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Adult EF Skills 101: how to STOP imposter syndrome

Updated: Mar 28

NOTE: This article is part of a series called Adult EF Skills 101. Each post is inspired by the course, Adult EF Skills 101, designed to teach the essential executive function skills for success in the "real world". Learn more about the course by clicking here.


Recently, I had an eye-opening realization about imposter syndrome: 

  1. It affects everyone no matter how experienced they are. 

  2. It's a battle I might never win. 

  3. I am not alone.


Here’s the good news: imposter syndrome doesn’t need to dictate your actions or self-worth.


In this blog, I share my personal story about imposter syndrome and the strategy I use when I notice imposter syndrome impacting my decisions. 


Let’s dive in. 


TL;DR

Every time imposter syndrome whispers doubts in your ear, stop and pause button, say thank you, observe the story you are telling yourself, and practice taking a small step forward.


Recognizing the echos of doubt 

I’m no different than most people. Imposter syndrome has held me back since I was a child. Research shows,


roughly 70% of people experience imposter syndrome.

A few years ago, I dreamt of starting a business. I mentioned this to a close friend, and he said, “Why not just do it now?” My response: “I am not old enough or experienced enough. If I wait until I’m 30, and get a few more years under my belt, then I will be ready.” 


I didn’t realize it at the time, but my lizard brain talking. It was a story I made up. It was not based on facts. It was imposter syndrome


Fast forward to 2023. I still didn’t feel ready but, I was moving and had two choices: commute over an hour to work every day or do this thing on my own. 


I was scared and I didn’t feel ready. The imposter came back…”You’re still not old enough. You don’t have enough experience. People aren’t going to take you seriously.” 


Which imposter do you relate to?

  • I credit my success to luck, not my abilities.

  • I credit my success to luck, not my abilities.

  • I credit my success to luck, not my abilities.

  • I credit my success to luck, not my abilities.


Changing the narrative 

Now, 7 months later, I am proud to say my business is having a positive impact on other’s lives. My clients are happy and I am happy. But, the imposter is still there. 


I can’t get rid of my lizard brain, but I can learn to approach it with greater self-compassion and a willingness to change the narrative through metacognition, an executive function skill.


While this post focuses on imposter syndrome in the context of work and entrepreneurship, it's important to note that this inner critic can rear its head in various aspects of our lives. 


Maya Angelou once admitted,


"I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’"

In parenting, imposter syndrome may manifest doubts about being a "good enough" parent. In relationships, it can lead to fears of not being worthy of love or respect from a partner. Even in personal hobbies or creative pursuits, the nagging voice of self-doubt can prevent us from fully embracing our talents and accomplishments. 


white male with long, dark hair, standing in front of a green background, wearing a black jacket

How to STOP imposter syndrome

I created and tested this strategy to STOP imposter syndrome. It requires metacognition, our ability to think about our thinking. The next time you notice imposter syndrome holds you back, give this a try:


1. Stop and pause

When imposter syndrome creeps in, notice your lizard brain and pause.


“I don’t have the right background to get the job that I want and I’m not even that great in my current role.” PAUSE!


2. Thank yourself 

Thank your lizard brain. Your brain doesn’t like taking risks. It wants to keep you safe and alive. However, personal growth requires risk-taking.


“Thank you for trying to keep me financially stable. Right now, I don’t need you.”


3. Organize your story  

Determine if your imposter syndrome is a story or what’s happening. More often than not, we tell ourselves stories without any hard evidence. When we take a step back, we gain clarity and confidence.


Story: “I am not good at my job and don’t have the right experience for a different one.”


What’s happening: People say I am good at my job. I might be able to get a different job but I won’t know unless I try.


4. Practice taking the next, smallest step

Now it’s time to take action. Determine the next, smallest step toward your goal. It should feel so easy, that you would be silly not to do it.


Next, smallest step: list 3 people from my network who could give me advice.


Conclusion 

For many, imposter syndrome is a part of the human condition. No amount of success or experience will erase your lizard brain. But, it doesn’t need to control your actions or self-worth. When you notice our imposter, follow the STOP method: stop and pause, say thank you, observe the story you are telling yourself, and practice taking a small step forward.


How is imposter syndrome holding you back? Follow the steps and tell us your next, smallest step in the comments!


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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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