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Impostor syndrome

Who is the fraud?

Who am I to write a guest blog for the Oxford English Dictionary on the Impostor Syndrome?

I have now given several talks on the subject of the Impostor Syndrome – more correctly termed Impostor Phenomenon – chaired a panel discussion for the General Assembly on the subject, been interviewed by the Telegraph and Cambridge TV on it, as well as receiving a distinction for my research into it when doing my Masters Degree a couple of years ago.  So why did I still think, “what me?  Really? can I do this?” when contacted by the Oxford English Dictionary to be a guest blogger on their new entry “Impostor Syndrome“.

The answer, as you may have guessed, is that I am one of the 70% who experience ‘imposter’ feelings.

Of course I said yes, and then set about controlling my internal chatter to be able to write a comprehensive piece.  The resulting OED Blog post is here

Then I spot a completely incorrect use of the term in the Times today.  A fraudster does NOT experience the impostor syndrome or phenomenon.  Those who set out to deliberately deceive others are actual impostors, as defined by the OED.

Please, it’s hard enough to experience the feelings without being confused with with real fraudsters.  So, a plea to all journalists, please don’t muddle the use of impostor syndrome with real impostors.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted on Inc. as saying that successful people learn to take feedback well. What it seems she was actually referring to was “constructive feedback” or what is sometimes thinly disguised criticism. While it is true we all need to learn from our mistakes, whether pointed out to us in the form of “feedback” or ones we spot ourselves, why, oh why, when we refer to “feedback” do we automatically mean the negative?

From my studies in positive psychology, of course I know the answer… Human beings are predisposed to look for the negative first; that has been our natural survival instinct. But being wired to see the negative is very different from actively encouraging it at work.

Of course managers need to address poor performance, point out mistakes and help correct behaviour. But they also need to let people know what they are doing right. And people do things right far more often than the frequency of positive feedback would lead us to believe.

 

Employ the 5:1 ratio

There is a growing body of research on couples, begun by John Gottman, which indicates that the ratio of positive and negative feedback needs to be more than balanced for healthy relationships. In fact, Gottmann found that the ideal ratio is 5:1 – yes that is five pieces of genuine positive feedback, or positive interaction, for every one piece of constructive/developmental/negative/howeveryouwanttophraseit feedback. This is now being studied in the workplace too.

Other research indicates that the positive feedback will only be effective if the feedback giver is held in esteem by the receiver. For instance relentless praise quickly becomes meaningless, it is the 5:1 balance of positive and negative that works.

 

In the Workplace

Is it little wonder that engagement at work in the UK is low, when we don’t train managers on how to give positive feedback?

So what can be done? One way tip to give a boost to the morale of your staff is simply to identify something they have done well and let them know. Too many things are saved for the annual review, and too little is said during the course of every day. Meetings focus on problems to be addressed, but why not start them by celebrating one thing that has gone well? That will, as positive psychologist Barbara Fredrikson discovered, encourage greater problem solving skills and generate more innovative ideas. Fredrikson coined the term “broaden & build” for this effect.

Looking back to when I was the manager of an international banking team, I now realise I could have done this better myself; but back then nobody had trained me in the importance of positive feedback.  So if you do manage a team, please start your meetings on a positive note, catch people doing things right and let them know… and remember the 5:1 ratio.

 

Laura Trott - Olympic Champion

Laura Trott – Olympic Champion

The Olympics have been quite something again this year and team GB are doing their country proud. As I watch with astonishment at the achievements and see Laura Trott crying with joy at being the most successful female Olympian of all time, I am reminded how it is such a short time that women have even been able to participate.

Women did not compete in the Olympics until 1900 when we were allowed to participate in Lawn Tennis and golf. It was 1928 that we first competed in track and field events but then so many fainted after the 800 meters that we were not allowed to compete in this again until 1960.

Just sixteen years ago women first took part in weightlifting and it was only in London 2012 that women’s boxing took place.

London 2012 also saw for the first time women competitors from Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia meaning that every national Olympic committee have now sent women.

For some, this will be shocking that actually equality still isn’t 100% there, some may still have the opinion that women should not be involved and others will just feel proud.

I sit in the feeling proud arena with hope that more women will feel empowered to go for gold.

Today, 20th March, is the UN International Day of Happiness.  But can you create happiness by deliberate acts? And what happens if you don’t feel happy?

 

Psychologists have researched many ways to increase individual levels of happiness, community happiness and create a happier society.  Indeed, Action for Happiness, run their own 8-week course on Exploring what Matters to help individuals understand these different levels and encourage us all to take some action in anyone of those areas.

 

But what is happiness?

Happiness is a fleeting, positive emotion.  I like to use the analogy of a rainbow… there are times when you see it, there are times when you feel it but you cannot really touch it.  To experience happiness you need to also experience sadness and a whole spectrum of emotions in between; to see a rainbow there needs to be both sunshine AND rain.  So, today, the #internationaldayofhappiness please don’t feel compelled to be happy, just notice how you are feeling.

Having studied positive psychology for the past two years I have become increasingly aware that the media’s view of creating happiness is not the same as an individuals reality.  We might think the new car, the bigger TV, the flash clothes will bring us happiness. And to be fair, for a short while they do.  But not a meaningful type of happiness.  When we buy these material things, we experience hedonic adaptation… that is our spike of happiness soon fades and we return to our previous normal way of being and feeling.  To get the next spike of positive emotions it often needs to be an even flashier car, even bigger TV or more expensive clothes.

 

So what does bring happiness?

Rainbow over Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head

Living a meaningful life (defined by what you consider to be meaningful) is one way as that creates what psychologists call eudaimonic happiness.

 

I prefer a mix of both hedonic and eudaimonic happiness…

 

…by doing what I love (see more about my work at www.kateatkin.com), giving to others through volunteering activities, walking my springer spaniel and my own hedonic pleasure which comes in the form of 85% dark chocolate!

 

 

Happy New Year everyone!

Now we’ve entered into 2016, how many of you have made new year resolutions? There is, of course, some value in the making, reviewing and following resolutions, but as I’m sure you’re aware it doesn’t have to be a new year focus. However, this message isn’t about whether or not to make a resolution, but more about whether you have included one vital factor in your resolutions.

Most resolutions tend to be of the “lose weight”, “get fit”, “earn a big bonus” or “get new clients” type – of course if you’d made those, yours will be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. BUT are you missing a factor which will impact on your long-term happiness and mental as well as physical well-being?

If you’ve followed the research on happiness you are probably already aware of this factor… social connections.

Have you specifically decided to take action in this area? What resolutions have you made to stay in touch with friends?  How will you enhance your one special personal relationship (if you have a significant other).  What can you do to create more fun time with work colleagues?

There’s a wealth of research on the importance of social connections and relationships, and the link between these and longevity, happiness, mental and physical well-being.  Here’s a link to just one study, a TED talk about a longitudinal study lasting 75 years (wow!), which shows how valuable relationships are.

Enjoy watching, it’s only 10 minutes long… and create fun, love and laughter, and quality connections in your relationships during 2016.

Kate

Ps if you’d like to meet up for a cuppa to create a personal connection, just let me know 🙂

Impostor Syndrome dealing with the imposter phenomenon

reveal your imposter for what it is, a mask, not reality

Having spent the past two years studying for a masters in applied positive psychology, and completing a dissertation on the imposter phenomenon and self-efficacy I should know enough about it by now to write a blog.  Yet my own Imposter rears its head when I go to put my fingers to the keyboard…. You probably know the sort of stuff, an internal voice which says “there are so many writing about this already, why you?”, “who’s going to want to hear your take?”, “are you sure you’ve got anything to add?” or “what if you write something that’s incorrect?”, “make sure there aren’t any spelling mistakes or typos” and “do you really know what you are talking about?”

Well do I?  I have read a few (ok, several!) books, numerous research articles and interviewed successful entrepreneurs, six men and six women, for my dissertation on the subject.  So does that qualify me to write a blog post?

What really qualifies me is my own experience of dealing with what I now know to be an Imposter for many years. Something which pops up every so often, or rather very often!  On coming across the term two years ago in the early part of my studies I realised that this is what I had been dealing with.

 

It wasn’t exactly a lack of confidence, more a crippling

“don’t put yourself out THERE as you’ll be FOUND OUT” feeling…

For those of you who, like me, can relate to the imposter feelings, there is often a huge desire to be successful, to do well and make a difference in the world, which contrasts big time with the internal struggle of what to do if you are successful, if you do make a difference because then you really have to work hard at not failing. To fail, so the imposter tells you, negates the success you have achieved and proves that you weren’t worth it after all.

Right from my early primary school days I have been subjected to ridicule, or “teasing” as it is often innocuously referred to. Harmless to many, for me it became something to avoid. If I didn’t do well, I would be ridiculed. If I didn’t succeed I was a failure. If I didn’t know something I was an idiot.  Not in other people’s eyes I might add…but in my own!  Others would tell me how well I was doing, how entrepreneurial I am to start a training business on my own (sixteen years ago), and how brave I am (to travel to Outer Mongolia on my own, for instance). Internally those comments only fueled the desire to work hard, to be 100% perfect… so as not to be found out.

 

Stop Hiding

Last weekend I spoke at the District 71 Toastmaster Conference and I let my Imposter completely out of the bag by pulling off my mask. I spoke about the ridicule, the internal angst, the perfectionism and also ways to overcome the feelings, which I confessed I was still working on.  Surprisingly (that’s my Imposter talking, to everyone else it wasn’t a surprise) I wasn’t ridiculed, I wasn’t run out of town for talking nonsense, instead I had people coming up to me to thank me for my honesty and to say how well I had connected with their own experiences.

Then just two days later I attended an event at the O2. A graduation ceremony for my masters in applied positive psychology. Again, I feel amazed that I not only now have a masters, but was awarded it with distinction!  Compare that with failing the 11 Plus, an examination all primary school leavers had to take in the UK to determine whether they were clever enough to go to the grammar school. I obviously wasn’t clever as I attended the Spilsby Franklin School, a secondary modern. But just two years ago, at the age of 48, at the same time as learning about the imposter phenomenon, I realised that I probably failed the exam as I took it at the age of 10 because my birthday is in August. How I hadn’t come to that realisation before I don’t know, but there it was staring me in the face.  My sisters both passed, I didn’t, yet I’m the only summer-born sibling.

 

What to do if you have experience imposter feelings

So what can you do to alleviate your imposter feelings?  The first step is to recognise them for what they are.  Feelings, not necessarily truths.  The second step is to start to talk about them.  You don’t have to go to the extreme of going on stage at a conference, but talk about them with family members or friends, or a work colleague you know you can trust.  Chances are they’ll go “yeah, me too”.

 

Further ways of banishing the imposter and boosting confidence will be the subject of subsequent blogs.  Meanwhile if you’d like me to speak at your conference, or to your staff or organisation, or for one-to-one coaching do get in touch. I’m on a mission to Banish the Imposter, my own included.

Contact me on kate@kateatkin.com or see www.kateatkin.com for more details.

Thank you.