Issue 11 – How to Beat Imposter Syndrome
Welcome back to The Modern Software Developer. This is the final part of my mini-series on Imposter syndrome and we’ll be talking about how to beat imposter syndrome.
If you want a recap on the series:
Let’s briefly recap what Imposter syndrome is with a definition and a brief summary.
To Summarise Imposter Syndrome
👉 It’s caused by HOW you think.
👉 This way of thinking is persistent.
👉 Evidence exists of your competence.
With that covered, let’s kick on…
It might just be the holy grail for software developers and the companies they work for to beat imposter syndrome and fulfil their potential.
We’ve discussed what imposter syndrome is and what it’s not, and we’ve touched on how damaging it can be for software developers.
We’ve talked about the 5 key influences of imposter syndrome. We’ll revisit them here as we dive deeper than the usual top-level advice so that you understand why you are following that advice and how it links to the low-level details.
Now let’s remind ourselves of the 5 influences and how we can use each one to beat imposter syndrome.
The Subconscious Mind
Starting with the subconscious mind, I previously explained how it contributes to imposter syndrome through unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs in an earlier issue.
We need to reemphasise that your subconscious mind doesn’t filter the content you expose it to; that’s important because you’ve essentially been programming or training your subconscious mind without realising it.
Knowing this, you can be more purposeful about what you expose your subconscious mind to.
You can actively avoid negative and unhelpful content and program your subconscious mind with more of what you’d like to get back from it; positive and helpful thoughts.
The rest of this issue is focused on (re)programming your subconscious mind with tips from high-level actions to low-level thoughts.
It takes time and patience, but for me, this is how to beat imposter syndrome.
Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life and are a key driver of your success and happiness. Habits can be big or small; they’re most powerful when we are aware of them and most dangerous when we don’t even realise we have them.
Self-talk plays a primary role in imposter syndrome as it’s the mechanism by which we tell ourselves stories about our own capabilities and how others perceive us.
I always say there are two types of people in this world, those who talk to themselves and those who don’t realise they talk to themselves.
Self-talk is a critical tool for programming your subconscious mind; unfortunately, most people’s self-talk is just that, critical… of themselves.
It’s estimated that you’re engaged in some form of self-talk for up to 70% of your waking day!
That’s a lot of repetition.
So what are you saying to yourself?
Look out for three main types of self-talk:
This consists of informal statements you make to yourself and others.
Here are some examples of self-talk and how they could be improved:
👉 “I was just lucky…”
👉 “Everyone else is smashing it…”
👉 “Everyone knows more than me…”
👉 “I created this opportunity”
👉 “I just need to focus on me”
👉 “I’m improving; that’s what matters”
Questions do a great job directing your thoughts; we do this when we ask ourselves questions.
When you ask questions like:
👉 “Why am I so stupid?”
👉 “Why do I always mess up the interview?”
👉 “Why would anyone follow me as a leader?”
You send your brain off on a little mission to find evidence of all the times you’ve been stupid, messed up an interview or failed an attempt at leadership as if trying to prove your suspicion correct.
However, replace them with questions such as:
👉 “How can I be better next time?”
👉 “What can I learn from this interview?”
👉 “How do I improve as a leader?”
And you’ll send your brain on a very different mission, a more positive and helpful one.
Affirmations are statements about yourself.
If you recognise these:
👉 “I’m a failure.”
👉 “I am always late.”
👉 “I’m not good enough at…”
Try switching them for these:
👉 “When I fail, I always learn.”
👉 “I’m improving my punctuality.”
👉 “I’m trying my best.”
With enough repetition, you’ll start to convince yourself and start to believe it.
So look for and build awareness of what you say to yourself, either out loud or in your head, and if you don’t think you talk to yourself, pay extra attention…
When you’ve identified the more unhelpful elements of your self-talk, it’s time to build a habit of recognising and interrupting them and replacing them with more helpful and constructive statements.
Here are a few more examples of more constructive self-talk.
👉 “I can learn”
👉 “I can improve”
👉 “I tried my best”
👉 “I’m a hard worker”
👉 “I have a history of great work”
👉 “I worked hard to get where I am”
👉 “My skills are an asset to any company”
👉 “I worked hard to create that opportunity”
👉 “Becoming a senior or leader is a journey”
Another habit many of us find ourselves with is entertaining too much negativity. It can take various forms:
👉 Always complaining
👉 Scrolling social media
👉 Constantly checking the news
👉 Listening to conspiracy theories
👉 Always looking to blame someone
👉 Talking about others behind their backs
It’s no wonder that your subconscious mind projects all of this onto those around you; you start to think other people think ill of you and your abilities, or you jump straight to worst-case scenarios.
Think about your subconscious mind like your own version of ChatGPT. If you train it on data such as the above, you can imagine the kind of answers you’ll get back from it when asking questions – negative and unhelpful ones.
However, if you train your own version of ChatGPT on data based on concepts such as positivity, support, encouragement, improvement, learning, growth, respect, humility… You’ll get very different answers to the questions you pose… Far more helpful answers.
So how do you do that? (There are so many more ways…)
👉 Don’t speak ill of others.
👉 Stop complaining all the time.
👉 Spend less time watching the news.
👉 Spend more time supporting others.
👉 Spend less time with negative people.
👉 Spend more time with positive people.
👉 Spend more time learning and improving.
👉 Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
👉 Seek out good news and opportunities to congratulate others.
👉 Spend more time with people who encourage and support you.
👉 Don’t go looking for people to blame; try to improve the situation.
👉 Spend more time with people who have done what you want to do.
Your beliefs have much to answer for; they inform many of your decisions and shape how you see yourself and the people and world around you.
Many people don’t realise this:
YOU CHOOSE what YOU BELIEVE.
And you can choose not to believe something in an instant.
Remember that 👆👆. It’s super powerful when you realise just how true it is.
To help yourself here, you must build awareness about what you believe about yourself.
I’m the sort of person who…
Try this exercise; finish the sentence “I’m the sort of person who…” in as many ways as possible about yourself.
Consider the way you are, act, think and feel. Consider the things you like to do and things that are important to you.
Be honest with yourself.
Now reflect on your list. What you’re looking at is several things that you believe about yourself.
Consider how many of those sentences are helpful ways to think about yourself…
You’ll no doubt recognise that some of those beliefs are not helpful; they’re likely holding you back.
Here are some options to turn those limiting beliefs into something more helpful.
It’s essential to validate what you’ve written down.
Just because you think it and wrote it doesn’t make it true.
Look for any evidence at all that contradicts what you’ve written. It could be something recent, or it could be something from your past.
On top of that, seek feedback from other people. Do they see things the way you do? Or do they have a different perspective on things? This is important; many of us are our own worst critics, and we are often far too harsh on ourselves.
If you can find any evidence to contradict what you’ve written down, scribble it out and don’t accept it.
If you’ve tried validating your beliefs and are still left with limiting beliefs, you can try reframing.
Reframing is simply exploring different perspectives of something and choosing a perspective that is more helpful to you.
Given the belief: “I’m the sort of person who never finishes things”, holding this belief will probably be limiting, holding you back from starting new projects because you ‘know’ you’ll probably never finish them.
You could reframe this: “I’m the sort of person who loves to experiment and learn”. Suddenly, all those things you never finished can be seen as experiments and learnings. Moreover, you probably won’t hesitate to start a new project since you love experimenting and learning.
The reality of the situation hasn’t changed; what’s changed is your perspective and the way you think about it, with the second way being so much more helpful to you.
Make positive changes for yourself – Sign up and start your wellbeing plan today.
The Thinking Cycle
The thinking cycle is in motion every second of every day, and it’s how you come to feel the effects of all that we’ve discussed to this point.
When you’re not consciously thinking, your thoughts will be supplied by your subconscious mind and will be based on your beliefs, values and whatever kind of data you’ve trained your subconscious mind on to date.
This is why it’s so important to train your subconscious mind to supply thoughts that will be positive and helpful.
When you get the importance of the thinking cycle, you’ll recognise the extra influence you now have over your emotions, behaviours and outcomes.
This leads us to an important realisation:
YOU are NOT your thoughts…
That’s right; you’re not your thoughts. The best way to think of this is that you are the observer of thoughts served up by your brain.
Your brain has made millions of connections between different subjects and concepts over the years and throws thoughts your way that it thinks you want.
However, you can:
👉 Look at them
👉 You can question them
👉 You can give them your full attention and believe them
👉 Or, you can treat them with distrust and ignore them entirely…
More importantly, you can inject your own thoughts into this cycle and observe how they impact your emotions, behaviours and outcomes.
With a little trial and error, you’ll soon see how powerful being more purposeful about your thinking can be and how much more in control you feel.
We’ve talked about negative thinking spirals and how they have you catastrophising and heading towards the ‘Red Zone’.
But thinking spirals can also be positive and, over time, can send you spiralling upwards towards the ‘Green Zone’, a far more positive and constructive state.
The key here is to spot downward thinking spirals as early as possible, interrupt them and inject thoughts that will send you spiralling toward the ‘Green Zone’.
We can use Mindspan’s “3 Steps to Reframing” method.
3 Steps to Reframing
STOP – When you recognise a downward thinking spiral, shout STOP! Don’t worry, you can do this in your head, you might get a few funny looks if you do it out loud!
This is an interrupt; it interrupts that downward negative flow of thinking.
BREATHE – Now that we’ve interrupted those thoughts, you can create some space by taking a deep breath.
This will reverse some of the physiology associated with downward thinking spirals, such as shallow breathing and sweating.
REFRAME – Now, ask yourself the ‘Thinking Question’.
How do I WANT/NEED to think about this?
Look back at the thinking cycle and decide whether there is a way to think about your current situation that might drive a way of feeling and behaving that is more constructive.
How might someone more compassionate, empathetic, confident or successful think about this?
By Answering the ‘Thinking Question’, you will inject those thoughts into the thinking cycle, training your subconscious mind on how you’d like to think with every repetition…
High-Level > Low-Level
We’ve covered a lot of low-level detail here, so here are a few examples of how some common high-level advice essentially maps back to the low-level details we’ve discussed.
Speak to a manager, colleague, friend, family member or coach for support.
Improving your habit of surrounding yourself with positive people rather than negative.
You can use other peoples’ perspectives to validate or reframe your unhelpful thoughts or beliefs – training your subconscious mind with alternative perspectives.
Acknowledge your hard work and achievements by creating an achievement log or positivity log, and give yourself credit for what you’ve done to get here.
By documenting your achievements and giving yourself credit, you’re acknowledging your success and ability, and producing evidence to counteract those initial thoughts of “I’m not good enough…” – training your subconscious mind with evidence of your competence.
Be kind to yourself, and stop trying to be perfect.
Change the voice in your head that puts you down when things don’t go your way – create more positive and constructive self-talk – training your subconscious mind on what you want it to produce more of.
Validate or question your own thoughts and beliefs with different perspectives – training your subconscious mind with alternative perspectives.
Recognise people, situations, events, thoughts, self-talk and beliefs that trigger you so that you can validate or reframe them and spot thinking spirals as early as possible, training your subconscious with every repetition.
To wrap this up, I’m sure you’ll agree this hasn’t been your typical “How to Beat Imposter Syndrome” article.
I wanted to give you the low-level detail so you can understand why the high-level advice is essential and how it can ultimately help you.
The power of what I’ve discussed here is that it can be used in any situation you find yourself in, not just to beat imposter syndrome.
There’s not much in this world that you can control, but you have much more control over your thoughts than you realise.
I’ll leave you with a quote that sums things up pretty well…
It’s not selfish to put yourself first; there’s nothing more important than your own wellbeing!
Know someone that might find this helpful? Do them a favour and share it with them.
Until next time…
How I can help you
Software Development organisations:
- Issue 14 – Getting into software development
- Issue 13 – Software Developers – Your Wellbeing
- Issue 12 – Software Developers – What Do You Really Want?
- Issue 11 – How to Beat Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 10 – My Imposter Syndrome Story
- Issue 9 – Peeling Back the Layers: 5 Key Influences Behind Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 8 – Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
- Issue 7 – Taking responsibility: From personal growth to professional success
- Issue 6 – Misunderstanding Focus
- Issue 5 – Pair Programming is more about people than coding
- Issue 4 – You might regret not getting enough Sleep
- Issue 3 – Are your Beliefs holding you back?
Make positive changes for yourself – Sign up and start your wellbeing plan today.