Phillipa Hurrell

Do you struggle with self-doubt? Do you ever feel intellectually fraudulent at work, despite professional accomplishment? If the answer is yes, then you are not alone. An estimated 70 per cent of people around the world experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

The psychological phenomenon, as described by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, can be described as an internal experience of intellectual phonies. ‘Imposters’ doubt their individual accomplishments, often putting it down to luck or good timing, and tend to live in fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Despite being a common occurrence amongst both men and women, imposter syndrome does not need to be endured. Indeed, it can hold you back in your professional life if not dealt with.

We have compiled a list of five ways to help you overcome imposter syndrome and achieve your goals.

1.Recognise the problem and work out your vision

To solve a problem, you must first acknowledge it exists.

Once you have recognised the problem, you can begin to take the necessary steps towards overcoming what is holding you back.

Ask yourself, what does it mean to be successful? Often people that suffer from imposter syndrome have unrealistic or unsustainable expectations for themselves. Have you set the bar impossibly high for yourself? Are you trying to complete an innumerable amount of tasks in too short a time?

Take cognisance of what achievable goals you want to reach. When you have distinct, static, attainable goals noted down, they become far more feasible.

Dr. Gail Matthews at the Dominican University in California led a study on setting goals with 267 participants from different businesses and organisations. The results revealed that you become 42 per cent more likely to achieve your goals if you simply write them down.

2.Identify what is stopping you from achieving your goals

According to The National Science Foundation, an average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80 per cent are negative and 95 per cent are repetitive thoughts.

If you constantly repeat negative thoughts about yourself, you will never feel worthy of anything. Reframing your negative thoughts is a vital step in overcoming imposter syndrome.

Instead of chastising yourself, consider practicing self-compassion. Choosing to focus on the positive over the negative and remaining optimistic rather than despondent can lead to a plethora of benefits, such as increased overall happiness, motivation and self-esteem to name a few.

3.Be accountable for your achievements

Reviewing your achievements is a useful tactic in circumventing negative thinking and reinforcing positive thoughts. Rather than over analysing or self-criticising, put your energy into acknowledging your successes thus far.

This may seem like a simple step, but it can be effective once you realise that you are deserving of what you have achieved.

Perfectionism often runs parallel with imposter syndrome. It can manifest in myriad ways, perhaps you have set unreasonable goals for yourself or you live in fear of not meeting your own expectations. The reality is, nobody is perfect. To manage this in a healthy way, previous ‘failures’ should be placed in the context of learning and cultivating your skills whilst future challenges should be regarded as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further develop yourself.

4.Change your focus to be you at your best

Having listed your goals in a way that is obtainable and realised the role you have played in the goals you have achieved so far; it is important to refocus your thoughts back to yourself in order for you to be at your best.

Determine the origin of what might be holding you back.

Do you constantly compare yourself to others? We live in an age where the media or social media will always leave us wanting more, feeling less successful than our friends, family or peers. As author Steven Furtick said, “the reason why we struggle with insecurity is that we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”. Use other people’s work and success as motivation to be better, learn more and reveal new perspectives.

Consider practicing metacognition. Metacognition is the awareness and analysis of how you think. Seeing as imposter syndrome involves thoughts and feelings about your performance, try to think of why you are thinking the way you are.

  • Is my self-doubt warranted?
  • Are my emotions taking over any logical thought-process?
  • Do I need to change my strategy?


5.Put energy into developing YOU

Bringing in a little private time into your busy schedule will have a ripple effect on some of the things that are causing you the most worry. There are several studies that provide evidence to suggest that a little solitude can promote many benefits, including higher productivity, increased spark in creativity and improved mental wellbeing, all of which can help you to achieve your goals.

So next time you achieve a little victory, treat yourself. Did you get the sales pitch you wanted? Or finish that report you’ve been meaning to complete? Have a glass of wine, take a nap or read that book that you haven’t previously had time for. Rewarding yourself can work as continuous motivation for the future.

If lack of knowledge is making you feel like an imposter. Take the time to research and learn.

Finally, recognise you are in good company.

If you have experienced feelings of intellectual fraudulency and lack of self-worth, you are not the only one. Many successful professionals and famous people have openly spoken about experiencing imposter syndrome including Meryl Streep, Michelle Obama and Ryan Reynolds.

It is normal to feel like an imposter. Developing a secure network of people whom you feel comfortable talking to is a great way to overcome this – whether this be colleagues, friends or family.

Retraining the way your brain thinks is far easier said that done, it will take time to shift the way your mind operates, but by taking these simple, tangible steps, you can gradually shift your brain’s focus and attain your targets.





Phillipa Hurrell is the managing director of Hurrell Associates, a company which trains leaders to be more engaging and impactful. Also she is a Leadership and Development expert. Prior to the launch of Hurrell associates Phillipa completed a degree in Accounting and Finance at Manchester Business School, she then went on to become a Leadership Development Consultant at Aviva and Telefonica and then head of learning and development at Morrisons.

Phillipa has extensive experience in L&D and is passionate about this as a path to a successful business. During her time at Telefonica O2 UK as head of leadership and talent development Phillipa oversaw the launch of a Leadership and Talent curriculum for 1,100 leaders.