Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome, Mental Health Words Quotes Concept

All professionals, at some point in their careers, question their individual talents, intelligence, and abilities. Personal trainers are no exception. It takes time to build success, but even when we do – there are still occasions where we wonder “do I know what I’m doing?” If you’ve been there, don’t worry, we all have and there are strategies you can employ to overcome this struggle, often referred to as “imposter syndrome”.

Impostor Syndrome, Mental Health Words Quotes ConceptWhat Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is generally described as a collection of feelings of inadequacies despite evidence to the contrary. Even when there are milestones of success, professionals still feel “fake” or “fraudulent” in their abilities. Realistically, we can think of imposter syndrome as another form of fear.

What Causes It?

There’s no one distinct “cause” of imposter syndrome. It also does not appear to be linked to self-esteem or self-confidence. It isn’t even associated with depression or anxiety. Even those highly successful and accomplished professionals fall prey to this thought process. Imposter syndrome is characterized by chronic self-doubt and an inability to recognize individual successes and achievements.

I’ll offer a personal example. I’ve been an educator in the higher education system for 16 years (yes, I realize I’m somewhat dating myself…but) and I still have moments of “I’m no good at this” or “I can’t do this” despite the fact that I’ve done it for over a decade and have countless examples of success – everything from teaching evaluations to professional recognition. So, why must we continue to question ourselves? And our ability to succeed?

The root cause of imposter syndrome will vary between individuals. This might be an opportune time to reflect on what might cause these feelings in your own mind. Was it a label you had growing up? A set of experiences you had in the early years of school or in your career? Digging deep can help individuals identify where these feelings stem from.

Individuals who experience these feelings often idealize success and strive for perfectionism. Common thoughts associated with imposter syndrome include “I can’t fail”, “I feel fake”, or “Success is no big deal.”

Addressing Imposter Syndrome

Addressing feelings of fear is a challenge. It’s ok to admit that. It’s ok to feel worried or scared. You’re not alone. Here’s how you can face that fear.

  • Give it recognition. The first step with any fear-based feeling is to recognize when it emerges instead of trying to shove it aside. Recognizing that it exists takes away some of its perceived power.
  • Seek the truth. As with most fear-based feelings, something appears to be real when it is not. For example, you might receive a large project or promotion. You immediately feel unqualified to achieve the goal. The reality is, the individual who asked you to take on the project or who promoted you believes otherwise – most likely because you have a track record of success, leadership, and necessary qualities/experience. Take time to acknowledge that.
  • Accept the possibility of mistakes. Success is never a smooth or straight road, right? The same is true here. Mistakes are opportunities for learning and for developing best practices. Accept that mistakes will likely occur, but they are not fatal to the goal.
  • Log accomplishments. Journaling is an incredibly effective strategy to help you showcase your successes and achievements. As we go about managing our day to day tasks, the little wins can slip by unnoticed or, at the very least, unappreciated. Perform a weekly reflection and list the wins you had. Re-read these entries periodically.
  • Talk about it. It might appear that every other one of your colleagues “has it all together.” I assure you, this not the reality. Talk about how you’re feeling with those you trust or with a mentor.
  • Reframe your script. We all have automatic thoughts that traipse through our minds. When imposter feelings sneak in, stop them and reframe the thought. Eventually, you will reframe the way you think and approach new challenges.

I’m a fan of all genres of literature and I feel Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words are particularly poignant for this topic. He encouraged us to “finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

As long as you approach each day with a clear intention and realistic goals, you can face the fear head-on and you can win – regardless of whatever absurdity surfaces.

About

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at belivestaywell.com