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by Melody Wilding | April 10, 2018


Man looking at mountain and lake

Think about the last time you felt fear and anxiety take control of your day. Maybe it stopped you from speaking up in a meeting because you felt like your opinion wasn't worthwhile. Perhaps a simple email took you hours to write because your inner critic kept telling you it wasn't good enough—that you weren't good enough.

Many high-achievers struggle with thoughts that they're frauds and incompetent, despite a track record of accomplishments. This psychological phenomenon, known as Impostor Syndrome, can show up in many areas of our lives, including at work in the form of:

  • Downplaying promotions
  • Declining new responsibilities
  • Assuming you're not qualified enough for your job

While no one's immune from self-doubt, it actually impacts high-achievers the most, and, in my experience, this battle with the inner critic is one many successful people share—yet one we don't often talk about it.

The fear of failure is a universal human emotion, experienced by some of the world's most successful people. Maya Angelou once admitted: "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, Uh-oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out."

Leaders from virtually every industry have spoken about feeling undeserving of success, including Neil Gaiman, Sheryl Sandberg, Emma Watson, and even Albert Einstein.

So if you're dealing with Impostor Syndrome, know that you're not alone. While it's true that self-doubt can be toxic, what's more problematic is the fact that we never learn to deal with this normal, expected emotion in healthy ways.

In my TEDx talk I share a simple two-step strategy highly successful people use to overcome self-doubt. The secret is approaching uncertainty as a skill and embracing a growth mindset, understanding that uncertainty is something you can get better at with time and practice.

You can watch my talk for the full details, but here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Recognize repetitive thought patterns and actively change your mindset.

Out of the 60 to 70,000 thoughts we have every day, estimates suggest that 98 percent of them are the same. This means your inner critic is really a habit—a thought pattern you can get control of.

Start by identifying underlying beliefs (potentially rooted in childhood) that may make you feel as though you don't deserve your success. Look for exaggerated, irrational, or unrealistic thoughts that come up again and again, and practice identifying common cognitive distortions that trip you up.

2. Get curious and ask questions.

Your inner critic is really there to protect you, so do your best to practice self-compassion. Take the questions it poses at face value and use it for problem solving.

For example, if your inner critic is cautioning that you may not be ready to pursue a new career path, address its concerns constructively. Use it as an opportunity to honestly assess your skills and evaluate gaps you need to fill.

3. Don't let fear get in the way of your purpose.

We all experience worry and confusion in the face of change and uncertainty. It's normal to be afraid. Our inner critic will always speak up anytime we try to do big things no matter how positive we try to be. Hearing the voice of your inner critic can mean you're about to do something brave and important to you. No one gets the luxury of living without fear—not even confident people.

So, it's time to start viewing your emotions—the good and the bad—for what they are: your greatest strengths and most valuable tools.

A version of this post previously appeared at