Unveiling Imposter Syndrome

A positive psychology approah to overcoming imposter syndrome; that nagging feeling of being a fraud, a challenge that transcends sexuality, gender, profession, and ethnic backgrounds.


1/24/20244 min read

chess pieces and mirror as analogy for self-doubt
chess pieces and mirror as analogy for self-doubt

Imposter Syndrome, that nagging feeling of being a fraud, is a pervasive challenge that transcends sexuality, gender, profession, and ethnic backgrounds. It is the belief that our achievements result from luck rather than genuine ability. Addressing this phenomenon requires an understanding of its intricacies and a holistic approach rooted in positive psychology.

My most vivid memory of experiencing Imposter Syndrome was in about 2010; I represented my employer at a client’s conference, travelling alone at a resort in the wine country just outside Adelaide in South Australia. It was a big affair, a couple of hundred people, pretty senior to me then. I was to give a presentation.

I woke up petrified of the task; what did I know about the subject? Nothing my evil brain told me. My brain told me that I did not look right, that my presentation skills were not up to scratch and that I was just about to make a fool of myself and my employer.

My boss called to wish me luck. She immediately realised that something was not right with my energy. She had me stand in front of the mirror in my hotel room and talk with myself about whether any of what I was thinking was true. She had me breathe deep and slow. The nerves did not go away completely, but the feeling of impossible and potential career suicide subsided enough for me to deliver a very well received presentation. Over the next few years I practiced these techniques and went on to become an accomplished and confident public speaker.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Psychologists Joe Langford and Pauline Clance (1993) define Imposter Syndrome as the notion that accomplishments stem not from genuine ability but luck. While not classified as a psychiatric disorder, research by Bravata et al. (2019) affirms its reality, describing it as affecting high achievers who struggle to internalise their successes, harbouring persistent self-doubt and the fear of exposure.

The syndrome is not exclusive to specific demographics; everyone is equally affected, with potential links to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and social dysfunction (Bravata et al., 2019). Despite its prevalence among high-achieving individuals, many grapple with questions like "Am I good enough?" and "Doesn't everyone know more than I do?"

Layer on the trauma often associated with growing up, coming out and self-discovery found within the LGBTIQ+ community, and the impact of imposter syndrome on the individual can be hugely debilitating, preventing action, participation, achievement, well-being and happiness. The knock-on effects on an employee's engagement, performance, and productivity are apparent.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: A Positive Psychology Framework

Research by Bravata et al. (2019) suggests that success in addressing Imposter Syndrome involves supporting internal constructs. Positive psychology offers a comprehensive toolkit for this, focusing on:

1. Growing Positivity: Embracing positive emotions such as gratitude, joy, and inspiration reshapes life by promoting self-confidence.

2. Adopting a Growth Mindset: Considering oneself a work in progress helps cope with challenges and actively seek opportunities for learning and growth (Dweck, 2017).

3. Practicing Visualization: Mental rehearsal and visualising successful performance enhance resilience and confidence (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2015).

4. Positive Self-Talk: Words are powerful; replacing negative self-talk with affirmations significantly influences approach and outcomes (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2015).

5. Utilising Mindfulness: Staying present and focused through mindfulness techniques is crucial for overcoming self-doubt.

6. Positive Coping Mechanisms: Developing healthy ways to cope with challenges contributes to a more resilient mindset.

Leaning into your Realised and Unrealised Strengths found with the Strengths Profile tool that forms the basis of HiR’s Performance Programs makes sense, and there are many tools and strategies that can be adopted depending on the particular circumstances and desired outcomes.

Assessing Imposter Syndrome: Tools and Tests

Assessing Imposter Syndrome involves utilising practical tools. Two notable assessments are:

1. Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale: A 20-statement scale assessing imposter feelings (Mak et al., 2019).

2. Harvey Imposter Scale (HIPS): A 14-item questionnaire scoring imposter feelings (Bravata et al., 2019; Edwards et al., 1987).

Empowering individuals to overcome Imposter Syndrome involves practical activities, flexing psychological muscles and dialling up specific strengths. Strengths Exercises that emphasise the importance of recognising and utilising one’s unique strengths can include;

1. Dispute Negative Thinking: Challenge negative thoughts to enhance self-confidence.

2. Build Positive Emotions: Create a portfolio of positive emotions through memories and experiences.

3. Adopt a Growth Mindset: Replace fixed mindset thinking with a growth mindset.

4. Visualise Success: Boost resilience and confidence by visualising successful performance.

5. Replace Negative Self-Talk: Identify and replace negative self-talk with positive equivalents.

6. Track and Measure Success: Combat self-doubt by recording successes.

7. Reverse the Rabbit Hole: Identify positive outcomes for potential negative scenarios.

8. Breath Awareness: A simple breathing exercise reduces stress and anxiety.


Imposter Syndrome need not define our professional and personal journeys. By integrating positive psychology principles at the heart of the Strengths Profile methodology for performance coaching, assessing imposter feelings, and utilising practical worksheets and tools, individuals can gradually shift from self-doubt to self-empowerment.

Embrace the growth mindset, dispute negative thoughts, and visualise success — after all, Imposter Syndrome may just be proof that you are innovating, leading, and creating.

This article was written by James Wright with background information provided by




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