Impostor Syndrome – Can you Cure Self Doubt in the Workplace?

Cure self doubt at work

Your boss walks in the room and asks you to do a work-related task that you’ve never done before. Your heart races faster than a Ferrari with no brakes, your palms are sweatier than Eminem’s during his first live performance(song-reference).

Then when it comes time to perform you end up falling far below your potential performance because you allowed let self-doubt consume you.

This doesn’t always have to be the case in the workplace. Everybody experiences self-doubt, it’s about how you deal with it, not how often it arises. Today we’ll go over in-depth research backed by science on curing self-doubt in the workplace.

1.) Create work

Cookin up Work

Impostor Syndrome is a mental disorder, making it invisible to the physical eye. After accomplishing great awards and achievements, we receive a temporary boost to our confidence.

However, there is a fragile thing about achieving certain records and awards. The esteem coming from these types of accomplishments don’t last long. Because when reflecting on how you achieved those accolades, impostor syndrome can warp the reality of the situation. Fostering self-doubt, making you think the goals you achieved weren’t that difficult to achieve after all, or that maybe you were lucky. 

That’s why creating content is so important for people suffering from impostor syndrome. Whether it be a fancy painting, or a rockstar app creation, it’s great to have a body of work that you can show off. Bragging to your friends is not the objective of this, it’s more about bragging to yourself.

Create a portfolio. Blog, Art, video, project. Something that you can physically look back on with pride, without needing to rely on a faulty memory. Something that you can show people to actually prove you are what you say you are. Hopefully, this is enough to push you over the edge of confidence, and you don’t “Still Think I’m Nothing”(song-reference) Like 50 cent does.

Learn more about creating your own legacy on my tough love post, “How to stop being a ‘screw-up’ in life” here.

 2.) Imposter syndrome is a Learned Behavior

Narcissistic Parent learned behaviour

Why do I feel like an impostor, did I do something wrong? Of course not. Impostor syndrome has little to do with what you’ve done or failed to do. More so, impostor syndrome stems from the environment you’ve endured growing up, says Arlin Kunic with an MA in clinical psychology.

Childhood factors contribute to experiencing impostor syndrome as an adult. For example, living with parents that only valued high/results-oriented achievement. Instead of living in a household that encouraged the effort put in from a day to day perspective.

Impostor syndrome is learned when living with parents who quickly switched from high praise to being brutally critical. One might think that their praise is based on performance, especially at a younger age. Unfortunately, this is done based on your parental figure’s current mood. Meaning that if a parent in the household was having a rough day, then any behavior deemed negative in their eyes would be magnified, along with their perceived opinion of your worth.

Another crucial skill to learn is how to differentiate between the praising of ability versus effort. Research on the psychology of success by Carol Dweck says, “Praising people for their natural ability can be destructive. Unlearning the difference between praise for effort versus ability can affect long-term success starting from a young age.

Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller published their findings from six authority studies, featuring fifth graders that were praised for intelligence rather than effort suffered long-term. They tended to care more about their performance goals, and lesson learning. Moreover, they were less likely to persist in the face of adversity and actually enjoy tasks they participated in.

Children that were praised on effort had higher overall self-worth. While children praised for intelligence had their self-worth based on performance goals. Meaning that their self-worth would fluctuate more often, even if they were putting in the work necessary to improve themselves and excelling past their peers.

Basing self-worth off performance goals is so dangerous to mental health because everybody experiences a bad-day. Performance fluctuates and isn’t based off effort all the time.

Sometimes we do everything right, and we still lose

3.) Speak positively of other people

Speak positively gossip.

People gossip negatively about others constantly, and then wonder why they have low self-esteem. How we see the world is how we see ourselves. It’s an extremely simple concept. Positive and confident colleagues in the workplace don’t associate themselves with gossip. 

On the contrary, findings from personality and social psychology bulletin tell us that gossip may lead to a short-term boost in self-esteem when done positively. Hearing other people positively gossip about someone else encourages you to use that new found information to improve promote and protect oneself. Whereas people who listened to negative gossip increased their self-protection making them overly self-conscious in the long-term.

You shouldn’t gauge the positivity of how you speak to others for its mental benefits. The way one speaks about others determines their own self-worth. Psychologist Paul Colema explains that negative gossiping is a common coping mechanism to reduce one’s anxiety and worry by transferring negative attention to someone else.

There were two studies conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University regarding the short effects of gossip on self-esteem as well. Study 1 included 140 participants of whom were asked to positively or negatively describe a target person. Those who decided to write a negative description of the target person were reported to have relatively lower self-esteem shortly after the study was completed.

Study 2 is arguably more interesting and since participants were asked to share personal information of a person, they were already familiar with. Reported self-esteem levels decreased significantly whether they were negative or positive. This slightly disagrees with the previous study on the personality and social psychology bulletin which claims that gossiping positively about others temporarily boosts self-esteem.

The term positive gossip is ambiguous. For example, saying “somebody is very honest and reliable”, and saying “somebody has a lot of powerful friends” could both be interpreted as positive comments, yet the latter comment could be viewed in poorer taste. The conclusion of studies 1 and 2 is that gossip leads to increased self-criticism independent of how positive the gossip may be. A great segway leading into our next topic, self-talk.

4.) Self Talk

Positive and negative self-talk

Talking down to yourself is dangerous for work performance. Why? Because you’re always accompanied by you 24/7. Psychology Today’s number one source of self-esteem issues stems from disapproving authority figures. Were authority figures around you harsh with their critiques when you ran into a failure, or did they offer words of encouragement? When you make a small failure do you say negative things such as “I’m such a loser”, “ I’ll never be able to do this”. What most people do not know is that your inner dialogue often stems from how you were spoken to growing up.

Here are some tips on improving your self-talk. 

Correct yourself Do you ever catch yourself saying something bad about yourself out loud? It’s not too late. Just changing your self-talk is a process to help cure self-doubt in the workplace. When you say something negative about yourself out loud be sure to correct it

  • Example:

Negative self-talk: I’m a screw-up

Positive self-talk: That’s not true, I’ve done tougher things like this before, I’m just in the learning phase. 

  • Have a morning ritual: Everyday you wake up, start off strong. Tell yourself something positive like “I’m going to push myself to achieve goals today” This sounds cliché, yet it actually works!

Here are some benefits of positive self-talk

  • Decreased Stress
  • Improved Immune function
  • Increase common cold resistance
  • Stronger physical/psychological well being
  • Lower bouts of depression

5.) Pick up an Extra Hobby

Picking up an extra hobby

If you follow my blog regularly, you’ll know how much I stress picking up a hobby. Whether you work on an oil rig in Alberta or a corporate jungle in the tech hub, your job probably has some sort of hierarchical structure(ranking). 

Picking up a side hustle/hobby should be encouraged. Study shows picking up an extra hobby promotes a healthier lifestyle as well. The leading companies in the world realize the importance of employees developing their skill sets outside of traditional work, especially in the tech industry, allow their employees to improve themselves.

Did you know Google allows their employees to dedicate 20% of their time to side projects? Did you also know these resulted in world-famous applications: Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon?

Hobbies should be taken solely based on selfish benefits. Going into the workplace can be daunting when competing to be the best at one particular field. Adding another field(hobby) to the mix allows you to rest assured of having a certain skill that you’re the best at among colleagues. It also opens up networking opportunities and makes you a more interesting candidate.


Stephan Toure

Blogger writer and content creator that's dedicated to helping others get out of their own way.
  1. […] co-workers, stressfull environments, quotas and objectives, etc. Anxiety can also cause self-doubt in the workplace. Many types of anxiety conditions such as generalized anxiety (GAD) or social anxiety disorder […]

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