GIVE IMPOSTER SYNDROME A GOOD TALKING TO IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

Last week I took time out to focus on my own development. I had a great couple of days exploring psychological flexibility at work (here’s a fab little YouTube video on psychological flexibility). Not only did this stimulate fresh thinking on the associated performance & wellbeing benefits, it also gave me some much-needed headspace to think about my own psychological flexibility during these uncertain and emotionally unsettling times (yup, Psychologists feel it too…).

This personal reflection time took me back to an article that I wrote in 2018 on Imposter Syndrome. It offered some practical tips on tackling fraudulent feelings based on psychological research and my own ‘imposter’ experiences.

Given the unprecedented amount of change we are all experiencing at an individual and organisational level, it feels like a really important time to review the different strategies we can use to address these feelings if they (quite understandably) arise.

So, I looked at the tactics I’d outlined previously to see what would be most useful in today’s world and, based on my increased understanding of Acceptance & Commitment Theory (ACT), what might be missing.

I’d now add the following strategy to ‘How To Tackle Imposter Syndrome 2.0’:

Take a step back & be in the moment

Psychological flexibility helps us fully connect with the present moment, notice the difficult thoughts and feelings that we’re experiencing, and then decide whether we want to move towards or turn away from them.

Why is this significant? Think about something that’s really important to you. For me, it’s having a good work-life balance so that I get to do the work that I love and spend time with my loved ones in (relatively) equal measures.

Now think about the different thoughts and emotions you’ve experienced in relation to this special thing over time. It’s not always easy! Over the last 12 weeks I’ve felt guilt for not spending enough time on work or with family (“I’m an imposter in both worlds…”), anxiety as I try to figure out a way to address the guilt and total exhaustion (admittedly this last one is partly down to my 18-month old offering 4.30am lockdown wake-up calls).

Left to their own devices, these emotions can become overwhelming and knock us off track. Psychological flexibility is about recognising that no behaviour or belief is good or bad; the key is to consider how it is serving you. ACT helps us embrace the good and the bad as part of the journey that we’re on and then make a choice to pursue or change our behaviour accordingly.

For me, this is an incredibly empowering way to tackle challenging thoughts and refocus on what gives me meaning and purpose. It’s about creating a psychologically safe space to think and show some self-compassion.

One of the tactics I’ve found most useful this week, taken from Clinical Psychologist Steven Hayes work, is to take a step back when these emotions begin to rise and just be in the moment with them, as if they are sitting across the table from me. Then ask myself: are these emotions helping me to achieve what’s important to me?’. Of course, the answer is no. So, I’ll give these emotions a good talking to. Disassociating in this way helps me to acknowledge these emotions within my current context, and then make a confident choice about my behaviour.

Another tactic that I plan to action this weekend is to do a values-based activity, mindfully. I’ve always loved the idea of taking quality time out to practice meditation and mindfulness, as I know how valuable these practices are. But the aforementioned toddler makes this challenging. Instead, I’m going to go on a family walk this weekend with my phone on airplane mode and just be fully present (with no What’s app or e-mails distractions). Why not leave the phone at home, you ask? I get a lot of joy from photographing my little boy as he runs around in the park, so it’s coming with me for the camera.

I have included a link to my original article here. I’d love to hear if you’ve found any of the strategies helpful during these uncertain times, and any others that have also worked well for you or your clients.

Jayne Ruff

Business Psychologist and Director

 Changing Point is a leading organisational development and change consultancy. We work closely with leaders to enhance their self-awareness and stretch comfort zones a little at a time. We focus on the practical application of learning so that powerful new behaviours are effectively embedded.  To learn more about our Personal Impact Leadership Programmes, get in touch at leaders@changing-point.com

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Jayne Ruff Occupational Psychologist & Director at ChangingPoint For more information on ChangingPoint, please contact jayne@changing-point.com