Imposter Syndrome and How To Ditch It

by Jen Barna MD | Physician Coaching, Podcast, Resilience

“Begin to create a new script in our heads about ourselves, that looks more like how the person who knows, likes and believes in us the most talks about us.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer 

In today’s episode, Coach Gabriella Dennery MD and Master Certified Coach Jill Farmer answer a question from a listener about how to flip the script on imposter syndrome. For physicians, imposter syndrome can be tied to perfectionism and vulnerability. Is imposter syndrome something that you have experienced or are experiencing? You’re not alone. Psychologists tell us that imposter syndrome is more common among high achievers (source). That’s great, but what can you do to combat it? Tune in to find out! 

Question: “Going all the way back to medical school, I feel like getting accepted was a fluke. I had friends who would have made excellent physicians, probably better than me, who didn’t get in. I’ve been working in private practice as a board-certified physician for years but still sometimes when I’m working I imagine making a mistake and being outed as an imposter like, ‘She’s a fake, the jig is up’. Sounds like classic imposter syndrome right? Until I started listening to your podcast, I never even questioned myself in this way of thinking but now I’m wondering is there something I can do to break this pattern of thinking?

Excerpts from the show:

“I don’t think I’ve worked with a physician in ten years now in my practice as a coach that I haven’t had somebody who either is experiencing or has experienced imposter syndrome. Both male and female physicians, surgeons, administrators… it’s very common. It’s just not always talked about.

Everybody thinks they are the only one that is experiencing it. Lest we think that the reason we’re experiencing imposter syndrome is because we are just not good enough, I think it’s important for us to remember that Serena Williams has said, she too, experienced imposter syndrome. So if somebody as amazing as that, who we all look up to like that, experiences imposter syndrome, I think it reminds us that it happens to us as humans. And, it’s not particularly helpful, right? To put it simply in psychological terms, imposter syndrome is feeling like a phony as though at any moment you’re going to be found out to be a fraud, like you don’t belong where you are, you only got there from dumb luck as was so articulately stated in the question.

“The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is really to stop thinking like an imposter. I think that comes from being willing to find somebody that we really trust, whether that’s a good friend, a partner, a family member, a coach, a therapist, or a colleague where we can sort of break the silence.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“It’s easy to default to that negativity bias because it’s just kind of ingrained and programmed which means that getting back into the opposite, you actually have to train yourself. You have to practice it. You have to work at it very deliberately. So I love lists and I encourage my clients to write out lists. Name five things you accomplished today. Name five things you’re grateful for today. It has to become an active practice, it can’t just be, ok, it’s not going to fall out of the sky and you’re not going to undo the negative bias by simply wishing it away. You have to actively work at it to create new programming in your head, in your brain. “No, I’m not perfect and no, I can’t do everything, but I’ve done pretty good and this is what I have accomplished and I feel good about that” as a way to again counteract imposter syndrome. It has to be an active, inside out process.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

“Humility is one of twenty-one values in action that’s defined by people in the realm of organizational psychology that looks at achievement and success. So it’s valuable, but then a lot of times humility becomes a cover story. Where is it dialed up on the range? Is it a five, which is a healthy humility? Or is it dialed up at a ten, which then creates a situation where the dial of confidence gets dialed down to a zero. So, it’s how do we blend those values in action in a way that allows us to be both humble and confident? Those two things can coexist and they coexist beautifully. It’s important to note that psychologists tell us that imposter syndrome is more common in high achieving people. It’s kind of ironic, but it’s more common in people who tend to be extremely high achieving. Because they are often surrounded by other high achieving people and so then we get into the comparison thing and the patterns and ruts that we’ve already talked about.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“(It was shared to me by) my violin teacher that it’s good to be humble but it’s a waste of time to be modest. Because modesty means that you’re kind of giving yourself an inferiority complex. But humility, really by definition, is about standing in your own power and your own worth and yes it takes work and practice and process to get there. But that to me is the difference between, as you said, dialing it up to the point where you’re diminishing yourself versus keeping it at a five, that good balanced range. So don’t be modest, be humble. But don’t be modest, throw that out the door.” -Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

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