''Pretender, you're not tough''
''You got away with it this time, but one day they will surely find you out, ''
''You cannot do it, you do not have what it takes, ''
''Just wait until they find out you aren't as good looking, intelligent or well put together as you say you are, ''
'' What happens when you are exposed for the fake person you are? ''
Voices. In your head. In my head. Prodding. Pushing. Pouring cold water on our good intentions, thoughts, goals, aspirations. Telling us, you and I - that we are not good enough, cute enough, strong enough, smart enough, articulate/ tall/ healthy/ enough and that we are probably never going to be....enough. That our skin colour, hair length, tribal or racial background, academic achievement and family upbringing is below average. Encouraging us to stay in our comfort zone and misusing words such as modesty, humility, contentment and safety to keep us from stepping out.
What are those voices? Why do they persist and when did they make our heads their homes? How do we shut them down and.....should we?
For me, those voices have been a constant companion. Whether it was as a child in nursery reciting a poem on stage, a shy preteen writing a love letter, a staff member asking for a pay rise or an entrepreneur giving a sales pitch. It didn't matter. I always felt, feel I am acting the part. That I am an IMPOSTOR. You ever felt that?
Wiki puts it thus:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
The reality is that the impostor syndrome in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Wallowing in it and making it a central part of your life is probably what is not too healthy.
Back when we were cavemen we had to step out of the cave to ensure survival of the family. Man climbed the apex predator ladder by confronting bigger, more dangerous animals and killed them for their food or for food.
Survival for the fittest.
But there were dangers during confrontation and our brains had a safety hatch for that called the fight or flight mechanism. So if for instance Caveman Jan met a sabre tooth tiger as he was out hunting, his brain would prompt him to either fight the beast or run away from it. That's one way the brain primarily preserves the species.
2020 and we've come a long way from the cave but the brain still holds some of its primordial traits. It still causes the same fight or flight chemicals to course through our veins when the modern day sabre tooth tigers of debt, retrenchment, cyber bullying, infidelity, career and COVID-19 come snarling.
And impostor syndrome is just another way of your brain telling you, 'Hey, I know you really want to do this and maybe you can, but what if it hurts you? What then? Is it not better to try and stay safe, stay secure? Come on!' You see, Mr. Brain is just trying to save you from embarrassing, hurting, killing yourself as you pursue greatness. And he is using data from past experience combined with future predictive imagery, to scare you in place. In a bid to keep you safe.
BUT you want to step out, you need to step out. You are smart enough and brave enough to know that nothing ventured, nothing gained. To know that fortune favours the bold and that as long as you stay small, safe and conservative your life may remain average and you do NOT want to be average. Your inner soul and your very spirit is at odds with Mr. Brain and are rebelliously pushing you outward to jump the cliff. So how do you go about it?
How do you overcome impostor syndrome?
NUTS and BOLTS
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
1. Do not fight it
The surest way of growing something in your life is by focusing on it. Energy flows where focus goes. If there is anything unsavory in your life, that you want to control and manage you need to stop giving it attention. What you resist, persists.
So we will accept imposter syndrome, embrace it as a part of our life. Realise that it is just the prefrontal cortex's way of protecting us, and then leave it at that. We will not obsess over what will and can happen and why we feel the imposter syndrome. And this is why: EVERY. SINGLE. HUMAN. BEING. HAS. IMPOSTER. SYNDROME.
2. Learn to do uncomfortable stuff
The next thing we want to do is to start getting our brain used to uncomfortable stuff. This eventually reduces the impact of imposter syndrome and makes it less nerve jangling. So choose something challenging and uncomfortable and do it on a regular basis. The key here is regular. If you want to be a public speaker, start talking in family functions to one,two, three people. Join toastmasters - get used to the uncomfortable spaces speaking in front of people takes you.
Personally for me I absolutely embrace stuff I hate like ice cold showers, working out, skipping rope, eating healthy. I hate that stuff. It sucks. But I know I am teaching my brain to get comfortable with uncomfortable stuff.
3. Repetitive Action is the cure all
The nerves in the brain pass messages to each other via tissue called the myelin sheath. Scientific studies have shown that the myelin sheath thickens and grows in response to repetitive human activity so as to enhance message flow to various centres of the brain. In a nutshell, the more your repeat something, the more your brain physically changes to make that thing you are doing, easier to do! Nerves that wire together, fire together.
That is how bad habits are formed to a degree. And if bad habits can be formed thus, then it goes to show that amazing habits can be formed in a similar manner too.
See, the key reason the brain holds you from doing things you otherwise normally do not do but want to do, like getting on stage in front of 10,000 people to give a keynote speech for instance, is that NEW things means more communication through the myelin, more work for brain neurons and in the process, more burning of calories. Mr. Brain HATES overworking himself.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. That is how the brain adjusts, thickens the myelin sheath, improves neural intra-communication, burns less calories, resists your efforts less and makes what was initially difficult, easier to do. Reducing imposter syndrome in the process.
So the next time you get on that stage, start that Podcast or YouTube video post, remember this: ALL that fear and self doubt you experience is predicated on an illusion built by your brain to preserve you for its own selfish interests.
Do it anyway: TAKE ACTION. Nothing adverse will happen.
You will either ace it or learn from it.
And it will be fun.
The author, Jan Okonji is an entrepreneur, speaker, coach, and Founder of the Pan-African accelerator BGS – Business Growth Solutions.
Jan is passionate about helping employees transition safely into entrepreneurship whilst turning their great ideas into profitable businesses and has helped entrepreneurs collectively grow their revenue to over $ 10 Million in the course of running BGS.
Get in touch with him and book a personal session HERE