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Unmasking the Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Performance

Mindset Made Simple Tip #160

Have you felt it before? That gnawing feeling in your gut that you don’t belong at the top, in the mix or anywhere near the place held by those who do what they do well?

If you have, you are not alone. Researcher and clinical psychologist, Jaruwan Sakulku found that 70% of us have felt this way.

I’d like to meet the other 30!

Tom Hanks, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, David Bowe, Sonia Sotomayor and so many more people we see at the top of their crafts have all talked publicly about what Dr. Pauline Clance coined as Imposter Syndrome while working with high-achieving women, all of whom felt as if they would be exposed as intellectually inadequate.


If they can’t believe they have earned their success, we mere mortals seem destined to wallow in our self-doubt, too!

The newbies (and veterans) on your roster or staff may not put a moniker to their feelings of inadequacy, but imposter syndrome, the psychological phenomenon characterized by persistent feelings of self-doubt and a fear of being exposed as a fraud, is a challenge that extends far beyond the realm of stardom!

Like our list of superstars, our athletes, despite their physical strengths and the success that brought them to us, are not immune and it has the potential to significantly impact our performance, mindset, and overall well-being.

Imagine an athlete standing on the threshold of their defining moment - whether it's a critical game, a championship match, or an Olympic event. The stakes are high, and so is the internal pressure. Imposter syndrome can cast a shadow of doubt over even the most accomplished athletes, causing them to question their abilities and achievements. This constant self-criticism can erode their self-confidence, leading to heightened anxiety and an inability to perform at their best.

Since 7 of 10 of those we lead deal with this and it is probably a whole lot more often than we think, it is important to consider the ways it can affect their success and the success of our teams and offer ways to help them be their best.

Here are a few of the undesirable features of feeling as if we don’t measure up!

  1. Imposter syndrome triggers a heightened sense of performance anxiety. As athletes become preoccupied with the fear of failure and the potential exposure of their perceived inadequacies. This anxiety can disrupt focus, impair decision-making, and even lead to physical manifestations like trembling or nausea.

  2. The negative self-talk fueled by imposter syndrome can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When athletes believe they are imposters in their field, they may unconsciously undermine their efforts not believing they have earned their successes, leading to subpar performances that reinforce their feelings of inadequacy

  3. Athetes experiencing imposter syndrome often dread evaluation by coaches, peers, and fans. This fear of judgment can limit their willingness to take risks, try new strategies, or fully engage in the game, preventing them from reaching their true potential.

You’d never know it by reading her book Lean In, but, former Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg often feared she wasn’t going to measure up even when successful saying, “Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself -- or even excelled -- I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”

Reading this quote reminds me of reading aloud in grade school. Did you love it as much as I did? Could you read? Would anyone have known you could if they could hear the thoughts in your head? Were we going to be found out as reading frauds? (Did you think you were exempt from the 70% :)!

And if this is the case, what are our freshmen….or 70% of us doing??

Here’s what!

  1. They are limiting their growth and progression in and out of their sport! By casting doubt on their achievements, it creates an environment where learning and improvement take a back seat.

  2. They certainly aren’t asking for help! Why? Because they may feel as if seeking help exposes their perceived incompetence, further perpetuating the cycle of self-doubt.

  3. They are becoming careful and risk-averse! To grow we must push our boundaries and take calculated risks. Imposter syndrome, however, discourages athletes from stepping out of their comfort zones, limiting their opportunities for skill enhancement, innovation and creativity leading to plateaus in performance and uninspired effort.

If this is so prevalent, what can we do about it?

Dr. Kevin Cokley, a professor at Michigan State University and Imposter Syndrome researcher suffers like the rest of us. He says he “stalks” himself regularly, Googling himself and seeing how his work is affecting his field, keeping his successes front and center. This helps him keep his self-doubt in check as he is reminded of the things he does well.

Watching past successes or reliving them in our mind’s eye can serve as “stalking ourselves”, too!

If you’re not into “stalking yourself”, you could also do a SWOT analysis by making a written list of his Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This approach is like the “bridge statements” we have discussed in the past. It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies throwing us into positive land since we know we don’t buy it all. It takes into account what is real…that we aren’t great at everything (which is clear in our minds since we feel like a fraud). It forces us to asses all four dimensions to give us a full picture of what we have to work with and aid in setting short-term achievable goals that help us build confidence and recognize progress and reinforce a more positive self-perception.

Lastly, it’s time to stop listening and start talking. Developing a habit of challenging negative self-talk can help us replace self-doubt with self-compassion and THE TRUTH. This is where taking the time to keep a daily or weekly Evidence Journal comes into play.

FACTS ARE FACTS. According to Tony Robbins, we are what we stack. And it is our choice to stack good stuff. In the case of Imposter Syndrome, we negate the good and rush to the bad and forget facts. Training ourselves to notice and challenge fraudulent thoughts can help us focus on what we can do rather than what we are telling ourselves we can’t.

I am not sure we will ever truly rid ourselves of Imposter Syndrome (we have felt it since that dreaded announcement of "we're going to read chapters 1 - 6 out loud today), but we can certainly give it a run for its money! Simply acknowledging its presence and implementing strategies to combat its effects can help athletes avoid this silent erosion of confidence and lead to a healthier mindset and improved performance.

We are in good company when we feel like an imposter, but it doesn’t help us perform at our peak. The good thing is, we have tools at our disposal to put the imposter in our midst aside while we step out and thrive!

Manage the imposter monster…and the moments!


P.S. Hire me to work with your team for one day or all year. Let’s put together a mental training plan that works for your team. Shoot me an email at and let’s get started before 2023-24 program pricing increase begin!

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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