Overcoming Imposter Syndrome with Meditation

Category: Benefits of Meditation | Mindfulness at Work

meditation can help overcome imposter syndrome

How to Use Meditation to Overcome Imposter Syndrome Effectively

The thoughts and emotions that tell us we’re not enough, incapable or unworthy are referred to collectively as imposter syndrome. Although not an official medical diagnosis, this fear of being exposed as a fraud is a form of anxiety. It can become a true disorder if and when it interferes with our lives, preventing us from applying for jobs, speaking up, or taking action.

Imposter syndrome is a combination of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and emotions, all of which are merely movements of the mind, and hence subject to change with our perspective. Because of this, meditation can help us overcome imposter syndrome.

The following 6 tips outline ways we can combat imposter syndrome using meditation.

  1. Begin with Mindfulness. To break free of imposter syndrome, or any unwanted thought pattern, the first step is to recognize when it’s happening. Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, strengthens our self-awareness. Honing our ability to notice when feelings of inadequacy arise, gives us an opportunity to intentionally think differently.
  2. Let Go of Judgment. With mindfulness meditation, we learn to observe and acknowledge thoughts and emotions without judging them (or ourselves). When nervousness or trepidation arises, for example, we notice and allow those feelings to be present without labeling them as negative or wrong. This meditation exercise can also be applied to imposter syndrome. Feelings of fear or anxiety are normal, especially in new situations. When we judge these feelings as bad, we’re likewise judging ourselves. This limits our ability to see things from a new perspective. But it’s not necessarily ‘bad’ to feel nervous in a new, high-pressure situation. Instead, our hesitancy could be a sign of humility, care and a desire to be of benefit.
  3. Cease Identifying with Thoughts & Emotions. Compounding thoughts of inadequacy is the thought that our feelings are true in an absolute sense—that somehow, inadequate is who we are, versus merely what we’re feeling. Observing our thoughts in meditation teaches us that we are not our thoughts, and that our thoughts are subject to change. Although in the moment we may be afraid, we can take solace in the fact that our fear is simply energy arising. There’s no need to attach to it. In fact, by observing our thoughts as if from a distance, we give them the space they need to soften, dissipate and move on.
  4. Connect to a Stable Sense Of Self. No longer identified with our thoughts and emotions, we identify instead with the stable ground of awareness from which this mental energy arises. Our thoughts appear like clouds, passing through the sky. No matter the weather, the sky remains stable. Feelings of unworthiness may arise, but they don’t change who we are at our core. By repeatedly connecting to awareness itself we free ourselves from habitual, negative thought patterns. Self-esteem improves as we let go of old stories and become more comfortable with the ever-changing nature of our own minds and the world around us.
  5. Practice Self-Compassion. Having developed a new relationship with our thoughts and emotions, we can replace our habitual judgment and self-criticism with compassion. With a softened sense of a separate and unchanging self, we realize we are not alone in our fears. To some extent, nearly everyone has experienced imposter syndrome. With self-compassion, we turn toward our feelings of inadequacy with gentle, kind words, addressing them as we would a much-loved friend. We’d likely tell our friend there’s no need to be perfect. And by letting go of perfectionism, we further ease the grip of any feelings of fraud.
  6. Get More Real. With consistent meditation practice, we realize we haven’t been seeing things as they are, but as we think they are. Past experiences, thoughts and beliefs have colored our view of ourselves and our world. As we let go of old stories, this wisdom strengthens. When imposter syndrome arises, we can more honestly answer the question, is it true?

Instead of falling back toward habitual identification with our feelings of fraud or unworthiness, we’ve developed the resilience necessary to explore our feelings with honesty and self-compassion. As well, we avoid swinging the pendulum in the other direction towards toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing.

It’s possible that imposter syndrome may be our greatest gift. Like a neon arrow, it alights when we find ourselves in situations of great importance or great attachment. It can help us approach new and exciting moments with care, awareness and a sense of humility. Or, it might show us where and when we’ve become too focused on outcomes versus process.

Whatever insight imposter syndrome has to provide, meditation, mindfulness and awareness will help us draw the most meaningful conclusions.

About the Author: Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai Conway writes articles about Buddhist meditation based on her practice and experience
Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Her writing and teachings are informed by her personal practice and Buddhist studies. When not at her desk, she can be found teaching donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific Coast. Learn more about Sara-Mai Conway here.

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