Top Tips:
1. Create formal habits around your technology use: limit social media to 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes at lunchtime, 20 minutes at night. Every time you feel the urge to reach for your phone, stop, take a breath, spend 2 minutes looking around. And have device-free space – especially in the loo!
2. Get out from behind your computer/tablet/phone – communication is only 7% verbal, the rest relies on body language. Reading people’s faces, tone, pitch, body position, seeing them smile and laugh – these are all proper interactions which we cannot replicate via texts, messaging, emails. Communication is a 2-way process, it’s about transmitting and receiving a message and when it’s clear you eliminate all that second guessing. Active listening – remember we have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them in that ratio!
3. Don’t ruminate, internalise, personalise – overthinking and mental time travelling don’t change events, but they do activate your stress response system because your primitive brain can’t tell the difference imagination and reality! We can’t change what’s happened but we can change how we think about it.
The physical difference between the fear response and the challenge response is negligible, and yet they activate different systems. Fear causes us to shut down, prepares you to tolerate pain, you go into that freeze/flight/fight mode, whereas challenge or excitement creates the psychological and physiological conditions to engage fully, to perform at your best.
If you’re focused on your own personal development or improving your workplace in 2019 (after all, who wouldn’t want to have more focus, be more productive, reduce absenteeism through sickness or reduce employee turnover – the results are better performance, better employee/customer engagement, lower costs…?) then we need to talk about my 1-2-1 stress management hypnotherapy or hosting a workplace talk or workshop on managing stress.
You can find out more by booking a discovery call with me, simply email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01798 344879