The Imposter Cycle
This model is useful, as it presents multiple points to intervene and break the cycle. Presented below are some strategies for counteracting the imposter syndrome along various points of this model.
Reframe the task. If facing an achievement-related task prompts anxiety, self-doubt and worry, you might try to reappraise or reframe the task itself as an opportunity to learn, as opposed to an occasion for proving yourself. You’ve already earned your spot, your only task now is to grow through the challenging tasks you face. Remember, graduate school is meant to be difficult. You are not supposed to know everything at the start (or the end). As much as possible, try to face difficult tasks with curiosity.
Work smart. Anxiety, worry and self-doubt can prompt procrastination, over-preparation or both. If you find yourself procrastinating on challenging or threatening tasks, try to reach out instead of turning inwards. Find a peer who is also facing a challenging task and schedule time to work together. In doing so, you’ll be held accountable for working on the task, and will likely be comforted to know that others around you are feeling similarly about their tasks. If you tend to over-prepare, try to calibrate your efforts — especially if your effort is coming at the expense of your sleep or leisure time. There is definitely a place for going above and beyond but give yourself permission to not do so always.
Feel the relief and take ownership. When you accomplish a difficult task, allow yourself to feel relief, pride or growth. If you’re attributing your success to luck, reflect on the work that you did to get there. Make a list of the actions you took. If you receive positive feedback, take it in. Your peers/instructors/advisors are not lying to you to make you feel better — they think you have done good work and deserve to feel good about it.
Seek out tasks that you are good at. While there is certainly a place for challenging, novel tasks, you should also seek out tasks that you enjoy and are good at. If you are good at stats, offer to run analyses for your projects. If you enjoy reading, offer to conduct a literature review for the introduction of a paper. If you are a skilled writer, offer to draft or edit. Contributing your skills is affirming.
Seek support. Remember, many people have experienced the imposter syndrome at some point — you are not alone. Seek out the support of your peers or mentors. They can offer you affirmation that you belong and can offer insight into how they’ve dealt with similar experiences. To move past feelings of the imposter syndrome, it can be tremendously helpful to have peers and friends who are supportive and open about their challenges. They can help you find new strategies to overcome self-doubt, develop your abilities and discover new strengths.
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