Often when I sit down at my desk to prepare for a big interview, write an outline for a speaking engagement, or work on a new article, whispers of self-doubt swirl through my mind.
Before I even begin, the fear can start to get to me. "You know nothing," a little voice says. "Who are you to deserve this opportunity? No one wants to hear what you have to say." I know I'm not the only one. How many of you have heard those exact words echo through your mind—maybe after a promotion, an invitation, or being asked to pioneer a new project? Why, hello there, impostor syndrome.
Impostor syndrome was first named by a pair of clinical psychologists in the 1970s, who identified the near-universal experience of feeling like a fraud, feeling like an accidental high-achiever, and feeling unworthy in the face of your own accomplishments. When success arrives at our doorstep, we convince ourselves that it was meant for someone else—because there’s no way that we deserve it. We’re too inadequate, too incompetent, too small.
The irony is that we believe we’re the only ones. We fall for the lie that everyone else is confident, worthy, and deserving. And that’s when we start to listen to the damaging voice in our head: "I'm the only fraud in the room." Of course we all have an inner critic, a voice that makes us question our worth and our experience. This voice tells us the same, worn-out story: You’re not good enough. And interestingly, this voice is often triggered by external approval, opportunities, or compliments.
I see this scenario play out in my clients’ lives all the time. One day they’re telling me that they have been asked to speak at a prestigious event, photographed for a campaign, or asked to spearhead the next team project. And the next day, they’re telling me that maybe it’s not the right fit, and maybe they should back out, and maybe it’s not meant for them. Too many times, I’ve experienced this same swinging pendulum of emotions—in one moment, fiercely grateful for new opportunities and in the next moment, completely trapped by the triggered voice of the inner critic.
Thankfully, through all my years of self-work, I’ve learned how to meet impostor syndrome head-on and move through it with mindfulness and intention. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t rear its ugly head every now and again, but I am able to come back to reality quickly and get myself into a different state of mind. The mind of someone who thinks that they're not only capable of doing what they are being asked but who believes it is their responsibility to do so. We all have talents and skills, and we are doing a disservice to ourselves if we don't let them shine.
Next time you’re battling self-doubt, I encourage you to implement one or more of these practices—and always remember this: You're in charge of your feelings.
Stack the positives.
Reframe your inner story by consciously naming your past accomplishments, achievements, and successes. Claim your areas of brilliance, and speak your strengths aloud. By focusing on these positives, you take your attention away from the weaknesses and imperfections that your inner critic wants you to concentrate on.
Be of service.
Sometimes, when we’re spiraling into a negative headspace and feeling like a fraud, we’re hyper-focused on our ego. When you’re trapped in a self-centered mindset, serving others is a perfect way to recalibrate. Find a way to mentor a colleague, volunteer for a good cause, or help a needy friend.
Get into action.
One of the fastest ways to tackle impostor syndrome? Start doing the work anyway. When you show up, despite your fear, you leave no room for self-doubt, and you create space for others to do the same.
Remember that you're not alone.
Gently remind yourself that you’re not the only one experiencing feelings of self-doubt. Thousands of other brilliant, generous, successful humans encounter impostor syndrome every single day.
A consistent meditation practice allows your brain, body, and nervous system to slow down. And in that slowness, you create space: space to choose your actions (instead of living in reaction mode), space to notice and release your triggers (instead of spiraling into self-loathing), space to observe a situation and act with intention (instead of falling into knee-jerk reaction patterns). I love active meditations, and I’ve included one of my favorite Kundalini meditations below.
The caliber-of-life meditation.
Start practicing this meditation for three minutes, and slowly increase your practice to 11 minutes. Pay attention to the details of the pose, and don't increase the time until you are practicing the pose correctly. This meditation builds self-trust and groundedness.
Sit in an easy pose, with a light jalandhar bandh. (Lift the chest and sternum up while lengthening the back of the neck, by pulling the chin toward the back of the neck. Neck, throat, and face muscles remain relaxed.)
Extend both arms straight forward and parallel to the ground. Curl the fingers of the right hand into a fist. Extend the thumb straight up. Keep the elbow straight and move the fist to the center of the body. Move the left arm to the center and wrap the fingers of the left hand around the outside of the right hand's fist. Extend the left thumb straight up. Adjust the grip of the hands so that the thumbs can touch along their sides as they point up. The tips of the thumbs will form a little "V" like a gunsight.
Focus the eyes on the thumbnails and through the "V." Look through the "V" like a gunsight, seeing far away and seeing the "V."
Inhale deeply and fill the lungs for 5 seconds. Exhale completely and empty the lungs for 5 seconds. Then suspend the breath out as you stay still for 15 seconds. Continue this breath cycle.
And when you really need comforting words, remember this quote from Marianne Williamson: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."
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