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Tips to deal with impostor syndrome (Part 5/5)

October 26, 2020 Rungway Team
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


Here at Rungway, there's one belief that is at the heart of what we do - from the product we build to the way we work together as a team: Every Question Matters.

Earlier this month we hosted a webinar entitled “Why bad is stronger than good: How hard-wired biases can undermine your efforts to create a positive workplace culture”.

We had more questions from attendees than we could answer live, and we didn't want to leave them unanswered.  So we sent the questions to our two panellists to get more of their knowledge and experience, and we will publish their responses over the coming weeks. To watch the webinar on-demand or read through the takeaways click here

Q: I find the positivity bias fascinating but difficult to relate to as I suffer more from imposter syndrome and a feeling of not being good enough. What tips are there to deal with our own perception of self-worth?


Dr Chris O’Neill
Psychologist, Fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford

Whilst the evidence indicates that the majority of people exhibit an over-inflated estimation of themselves and their abilities, a significant minority under-value themselves.

One form this takes amongst the most successful has been called “impostor syndrome”; a sense that their objective achievements and successes have been somehow unmerited.

Whilst this self-doubting sense of unworthiness is statistically less common than “positivity bias” in both the general population, and those in leadership roles, it is by no means uncommon in other professions, such as those pursuing academic careers. It may be associated with exceptionally high ability.

Take, for example, Thomas Aquinas and Michelangelo. Aquinas is arguably one of the very greatest philosophers of the last thousand years. Brilliant, creative, ground-breaking and prolific, his ideas were also a major formative influence on the largest human organisation of the planet. Despite this, he died miserable, and, on his death-bed is said to have dismissed his life’s achievements as “So much straw”!

Michelangelo is one of Western Art’s foundational geniuses. Despite being one of the greatest sculptors, painters, and architects of all time, his last sonnets are full of self-disparaging comments and self-doubt.

Negativity biases like “impostor syndrome” and pessimism, like positivity bias and optimism are just personality characteristics which one happens to have inherited or acquired.  (There is a good deal of evidence that at about 50% of our default level of happiness is genetically inherited).

Tips for living with Imposter Syndrome

Remember the following:-

  • You are not alone; some very great people suffered in the same way.

  • It is not your fault - you may just have more Eeyorish genes than the bouncy, brazen Tiggers of this world.

  • It is just a set of thoughts and feelings about yourself which have no necessary relationship to objective reality; just because you feel an imposter doesn’t mean you are. Such thoughts and feelings are not facts!

  • There are pluses and minuses to both pessimistic and optimistic attitudes. There is a good deal of evidence to show that people with more pessimism have more realistic judgement than their more optimistic peers (though not necessarily about themselves!). A pessimistic thinking style has several benefits.  Pessimists are more realistic than optimists in assessing the degree of control they have in any situation; optimists are accurate only when they’re winning.  A cautious pessimistic style is especially valuable when making important high-risk decisions!  

Jo Forgas’s studies which have demonstrated several cognitive and social benefits of bad moods; memory is better, recall is more accurate, the conversation is better, the ability to spot liars goes up. Happy people are more gullible than negative sceptics!

For those times when the sense of being an imposter is strong:-

  • Assemble reminders in advance (helpful to write them down) that objectively challenge the attitude.

  • Act against the feeling deliberately.

  • See imposter syndrome merely as a charming Eeyorish quirk.

  • Get the support and alternative perspective of a trusted encouraging friend who knows you well.

This is the fifth article based on the questions we got during our webinar “Why bad is Stronger than good: How hard-wired biases can undermine your efforts to create a positive workplace culture”. To watch the webinar on-demand click below.


Our commitment to helping companies thrive, not just survive

By creating a supportive space online and offering the safety of controlled anonymity, Rungway help companies to hear the feedback that will inform how they plan for what comes next. And employees from all backgrounds can feel connected and included by having their voices heard on a level playing field while tapping into valuable support from colleagues at every rung of the ladder.