Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
By: Katie León mental health, fitness
I don’t belong here, I’m not good enough, I’ve got nothing to offer, I don’t want to fail. Sound familiar?
It is estimated that 70% of us have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in our lives, whether that be in a job, a competition, a hobby or sports. Imposter Syndrome is that voice in your head that doubts your abilities and your accomplishments. It’s debilitating and destructive and it’s more common in sports than you might think.
'we can develop self-doubt and our brains influence what we think we can and can’t do with our bodies'.
The body is an amazing tool and is a lot more capable than our minds let us think. I remember being a child and constantly throwing myself into forward rolls. In a recent class we were asked to practice forward rolls and I froze. I’ve not done a forward roll in over 20 years! I can’t do this, I’ll never be able to do this, why am I even here. As a child, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it but over time we can develop self-doubt and our brains influence what we think we can and can’t do with our bodies.
Sportspeople often set incredibly high and sometimes impossible benchmarks in order to prove their worthiness to themselves and others. Fear of looking bad can override their desire to succeed and therefore ruin their chances of success. This anxiety is a normal part of skills development and you can encounter it every time you improve your skills, at every grading for example. Even those who are considered successful in their sport suffer from Imposter Syndrome as they fear that they will be found out as not being as good as people think they are. From White belt to Black belt, anybody and everybody could succumb to these thoughts and feelings.
'you’ve already achieved a lot by having the confidence to put yourself out there'.
The good news is that you are most likely to develop Imposter Syndrome when stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. So, if you are feeling it, you’ve already achieved a lot by having the confidence to put yourself out there. You can then work to overcome these beliefs by changing your perceptions. It also shows that you care and you have a desire to succeed so hang on to that and don’t quit.
'When I first started, I could barely get my foot off the ground'
We are all on our own individual journey and some might look more fancy and glamorous than yours and some will be quicker than yours but as long as you can look back and see progress then you can remain confident. It took me years, literally years, to feel confident doing a roundhouse kick. When I first started, I could barely get my foot off the ground and my heart would sink whenever James or David asked us to do roundhouse kicks. Now I don’t think twice, not because it’s perfect but because I’ve seen it develop and I’ve grown in confidence and I know I will continue to improve.
'I’m too old, I’m female, I’m too small'
It’s easy to compare to others and feel like you don’t belong. At times I’ve believed that I don’t belong in the club because I’ve told myself that I’m too old, I’m female, I’m too small, I can’t do the splits, I can’t kick that high, I can’t run fast, I’m not ready to grade, what do I have to offer?
I have to rein myself in and address each thing separately and ask how true those things are. I look to our Trainers, Black Belts and those going for Black belt now and see people older than me, amazing inspirational females, people who started kickboxing as an adult and people who have struggled with flexibility and realise that they made it, so can I. So can you.
'Collect your successes, soak up every bit of positive feedback you can, don’t downplay your achievements'
A practical exercise that you can do is to get some paper and write down all your negative beliefs about your abilities in a list on the left-hand side of a page. On the right-hand side of the page, address each belief and flip it to a positive belief using evidence where you can. For example, change “I can’t grade, I’m not good at Kata” to “I can grade, I’m good at X and I am always improving my kata”. Journalling can help, getting your negative thoughts out on paper and collecting your positive thoughts.
Collect your successes, soak up every bit of positive feedback you can, don’t downplay your achievements. Above all don’t compare yourself to others. If you are part of this club or any other, give positive feedback where you can and remember clubs are about building each other up and praising all abilities.