Whether it is starting a new job, qualification, or you're looking to enter a sporting event, we all take on new challenges throughout life. These might be inside the veterinary world, or out of it. We start projects regularly, but many of the profession experience imposter syndrome too; that persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud, peppered with self-doubt. I can tell you from my own journey, believing that we truly are imposters makes the whole experience much less enjoyable.
Here are SEVEN top tips to set yourself up for success when heading into a new project or task, and to help you own your accomplishments:
1. Look at the positive consequences of doing the task. Realign your “why” and all of the reasons why you would choose to do it. Engrain that story in your mind, so as when the self-doubting negative voice pops up, you remember your reason for starting. Consider how you can remind yourself of this narrative. If your reason involves the need to ‘prove’ yourself, remember, you’re valuable and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.
2. Visit failure. Failure is often seen negatively and in fact, can be the driver behind procrastination and overwork in new tasks. Consider the worst-case scenario of a negative outcome - can you deal with it? Would you know where to ask for help? Suddenly we disarm the fear by realising that we can handle it, or we know someone that can assist. Secondly, realise that failures are building blocks. Life can be seen to be made up of good times and lessons. What would have been the lesson in that instance? You’ll struggle to find a successful person that never failed at something. I love the Richard Wilkins quote: "mistakes that we learn from are called lessons, mistakes we don't learn from are called mistakes".
3. Zone into your strengths. Rather than listening to the negative inner critic that may wish to list the reasons why you can’t do something, consider the reasons why you can. What are your strengths? What are you good at? Maybe ask a friend or colleague if you’re struggling to see them yourself, or enlist the help of a coach. How might these strengths and skills help with this task? Can you think of strengths you might need, and where you’ve used them before, in any context? Alternatively, when did you last learn a new skill successfully? Which attributes will you strengthen with this task and who could help you? Use these prompts to change your focus and choose a beneficial story.
4. Focus on the destination, but don’t obsess over how exactly you get there. You’ve all seen the expected route, vs real route diagram? The one with a straight, linear line, vs the wiggly, wobbly line? Don’t be disheartened if the journey to the new task isn’t via the path you envisioned at first. Sometimes bumps in the road and diversions are there for a reason or teach us something valuable. In my own journey, I've had many times where the 'alternative' route reaped bigger rewards than the conventional one I initially intended.
5. Ask for help. Standing on the shoulders of giants, or at least those that have done what you want to do, can save you years. You don’t have to do everything alone, and asking for assistance is not a weakness; in many circumstances, it puts you ahead of the game. Look for mentors that have done what you want to do. Alternatively, maybe you need a coach that might help prompt thoughts from you, challenge your beliefs, improve confidence and help with accountability.
6. Celebrate the small wins. Focus on every step, and give yourself conscious acknowledgment of the work that you did, the skills you used, and any obstacles that you overcame. Each time we celebrate, we get a small dopamine release in our brain - getting multiple of these along the way is so much more beneficial when we hit the end goal than holding off celebrating, and if we do hold off then when we reach the end goal we actually trigger a disappointment cycle. Don't put off celebrating until the next week, soak up what you've just made happen.
7. Know that impostor syndrome often tends to show up at times of growth, so reframe the feeling as knowing you must be pushing comfort zones. Keep going, use the above tips, and ask for support where necessary.
I hope these help a few of you!