No idea what you're doing? Fake it til you make it.

At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me
— Mike Myers, actor and comedian

In my first ever blog post I mentioned that I have from time to time called myself a writer and cringed as I've done it. Nothing against writers. I aspire to writerhood. I've cringed because I've felt like such a fraud. Me, a writer? Nah!

I'm a psychologist, yes. There's a piece of paper to prove that and I've been doing that for such a long time that it feels ok. A mum. Yes. A couple of small boys call me that and I've changed enough nappies and cut up enough fruit to qualify I think, but a writer? That's all a bit new and rather uncomfortable.

When I wrote that first post a couple of people kindly wrote back and said that they too have felt like frauds doing what they do - at least at first. In fact this experience is so common that there is a name for it, the Impostor Syndrome.  You may have heard of it?

The term Impostor Syndrome was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in a research article in 1978.  They were discussing the experience of high-achieving women who felt that they were not as intelligent or as competent as people seemed to think they were (and indeed as they actually were).  A lot of  research and media articles on the Imposter Syndrome have focused on women but it does appear to be just as common in men and it could be that up to 70 per cent of us have felt it at one time or another.

For some people their 'imposter' feelings can be so serious and ongoing that it leads to acute psychological distress, most commonly serious episodes of anxiety and depression. For most of us though it's just that uncomfortable feeling that we don't really know what we're doing and other people seem to think that we do.

This happens most commonly when we are embarking on something new and stepping outside our comfort zone.

So what's the antidote?

First, let me tell you a little story...

When I was about 20, on a weekend away with close friends, I fell into a deep and meaningful early morning conversation with a boy in the way that you can only when you're 20, slightly hungover and there's absolutely nothing in the world pressing on your time.

I can't remember what we were talking about but I clearly remember something he said...

'Guys know that if you say something confidently enough everyone believes you.'  

This was a revelation to me as a 20 year old female racked with self doubt about everything.  Chances are he was equally racked with self doubt but he, and seemingly other blokes, knew that if you carry on as though you know exactly what you're doing then other people will believe that you do.

How does this help with the Impostor Syndrome? Well it doesn't really, except that if you keep going - confidently looking like you know what you're doing - most times you will start to feel more comfortable, your real confidence will grow and the imposter feelings will fade. Just fake it til you make.

Other tips?

  • Take a reality check.  Do you really have no idea what you're doing?  Where's the evidence for that?  Are you really less capable than someone else starting out or with an equivalent level of experience? What do you know? What skills do you have? You're probably better than you think.  If you need regular reminding, make a note of what you know and what you've done and put that note somewhere you will see it.
  • Believe the feedback. If you get good feedback, believe it!  Don't dismiss it as someone just being nice.  Add it to your confidence boosting mental piggy bank and say thank you.
  • Look for others foibles. Not in mean way. Just examine whether other people occasionally make mistakes or perhaps look or sound just as nervous or anxious as you. 
  • Laugh! Laugh at yourself every once in a while - or more often if it suits.  Laughter relaxes us and helps us to not take ourselves too seriously all the time.

What are you faking til you make it?

Onwards and upwards,

Ellen.