I was talking with a dear friend recently and asked her what topics would be of interest to her that I could write about from a yoga or coaching perspective. She immediately said ‘impostor syndrome.’
She went on to explain it as having the feeling of being a fraud, of not really believing you’re smart enough or deserve to be in a certain position or place and that somehow you arrived here by some fluke. I was surprised to learn she felt this way about herself, as she’s one of the smartest, talented and most well-accomplished women that I know.
It wasn’t long before Beth approached me to see what I thought about the subject and asked if I would consider writing about this in the context of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
As I started to write this article, the first thought that crossed my mind was that I’m not a clinical psychologist, what can I possibly say about impostor syndrome or ADHD that a doctor hasn’t already said? Maybe I’m the impostor! This is one story that my mind was starting to tell and, had I believed that story, then this article would never have been completed, let alone published. Therefore I continued and in my research I soon came across a sentence that resonated with me.
“Though traditionally perceived as an ingrained personality trait, impostor syndrome has more recently been studied as a reaction to certain situations.”
I realized that I could offer my personal experience and tips to deal with impostor syndrome from the yogic and coaching perspective. While it’s not the only way, and since I’m not a psychologist, this can’t be confused with therapy.
TIP #1 - KNOW THAT YOU'RE NOT ALONE
Talking about impostor syndrome and the feelings you are experiencing is one way to bring it to the surface. Without sharing, the feelings of failure can lead to isolation, anxiety and low self-confidence, shame and self-doubt.
Seek out a support network of people online or in your community – it only takes one person to have the courage to start the conversation. The more we share our inner vulnerabilities, the more we discover that we’re not alone and can talk through situations and solutions.
TIP #2 - CHALLENGE YOUR STORY
What if the syndrome was a series of reactions to one or more stories and that the story could be changed? If you struggled in school with focusing, you might have been told by people of authority, such as your teachers, that you weren’t as smart as the other kids because you didn’t do as well on tests. If your attention was wandering, you might even have been labeled as a bad student because the teacher thought you weren’t listening.
In yoga, these stories are called samskaras – or impressions on the mind, most often formed by other people’s opinions and then adopted as the truth. It’s like a track left in the road from the imprint of tires. The more the car travels over the same path, the deeper the grooves become. The good news is that by understanding the nature of the mind through meditation, we have the ability to rewrite a new story, thereby taking a different road and making new tracks.
When you experience feelings of being a fraud, ask yourself if this is really true or just a story. Allow yourself to entertain a different, more positive perspective. Journaling is an effective way to explore this. The next time you find yourself focusing on a negative situation or suffering from self-doubt, write it down. Then cross it out and replace it with a list of your successes and accomplishments. Keep challenging yourself this way until you have a list of at least three successes for every negative, false story.
TIP #3 - MEDITATION FOR AWARENESS
Thinking of impostor syndrome as a reaction to certain situations allowed me to connect the dots to meditation as a possible solution, since reactions begin in the mind.
There are many ways to experience meditation and the beauty is that you can’t do it wrong. The idea of it might seem daunting; especially if you’re thinking, “I have to sit still, cross-legged on a yoga mat for an hour?” Meditation is not about sitting still and getting rid of your thoughts – it’s more about understanding the workings of your mind and this can be explored in a few, short minutes.
MEDITATION WITH AN OBJECT:
If you’re new to meditation, a gentle way to ease into it is by focusing on an object – by paying attention to your breath for example. Even doing this for one minute is beneficial. Start slowly - perhaps try 30 seconds - then build up from there, as you feel comfortable.
Place yourself in a comfortable seated position. If you’re sitting in a chair ensure that your feet are firmly planted on the floor. If you’re sitting on the floor cross-legged, or on your yoga mat, notice the position of your knees to the floor. If they are raised up away from the floor you may want to place a cushion below your sit bones (your bottom) as this will help to elevate your pelvis to a neutral position and allows your knees to come closer to the floor.
It’s important that your body feels comfortable, as this is one less distraction for the mind.
As an alternative, if sitting is not possible, then you may practice lying down on your back with your legs slightly apart, your arms are apart from your torso with your palms facing up.
Some people find it extremely challenging to sit still for a few minutes and feelings of agitation may arise. It’s important to recognize this is normal. Be willing to sit through it and keep trying, as eventually the feelings should pass.
Try this with me now with this two-minute guided meditation.
Practicing meditation for a few days or weeks or months isn’t like waving a magic wand where suddenly one day you will be left without judgemental thoughts – it’s more about becoming aware of the nature of your mind and detaching from what’s going on in there. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind distracts you from your breath, because it will time and time again. Be patient, and over time, as your focus develops and you deepen your practice, you may begin to realize that you are much more than the workings of your mind.
I have experienced feelings of anxiety and self-doubt at times in my life and I was even told by one of my primary school teachers that I would never amount to anything. While I’ll never forget that statement, thankfully I chose at a young age not to believe that story. I’m grateful for my meditation practice as it continuously reminds me that I am much more than my thoughts.
It’s never too late to change your story into something positive that will serve you better. You might even find yourself appreciating your unique gifts and celebrating your accomplishments without bothering yourself with what other people think.
Sarah is a Vancouver-based business and life coach, yoga teacher and Reiki master, serving local and international clients. It’s her mission to see you thrive and to help you create a life you love using simple tools that can make a difference today. For support in your journey towards living a purposeful and joyful life, or to learn more about her upcoming workshops, please visit Sarah at Body Mind Spirit Coach.