How to Relieve Imposter Syndrome

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  • “Stop asking if you belong and start asking if you’re being of absolute service every day.”
  • “How can you do what you’re doing in a way that you feel is authentic, real and adding real value? Stop trying to do it the way everyone else is doing it because that’s what faking it ultimately is.”
  • Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome? Stop faking it (and start putting your authentic foot forward!) Stop avoiding difficulties (and gain momentum so that you can develop the mindset of authenticity!)
  • “You’ve got a bottomless level of potential. You have the ability to figure things out and live life on your terms. You can add a level of value in the world that NO one else can (because they’re not you!)”
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  • This is a MUST watch episode about how to relieve Imposter Syndrome (and start serving from your most authentic sense of self).
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Brendon Show. Please note that this episode, like all TBS episodes, features Brendon speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited. Filmed in one take, The Brendon Show has become one of the most viewed unscripted, direct-to-camera self-help series in the history of Youtube. It has also been the #1 Podcast in all of iTunes and is regularly in the top podcasts in Self-Help and Health categories around the globe. Subscribe to the free motivational podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.)

In this episode, we’re going to talk about something that came up way more often than I ever imagined after we launched our study of High Performers worldwide. As much as I’ve taught people how to succeed and master their mindset, and taught them the habits that we know literally lead to long term success, I cannot believe the number of people who wrote in or asked throughout this year: “Hey Brendon, I know what to do but I kind of suffer from Imposter Syndrome sometimes. I feel like I’m going through the motions but I don’t feel like I’m worth it or I don’t feel like I can see myself succeeding like other people did. I feel like I’m faking it sometimes. What do you do if you ever deal with Imposter Syndrome?”

And amazingly, I love to share with people: that was part of the story of one of the people I interviewed for High Performance Habits (which I hope you all have).

This woman was dealing with Imposter Syndrome. She felt like she just couldn’t really break through.

She knew achievement wasn’t her problem. Alignment was her problem.

She knew how to get stuff done but she wasn’t getting stuff done in alignment with her true character, her true beliefs, her true values; the things that really lit her up and made her happy in succeeding.

She felt like she was going through the motions or copying other people. That imposter syndrome also made her not feel confident enough to put herself out there. She thought, “Who am I?” or, “I can’t compare with them.”

That Imposter Syndrome really bled into her work where she felt like, “This isn’t going to work for me. I don’t really belong here.”

And so, if you ever felt any of that, this is the episode for you. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as we head into this time of year where a lot of people are looking back at this year, reviewing the last 12 months. I’d like to ask you: Do you feel like you really lived your most authentic, vibrant, true, passionate, productive you? Do you feel like sometimes you were faking it until you made it? Do you feel like sometimes you just didn’t belong? Even if you were successful or you were doing good things, you felt like, “Well, I’m not like them. I don’t really belong here.”

If that’s true for you, then I’d really love for you to take some notes on this episode. I’m trying to change up how we’re doing these, kind of get in your face a little bit more, do a little bit more coaching as you guys have been requesting.

I had to take some notes because I’m going to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the way that most people talk to me about it. Partially that was because I was young, dumb and naive when I began in this industry.

In this industry, if you’re watching me on YouTube or later on Facebook or somewhere else on the interwebs, you know that it’s a fairly young industry. I started doing major online courses and development in terms of personal and professional development online and teaching that go as far back as 2006, which was really early.

Remember: that’s before the iPhone. It was a long time ago. That was when most people would cancel something or refund something that I gave them. Not because of quality, but because the buffer speed on the video was really bad. So, I kind of lucked out to begin in this industry when it was like the Wild West.

There weren’t many of us. I was one of the pioneers in personal development online courses very early. I didn’t enter an industry where there were a lot of super established people, outside of some major authors. There were some major motivational speakers. There were some people doing seminars. But, social media wasn’t there yet.

And we have this whole world where we have influencers all over Instagram now and can swipe through them all day long, but I didn’t feel like I was competing with them.

So, I know that might sound big-headed to say that I didn’t feel Imposter Syndrome, but I just didn’t because I began something that was really fresh. I also had the benefit of being naive enough to just do my own thing without seeking out other role models and mentors at the very beginning. I didn’t have a peer set.

I started with nothing in this industry. I was bankrupt. So, I wasn’t around other people where I could compare myself all day and ask whether I belong. I just had this passion and I was going to give everything to this passion and not worry about what other people thought and not worry even about how I felt. I was just going to do the hard work, show up and make it happen.

That’s part of my message to you today: if you have Imposter Syndrome, stop worrying about whether you belong.

I always tell Millennials (especially a lot of folks who I get to coach at that age, successful entrepreneurs and start-up founders in Silicon Valley), “Hey, listen, stop asking whether or not you belong and start asking whether or not you’re being of service.”

Part of Imposter Syndrome comes from the selfie syndrome. “Am I right? Do I really fit in? Am I good enough? Am I worthy enough?” There is a lot of focus on “I” and worry founded in the “selfie generation” where we’re all taking pictures of ourselves and thinking about how we portray ourselves all the time. “How do I portray myself? Does it fit in with everything else? And, because it doesn’t, I don’t feel like I belong.”

Stop asking if you belong and start asking if you’re being of absolute service every day.

If you feel like you’re being of absolute service every day, you’re not going to worry whether you fit in as much. You’re going to worry about whether or not you’re getting the job done. You’re going to worry about whether or not you’re actually contributing value. I think one part of the Imposter Syndrome is that people don’t feel like they’re adding value. And if they’re really honest, they know they’re not.

Because they’re not adding value, they feel like, “Gosh, this isn’t right for me,” or, “I’m faking it,” and the fact is, they are.

So let’s talk about four ways to deal with this.

#1. Stop Faking It.

If you have Imposter Syndrome and it’s firing off (i.e. you don’t feel like you belong, you feel like you’re faking it, and you feel like you don’t deserve it or you’re not worthy), then job number one is stop faking it.

Start asking how can you do what you’re doing in a way that you feel is authentic, real and adding real value the way that you would do it. Stop trying to do it the way everyone else is doing it because that’s what faking it ultimately is.

You’re just conforming, you’re copying and you’re doing what other people are doing. No wonder you feel like crap:  you’re showing up every day living like a copy.

Vibrancy comes from personal freedom, and THAT comes from personal authenticity. That comes from knowing this day is yours. If you live each day as another person, you never get that gift of feeling like this day is yours.

So, of course you feel like a fake and a phony,  because you’re showing up running everybody else’s playbook trying to fit into everybody else’s thing.

I know that no matter who you are and where you are watching this, or when you listen to this, I know this about you:

You’ve got a bottomless level of potential. You have the ability to figure things out and live life on your terms. You can add that level of value in the world that I can’t do, that anyone else you follow can’t do, because they’re not you.

They haven’t lived uniquely in your shoes. They haven’t studied what you’ve studied or observed what you’ve observed, or dealt with everything you’ve dealt with, or had the same exact aspirations and dreams.

And there’s seven billion people on the planet. We’re all unique. And so you’ve got to ask, “If I feel like an imposter here, what would my truth be in the space? If I stepped away, what would be real for me to do?” Your number one job is to stop faking it. Stop conforming, stop copying and ask, “How would I do this and add a unique value that I’m passionate about?” That helps immediately break some of your Imposter Syndrome.

#2. Stop Avoiding Difficulties.

Because you don’t feel like you belong, or you don’t feel like it’s real for you or you deserve that level of success, you back off and your primary strategy is avoidance.

You stop, and you start avoiding those difficult tasks each day that actually give you momentum and progress towards the thing, so you can feel it and integrate it and know it is you.

You’re not getting that forward momentum on the things that matter, so you’re not getting the identity that says, “Wow, this is me, I am making this happen.” Instead you’re observing it and you’re avoiding it.

As you see people do great things or you avoid the difficult hardships, your psychology starts saying, “Hey, you’re full of crap. You’re not even trying. You’re not even doing it. You know what? Yeah, you showed up here but you’re just going through the motions and you’re not taking on the tough stuff.”

And here’s the weird thing: if you’re not getting momentum, you won’t have the mindset of authenticity.

If you’re just kicking tires or dipping your toes in the water, your brain goes, “I’m fake, this isn’t real.” You always feel like an imposter if you don’t get real momentum. When you get real momentum, your brain goes, “Hey, this is us. We’re doing this.” This is real and the identity of an achiever in that space that you are in, starts firing and now it starts feeling like, “I’ve got this. I’m doing this. This is good.” And the imposter syndrome starts going away.

#3. Work Daily Goals

You cannot keep showing up randomly to so many days of your life. Why?

In reaction, we feel smaller. In reaction we feel constrained and constricted by the world. We feel like things are unfair. In reaction, we’re less motivated. In reaction we won’t break through.

So, you’ve got to have goals built out that you’re moving towards that does give you that identity of achievement and realness and says, “Hey, I’m doing this.” Here’s what I need you to do. I need you to look at the next 12 months and I need you to set at least five big goals for this next year. And then I want you to break each of those five goals down into five different deadlines for each quarter, meaning if you’ve got one goal for the year, I want you to set down a deadline for quarter four, quarter three, quarter two and quarter one. As you go into these next 12 months, say to yourself: “In quarter one, I’m going to achieve this deadline that’s going to help me move towards this goal by the end of the year. Quarter two, I’m going to achieve this deadline that will help me move even closer. Quarter three even closer. Quarter four we’ve achieved it.” Make sense?

You’re busting down the quarterly goals or quarterly deadlines, and then you’re saying, “Okay what does that mean? What are the major activities I need to do each week leading into that and then each day leading into that?” Work it backwards, my friend.

When you don’t have confidence, you don’t have clarity.

Sometimes Imposter Syndrome just comes from the fact that you don’t know what to do.

And when we don’t know what to do and lack competence, we also lack confidence. We’re always talking about this in my high performance work. Hopefully you read this in High Performance Habits. It’s the issue of the competence confidence loop. You won’t become more competent if you don’t try new things, and trying new things requires confidence. If you try new things, you learn more, which gives you confidence. It’s a loop.

If you’re not working goals every day, and if you’re just reacting and doing tasks, fulfilling everybody else’s needs, that’s going to eat away at you.

Even if you have a lot of success and you’re doing great, I tell people that’s when the imposter syndrome really sucks. It’s when you’re actually getting ahead and you’re doing good things. Things are happening, but you still don’t feel like you’re worthwhile and that’s happening because you’re not celebrating those goals along the way. You’re doing everything but you’re never ever feeling everything.

The wins aren’t being integrated into your identity to make you feel like, “Oh this is real. I deserve this because I looked forward, I measured it, I broke it down and I judiciously, conscientiously moved forward. If we don’t know that we are conscientious with real discipline moving forward and gaining momentum because we chose it and willed it, then it’s easy to look around and say, “Yeah, I’m with these other people but I don’t feel like I belong because they must’ve really earned it and I just lucked into it.”

If you feel you lucked into it, that imposter syndrome will always be there.

I feel deeply grateful that I have achieved the level of successes that I wanted in my life with my books, courses and everything else. I’m still learning.

I can be deeply grateful and also know that I earned this path, that I honored every single struggle, that I architected it out, that I built the strategies. Lots of failings happened and grace opened up and I got blessings. There’s some luck peppered in there too, but also I showed up every single day and I decided what I was going to do that day.

Because I did that and stayed disciplined, I don’t feel fake. I don’t feel like I’m an imposter. I earned my way into this spot. And sometimes I wish that the spot was more abundant, more amazing, more awesome, more connected just like anybody else, but I don’t question the work that went into it. Sometimes I wish I was further along just like anybody else but I can go, “You know what? I earned my way into this position.” And if you can’t say you earned it, of course you feel like an imposter.

#4. Feel the Outcome Of Your Work

Part of Imposter Syndrome is that you don’t feel the outcome of your work, so I want you to start visualizing and meditating on the actual outcome of your contributions. For example, if you’re a new team member at a new company and you’re like, “I don’t really belong here, I don’t feel like I’m here”, I want you to stop every time you feel that imposter syndrome come in. I want you to close your eyes and visualize yourself doing something and experiencing, celebrating, seeing, sensing the outcome of what you’re doing.

For example, I began my career writing books and doing seminars. I remember being with a group of speakers one time and they had done a bunch of seminars and were really along on their way and I’d only done one or two and I didn’t do them well. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought, “Oh my gosh. Do I belong with these guys? Can I play at their level in the seminar game?”

And I remember that doubt coming in. I talked with a bunch of them in a hotel ballroom. I went over, I got in the hotel elevator, and I closed my eyes and I just said, “Brendon, just see it man.” And I forced myself to see myself standing in front of 1,000 people in a hotel ballroom for multiple days teaching, training, coaching, interacting and having fun and jumping and clapping and I just kept asking, “How would that feel?” And I’d allow myself to feel it. What would it look like? And I thought about the little details. I went up in the elevator and there was maybe 10 floors in that building. And I’ll tell you what, from the doubtful kid who entered on floor zero, to the kid who walked out on the 10th floor, I felt like 1,000 feet high. I felt so good, you know? Because I felt it.

So much of Imposter Syndrome involves analytically questioning yourself and digging yourself into a hole, doubting yourself and letting your own thoughts poison you versus fuel you.

There’s also visualization and meditation that can be your savior, which is taking a break anytime you feel it. Go lay down or sit down.

Close your eyes, and see it, feel it, sense it and make it more real because the reason you feel like you’re an imposter is because it feels fake.

So make yourself physically feel and see the outcome of your good words. If you’re going to start a new nonprofit yourself by building a school and you open the door and the kids are going in and getting their first books, you know you built that school. Of course you feel like a fake when you start a nonprofit because you don’t know what you’re doing. But if you do these things, including asking how you authentically can do it, you don’t avoid the difficult work, you work daily goals and you constantly keep visualizing and feeling it, then I promise you my friend,  you’ll stop feeling like an imposter and you’ll start getting real momentum.

I keep saying it. You are stronger than you think and the future holds good things for you. So trust in yourself, honor the struggle, get to work. These next 12 months, they’re YOURS.