10/19/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Impostors Among Us... Not!

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You're successful in your business. You're held in high regard by others as intelligent, capable, and a force with whom to be reckoned. Yet in the middle of the night or during the day, the thought comes to you: What if they realize I'm a fake? What if they realize I'm not that (you fill in the blank... smart, talented, capable, witty, whatever).

You are one of the many people who are struck with the impostor syndrome.

First described in 1970s by psychologists Clance and Imes as a phenomenon where high achievers neither internalized nor accepted their own accomplishments, these individuals attributed their successes to luck rather than skill or talent, and were afraid others would realize they'd been duped by a fraud. Originally thought to be more common among women, men, too, can be victims of this mode of thought.

These successful people think they are just lucky, in the right place at the right time, and that's why they are chosen for a particular job or role. Others think they've faked everyone else out, tricking colleagues into thinking they're smarter and more capable than they really are. Another tendency is to discount successes, deflecting praise rather than accepting it.

Does this describe you? If so, try some of these strategies and see if you find them helpful:

  • Become aware of your thoughts, realizing them for what they are: negative self-talk that has become a habit.
  • At the first twinge of negative thinking, take three slow, deep breaths.
  • Then focus on mindful breathing, counting the number of seconds it takes you for each inhale and each exhale, or mindfulness of sound, simply listing each sound you hear. If you are either counting or listing, it will be impossible for that negative self-talk to continue.
  • Understand the difference between your negative thoughts and reality. In one column, make a list of what you accomplished on a particular task, and in a second column write the names of people on your team who helped make the job a success.
  • Practice possible responses that give you credit, but also share praise with those deserving others. (Thank you. I'm proud of what I did on that job, and I had the help of a great team.)
  • Replace this negative habit by practicing positive self-talk. (I have proven I am capable by... I prepared for this by...)

Repeating these steps will allow the bad habit to be broken, and be replaced by a more positive routine. Learning and practicing mindfulness consistently will also help quiet that chatter in your brain. Referencing books or online resources may be an option you wish to pursue, or you might prefer to work with a mindfulness instructor until your practice becomes part of your daily routine.

Facing impostor feelings can be challenging, but speaking with mentors, recognizing your personal expertise, using strategies to replace current negative habits with more positive, beneficial patterns will bring you to a more optimistic experience so you can enjoy your well-earned successes.

Dr.Wolbe can be contacted via her website at