Mastering the Monster Inside Your Head

The monster has been called a lot of names: “the imposter syndrome,” “the lizard brain,” “the inner fraud.” It’s that voice inside your head undermining everything you do.

You’re not good enough…You just got really lucky…There are people far better and more qualified than you…

It’s been defined as, “feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.”

There are a number of reasons why the negative voice exists:

  • Maintaining the comfort zone. Self-critical thinking steers you away from the unknown and frightening tasks (even though you know growth comes from being stretched and stepping outside your comfort zone). It’s a safety mechanism with good intentions, but unproductive effects.
  • Inherited behavior. Those who grew up with highly critical parents unknowingly mirror and internalize the negative talk they received.
  • A warped coping mechanism. In highly sensitive individuals and people-pleasers, the fear of hearing criticism from others is, in a warped way, relieved when they give the criticism to themselves.

Here are five effective ways to master the monster inside your head:

1. Name it and externalize it 

Labeling and externalizing an inner-struggle allows for detachment. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield called it “Resistance.” Others have used the metaphor of the “Elephant and the Rider” to refer to the inner-conflict.

Whatever creative name you choose to apply, making the issue foreign allows you to see it objectively and out of alignment with who you desire to be. It keeps it “at a distance” so to speak, as you work to separate further from it’s negative responses.

2. Reframe your competition 

The imposter syndrome feeds off the comparison game. Regardless of what you’re involved in, you’ll always encounter someone more skilled. If you’re not careful, that measuring game will haunt and stifle everything you do.

Instead of seeing yourself paling in comparison, take an approach of progress and possibility.

The 24 people who broke the 4-minute mile within a year of Roger Bannister didn’t compare themselves and say they’ll never be good enough, but saw the opportunity to likewise succeed and exceed.

3. Honesty with your abilities

Failing to reach high standards only reaffirms the voice of imposter that says, “see, you’re not good enough.” Yet, it’s not your efforts or the goal that’s the problem, but the mismatch between the two.

High aspirations and standards for excellence are always encouraged, but you need the self-awareness and self-honesty of knowing your current level of skill in relation to the goal. Otherwise, you’ll keep setting yourself up for disaster and feeding the imposter syndrome.

You may have the potential to play varsity, but don’t beat yourself up when you fall short as a freshman. Build momentum up to your big goals and balance them out with small achievable wins.

4. Leverage it

Use it as an ally. In the same way people suffering stage-fright boosted their performance when taught to reframe their stress response as excitement and preparation.

Consider voices from the imposter syndrome as issuing a welcomed challenge. Like the tough-love from a coach or parent. The counter-intuitive acceptance of your inner-dialogue can be an effective alternative to constantly challenging it.

5. Own your achievements

In our efforts to be humble, we often ignore our achievements, and inadvertently feed the imposter syndrome with a pattern of discrediting behavior.

Nobody likes “tooting their own horn,” but forget about public applause for your success, rather, work on personally acknowledging your strengths and accomplishments. Receive compliments graciously instead of passing them off.

The imposter syndrome feeds off a low self-esteem. But that’s overcome when remembering how competent you really are. Journaling is a great way to achieve that, it allows you to look back at your success, and that confidence will silence the inner-critic.