Impostor Syndrome, Beginner’s Fear, and Moving On
Have you ever started something new and instantly felt that you weren’t ready for it?
Have you started a new job and felt like you were in over your head and someone would surely find out?
Do you break out in a cold sweat when you even think about facing that experience again?
That feeling could be impostor syndrome. And it’s something many of us experience when we reach new heights or begin new endeavors.
Impostor syndrome is defined as, “The persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
Those feelings of inadequacy could also be “beginner’s fear.” Trying something new can induce so much anxiety that it causes many to quit something they may have dreamed of starting for years.
The reasons for impostor syndrome or beginner’s fear may be different, but the emotional reaction of each is similar.
Both impostor syndrome and beginner’s fear occur in response to a situation in which you don’t feel like you belong due to a perceived inadequacy.
Though the anxiety associated with impostor syndrome or beginner’s fear can be debilitating, its onset is usually in response to something good.
Experiencing impostor syndrome means you have succeeded in accomplishing something.
A new job, a big promotion, or a chance to present your research at a seminar. Whatever the case may be, you did something to reach a new level.
Not someone else. Not luck. Not the universe. You.
Stopping your negative thoughts and reminding yourself of this in the moment is crucial to flipping the switch on impostor syndrome. To go from “I’m not good enough to be here” to “I’m here and I’m going to do everything in my power to prove to myself I can do this.”
When you take on a new challenge and feel that anxiety, it means you are a small fish who willingly swam into a bigger pond. Now that you’ve made it into the bigger pond you have two choices. Swim back to the smaller pond where you think you belong. Or become a bigger fish.
The same applies to beginner’s fear. If you are experiencing the fear of trying something new, it’s important to recognize that your fear is in response to you actually doing something with courage. If you have wanted to sign up for boxing classes for years and finally found the courage to do it, then you experience intense fear every time you drive to the gym, that’s a good thing.
Because you did it! You signed up. You walked through the door. Yeah, you’re afraid that you will mess up, or look stupid, but that’s okay.
Feeling fear because you made a choice to act is far better than feeling regret because you ignored your ambition.
As frequently as I experience these types of reactions, I still constantly put myself in those positions. The reason? Because I keep proving to myself that I can overcome it. And so can you.
The Surge Technique is a surge of effort applied to the area of your life where you are experiencing feelings of inadequacy.
As a rule of thumb, I will dedicate two weeks (more or less depending on the situation) of living and breathing the activity, until I get to a point where I no longer feel the same anxiety.
This doesn’t mean becoming a pro in two weeks. It means exposing yourself to the situation and dedicating enough effort to it until the fear and anxiety began to dissipate. Using the surge will help you keep going before you have the chance to quit on yourself.
It will also help you reduce the initial anxiety that comes from being the new person, or the inexperienced person, or the shy person. Use those thoughts of inadequacy and embarrassment to fuel your effort.
Olympic gold medalist and championship wrestling coach Dan Gable began practicing like he was possessed after his mother told him she was going to trade in his wrestling shoes for ballet slippers. What’s the best way to deal with feelings of inadequacy? Become adequate. Better yet, become more than adequate. Become great.
The second you start feeling anxious, start practicing. Start studying. Start working.
If you practice or engage in whatever it is that is causing your fear, you will become increasingly better at it. The better you become, the less likely you are to feel like a beginner or an impostor.
I have experienced feelings of inadequacy or undeserving of my opportunities many times and I’ve always tried to use the surge technique to overcome them.
Recently, in the midst of a major impostor syndrome meltdown, I heard a podcast with the ultra-marathoner and former Navy SEAL David Goggins.
Goggins explained that before he turned his life around, he was going nowhere. He was severely overweight and working as an exterminator when he saw a documentary on the Navy SEALS. Inspired by what he saw, he quit his job the next day and went to speak with a Navy recruiter.
The recruiter informed him he would have to lose 90 lbs if he wanted to meet the height and weight standards for the SEALs. Though his recruiters told him he should move on, he decided to make an attempt anyway.
Goggins began running.
His first run he barely made it a quarter mile before he turned around and walked back home. He sat on his couch and cried. He told himself these are the most hardcore men on the planet and “you are not that.” In spite of his feelings of inadequacy, the next day he ran again. Then again. And again. He became a machine. Working day and night to lose the weight and improve his fitness so he could have a shot at his dream.
That surge of effort got Goggins into the SEALS, but more importantly, it was the first step in changing the direction of his life. Since then, he’s developed an intense discipline that has allowed him to become one of the top endurance athletes in the world.
Goggins’ discipline and willpower is so extraordinary that billionaire entrepreneur Jesse Itzler paid Goggins to live with him and train him for a month after watching Goggins complete his first 100-mile race. Itzler documented his training with Goggins in the entertaining and inspiring book, Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet.
Goggins’ story reenergized me. It also reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
In reality, most people who are new to something are probably feeling the same way as you. As you leave the podium after a public speaking engagement, for example, it is highly unlikely that anyone is thinking about you.
If they have to speak too, they are likely feeling the same fear and inadequacy as you did. Maybe they’re even thinking your presentation was so impressive that they don’t compare and shouldn’t even be there.
It is common for people to feel this way. What is uncommon is the ability to out-think the way you feel.
Feelings are not facts. They are temporary emotions attached to ideas that reside in your mind and not the outside world. If you can learn to recognize when your negative feelings are just that, feelings, you can begin to counter your thoughts with more productive reasoning.
This a technique used in the field of psychology known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s also the core aspect of the Stoic philosophy and several mind strengthening techniques meant to improve the mind’s capacity to reason with itself. All of which are used to overcome anxiety.
Meet every negative thought with something positive.
Both positive thoughts and positive actions. Goggins used positive thoughts to shut down negative emotions. He tells himself he is the “hardest” man on the planet. Whether that is true or not, doesn’t matter. That became a self-fulfilling prophecy for him. Which does matter.
What could you tell yourself to counter those thoughts? What could you do to prove those negative thoughts wrong?
You may not believe your counter-thoughts at first, but you will over time if you’re consistent.
Your mind is not always your friend. You can be your own worst enemy, as they say. So, out think your mind.
You are wired to respond to fear by freezing, fighting, or running away. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.” Don’t think for a second that you don’t have to train yourself to respond one way over the other, even if the only thing you are fighting, is yourself.
When you experience beginner’s fear or impostor syndrome, you have a few options in response.
The important thing to remember isn’t that you should choose option two over three, or three over one. The important thing to remember is that you have a choice. Though the anxiety caused by these feelings can make you feel helpless, you are not. You are anything but helpless.
The Stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.”
Remember that your anxiety doesn’t exist in the real world. Those feelings of inadequacy are not anywhere but in your head. Also in your head is the ability to design and fulfill a different prophecy.
The prophecy in which you choose to become a bigger fish.
If you enjoyed this article, please recommend it and check out my blog at www.theroadoftrials.com.
Impostor Syndrome, Beginner’s Fear, and Moving On
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