In my last article, I wrote about why we experience Imposter Syndrome. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it here.
Essentially, our brain is hard-wired to scan for danger when we enter new environments; this is an in-built safety mechanism deeply encoded in our DNA. If it unconsciously perceives any threats, our stress response gets triggered, i.e. we enter flight, fight, freeze, mode. When that happens, our frontal cortex (responsible for critical thinking) shuts down to allow our more primitive safety-focused brain to take over.
The severity of perceived threats is rooted in our nervous system and is different for everyone. For example, if you stress easily in ‘normal’ situations, your nervous system may be dysregulated, which will make relatively ‘low-grade’ threats feel bigger. These ‘threats’ can be seemingly minor things such as not getting a thorough induction, having persistent I.T. issues, not knowing answers you think you should know, putting undue pressure on yourself to perform, etc.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
1. Knowledge is power!
Simply knowing that imposter syndrome is likely to happen can help you logically take steps to manage your nervous system before full flight/ fight/ freeze (x3F) mode gets triggered.
One point to note is if you’ve gone through a particularly stressful experience before starting your new job, e.g. redundancy, job loss, divorce, house move, etc., your nervous system will likely already be on high alert (dysregulated). As a result, it will likely move more quickly into the stress response than it perhaps otherwise would.
Keep a note somewhere accessible to remind yourself that your stress reaction is perfectly normal. It is to be expected, even if you have a regulated nervous system, given that you are undergoing an entirely new set of experiences. Before you start in your new role, ask caring family members or friends to remind you of this should you find yourself struggling in the first few weeks.
Consistently use some or all of the following techniques to effectively manage and regulate your nervous system and bring it back to homeostasis (base level). To facilitate a healthy nervous system, I recommend weaving these tools into your daily life regardless of your current stress levels.
2. Nervous System Regulation
The 15-minute walk
If you follow my work, you’ll know that I am a massive fan of the 15-minute walk. It has so many benefits; not least, it helps burn off the cortisol and adrenaline we release when we trigger our x3F response. Click here to read more on the benefits.
The physiological sigh is a brilliant tool to help combat the misalignment of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels that become out of sync when we’re stressed. This simple tool effectively brings your nervous system quickly back to homeostasis.
Simply breathe in through your nose twice until your lungs are fully expanded (this inflates tiny sacs in the lungs – the alveoli – that help balance carbon dioxide and oxygen), breathe out slowly through the mouth—repeat 2 or 3 times. (N.B., you may feel dizzy, that’s entirely normal). Source, Andrew Huberman – TheHubermanLab.com.
3. Get Out Of Your Head
When we feel stressed, trying to process our thoughts critically becomes difficult, if not impossible. This is because the ‘thinking’ part of our brain gets automatically turned off, as I’ve mentioned above.
A great way to overcome this is to get your concerns down on paper. It’s is a proven tool to help evaluate the reality of your situation and enables you to put things into perspective.
Make sure to use paper and a pen for this, not your phone; it’s a critical part of the process! Include performance matrices, targets, key internal and external stakeholders, customer relationships, technical support, systems training, I.T. kit, flexible working/ working hours/ location, what’s working and what’s not, etc.
Arrange a meeting with your line manager as soon as possible. Have your notes with you and talk calmly about what you need, your expectations, and explain that you also want to understand theirs. Don’t wait for them to ask to see you. TAKE CONTROL.
If you haven’t begun your new role yet, I suggest you do this piece of work before you start and arrange a meeting with your new line manager either before (if possible) or as soon as you can after starting. Forward planning and giving some thought to potential stressors or challenges will help regulate your nervous system, making you feel safer and calmer and, therefore, less likely to trigger imposter syndrome.
One other thing to be mindful of and something I tell all of my ‘career’ clients when they land their dream job is that we are so used to performing at a high level that we expect to hit the ground running in our new job. However, the fact that we don’t even know where to go for paperclips (I realise that term is a bit outdated now, but you get the idea) will take some time to get used to.
Furthermore, most businesses don’t expect you to know everything from day one! If you’ve chosen the right company with the right cultural fit, there’ll always be a period of grace. It’s unrealistic to expect that you can deliver at the same level straight away in a new role as you did in the old one. However, I recommend using the ‘grace’ time well, as it won’t last long! So learn as much as you can, ask questions and use the ‘two ears one mouth’ principle.
Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome? If so, what did you do to overcome it, or did it dissipate as you learnt more about the company, people and role? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments section below.