“I am my own worst enemy” is not just a line in a catchy song from the early 2000s — it’s also a reality that many of us live every day of our lives.
It wasn’t until I was assigned a blog post on Impostor Syndrome by one of my clients at Millennial Pink Media that I realized how much I was holding myself back. Every time I read something about Impostor Syndrome during my research, my inner monologue was screaming, “Yes! That’s exactly what I do!”
My therapist and I have spent a lot of time delving into the details of Impostor Syndrome, from how it affects my life to how it manifests (for me, often as perfectionism) in my everyday thoughts and behaviors. But today, I’m here to teach you how YOU can recognize Impostor Syndrome — and other self-limiting beliefs — in your own thoughts, words and actions.
These ten signs may clue you in to the fact that you’re holding yourself back. Whether you’re keeping yourself from your dream job, from finding true love or from pursuing a hobby you’re passionate about, these ten signals are just symptoms of the same root cause: Impostor Syndrome.
Thankfully, I’ll also explain what to do about your limiting beliefs so you, too, can overcome what’s holding you back! Ready to be “your own worst enemy” no longer?
1. You compare yourself to others.
You may have heard that “comparison is the thief of joy.” Not only can comparing yourself to others leave you feeling bummed-out, but it can also prevent you from doing the things you really want to do. Think of it this way: if you want to become an Instagram influencer, but constantly berate yourself for not looking like or acting like other influencers you follow and love, you’re probably not going to have the confidence to go for it!
Quick fix: Real queens help other queens fix their crowns. Rather than allowing another woman’s success to intimidate you, try asking that woman for help. You never know what you could learn from them — and might even gain a friend or mentor in the process!
2. You engage in negative self-talk.
They say the average person has 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day — and that of those thoughts, as much as 80% of them are negative! For a species that’s supposed to be so intelligent, humans sure do spend a lot of time sh*tting on themselves. The problem with our inner critics is that after a while, our negative thoughts start to become repetitive — and the more we tell ourselves that we’re a fraud, or a failure, or unworthy of our successes, the more we begin to believe it.
Quick fix: Interrupt negative self-talk before it can become self-limiting. My therapist shared a story about one of her patients who used to say “Shut up!” to herself whenever she began to have negative thoughts about her body. You might feel silly at first, but after awhile of telling your inner critic to f**k off, you’ll likely find that those negative thoughts become fewer and farther between.
3. You let fear stop you from trying.
As someone with an anxiety disorder, I’m well-acquainted with fear — but, as I like to say, if I never did anything that scared me, I would never leave the house. You may feel nervous about taking a chance on something that scares you: a new job, a new apartment, a new relationship…. It’s only when you let that fear guide your choices, and turn into avoidance, that it becomes a problem in your life.
Quick fix: Feel the fear…. and do it anyways. Meditation and mindfulness can help you with this, by teaching you to sit with difficult emotions. I started meditating with the Calm app, and later discovered my new favorites, Headspace and Simple Habit. All three are valid choices for learning the tools of the trade when it comes to meditation, mindfulness and tolerating distressful emotions more effectively.
4. You plan your entire life out.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is “life happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Because having a five-year or ten-year plan is all well and good — but what Monica Gellar-Bing never understood was that life never goes according to your ‘perfect’ plan. If you spend too much time planning, you won’t spend nearly enough time living. And if you start saying no to opportunities (a big move, for example, or a marriage proposal) because they aren’t in the plan, then you’ll miss out on all the joy that life has to offer.
Quick fix: According to Forbes, the most successful people take small, incremental steps toward their goals — and they don’t over-plan. That’s because action trumps planning every time. The problem with over-planning is that there’s no possible way to account for every possible outcome, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. Instead, practice tolerating uncertainty, beginning with small amounts and building up to bigger ones — until you eventually feel comfortable diving in with minimal planning (and maximum action). Most importantly, when you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up for your inability to forecast the future — instead, learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them! It really is that simple.
5. You say “no” when you want to say “hell yes!”
First of all, congratulations on having this problem — because many of us, myself included, have the opposite problem (saying yes too often, for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings)! But, if you’re a person who says “no” frequently, especially to social functions, ask yourself if you’re acting out of thoughtfulness…. or out of fear. When we’re anxious, that can manifest as avoidance: avoidance of people, places and situations that trigger our anxiety. And when anxiety holds us back from doing the things we really want to do, it crosses the line from minor annoyance into clinical disorder.
Quick fix: Practice getting outside your comfort zone, little by little. Start by doing something small that scares you, such as ordering an unfamiliar drink at your favorite coffee shop or asking that guy at the gym for his number. Then, work your way up to the bigger stuff, little by little. In psychology, we call this a “fear ladder” — and it’s actually a proven treatment for disorders like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
6. You don’t set (realistic) goals.
When you’re setting unrealistic, unattainable goals, you’re setting yourself up to fail. That’s because you’re asking yourself to achieve a goal that, deep down, you know you won’t be able to meet. Goals fail for a number of reasons — but usually because they aren’t SMART, meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. If your goal is missing any number of these criteria, you might not be able to measure your success, meaning that your goal is, quite literally, impossible to achieve.
Quick fix: Set SMART goals following the guide in my post on Gentle Nutrition — that, and always make sure to write your goals down. Writing your goals down, simple as it may sound, already makes you 42% more likely to achieve them than someone who doesn’t. Who knew?
7. You place limits on your success.
When’s the last time you deeply examined your beliefs about success? If your idea of success is tied to what you own (“I need to own a nice car and a house by the time I’m 40”), what you look like (“I can’t be successful until I lose ten pounds) or who you’re with (“I’d be successful, if I could find a $%^*&@ date already!”), you might be placing obstacles in your own path to success. In truth, all these material things are meaningless — they’re just excuses for you to feel sorry for yourself, instead of dropping the fake-humble act and celebrating your successes.
Quick fix: Tear up the Terms & Conditions — and allow yourself to celebrate your successes here and now! Whether it’s a glass of wine, a slice of cake or a night off work, you deserve to take a load off and celebrate your wins, no matter how small.
8. You tell yourself “I’ll do it when….”
“….when I fit into my old jeans again.”
“….when I finish my graduate degree.”
“….when I have more work experience.”
If you keep waiting for the “whens,” then before you know it, you’ll find yourself in your 50s without achieving any of the things you wanted to! Placing conditions on your success, yet again, sets you up for failure. There’s no such thing as the “right time” — and waiting for it basically guarantees that you’ll never get around to doing it at all.
Quick fix: So many times, we use “I’ll do it when….” as an excuse to avoid doing things that scare us. Well, I say: go for it, babe! Why wait when you could go for it now? I’m 21 years old, and was terrified to quit my job and start my own business. So, I told myself I was waiting for the right moment: the right number in my savings account, the right number of years of experience, the right number of potential clients lined up. Now, I am so glad I said “yes” to leaving my boring, corporate job behind — stable paycheck and all! Sometimes, you just need to close your eyes and dive headfirst into the deep end, without giving it a second thought.
9. You assume you know what others are thinking.
Unless you have some clairvoyant powers you haven’t told us about, you can’t predict the future — or put words in other people’s mouths. Yet we all try to do this from time-to-time: it’s a natural human thought error, known as “mind-reading” (assuming you know what others are thinking) or “fortune-telling” (assuming you can predict the future). The problem is when these assumptions begin to dominate the conversations in our heads. Assuming we know how others will react to us can stop us from taking chances, getting to know people or giving others a second chance.
Quick fix: Imagine your oldest friend. Now, imagine if, when you first met that person, you assumed they wouldn’t like you. Whether because you thought you were too loud, too silly, too tall or too ugly, you would have made an assumption that led you to miss out on many beautiful years of friendship! Don’t let your future self make this same mistake. Instead, approach meeting new people the way you did as a child, before society’s expectations told you that you weren’t enough.
10. You wait until it’s perfect.
Of all the things I learned in high school English class, what stands out the most is a story my teacher told us about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even after the publication of The Great Gatsby, my teacher told us that Fitzgerald was renowned for continuing to edit his stories until the day he died. Despite the fact that we remember him as one of the best American authors of all time, Fitzgerald was never satisfied with his work — because it never felt “perfect” to him. This perfectionist tendency sounds familiar to many of us (myself included), who stop ourselves from taking action because we can’t stand that what we’ve created isn’t perfect yet.
Quick fix: What if Fitzgerald had let his perfectionism get the best of him — and, instead of editing his work, never chose to publish it at all? His legacy would have been much different. Instead, follow the advice of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” True, but what’s important is that it’s done! And it’s always better to write a shitty first draft than never to write anything at all.