Overcoming thoughts and feelings of Imposter Syndrome

Guest blog by Kath Thomas

Since the delivery of the CIPD session on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, I’ve been reflecting on my thoughts and feelings linked to the subject. The timing of HBR’s Management Tip of the Day (21 July 2021), also related to Imposter Syndrome, couldn’t have been better timed. The article suggested: ‘Highlight the conditions that triggered that feeling in you‘ and Be honest about how biases -in the way we talk about presence, competence, and leadership- can make people feel like they don’t have a seat at the table.’ 

My most recent reflection isn’t so much about the much sought-after ‘seat at the table’ that HR and many other professionals of ersue, but is associated with a challenge I’d set myself to swim Ullswater end-to-end.

Kath Thomas and Lee Grint at the start of the Ullswater Open Swim Challenge

The Challenge 

At 7.5 miles, this challenge felt stretching, but at the time I entered, realistic. However, with a distinct lack of training due to COVID restrictions and a large amount of unhelpful self-talk, I found myself wondering what on earth I had been thinking. Lining up with swimmers I knew to be super capable was a daunting prospect, and I was shredding my nerves. At one point, I even contemplated cancelling. 

Those doubts were entirely unfounded if I take the ‘fly on the wall’ approach and an honest, unbiased look at my capability. I’m a good swimmer, not the best, not always the fastest, but a good, solid swimmer, with three other end-to-end lake swims under my belt, plus numerous occasions swimming in circles! 

With this in mind, it was highly likely I’d make the distance. My muscle memory, built up over 20+ years, is well established, plus I had the joy of swimming stroke-for-stroke with my swim buddy, Lee Grint, who wasn’t about to leave me in the middle of Ullswater! 

Our teamwork is well known; we carry nutrition for one another to share along the way – Mars Bars travel well inside Lee’s wetsuit leg!. We encourage one another when it gets tough. We laugh when we lose our way and have to reset ourselves, and if I needed any more evidence that I had a place in that water, I completely exceeded my expectations coming first in my age group, and Lee was third! 

Kath and Lee her ‘swim buddy’ at the finish line

Why am I telling you this? 

As an athlete, I’m fascinated by the parallels in the way we perform in business.

Our performance is directly affected by our thought patterns and in this challenge my thought patterns had clearly got out of hand.

How often does this happen to us at work? 

One of the models we focused on during the interactive session was The Thinking Cycle. The model has its origins in the field of therapy and particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to improve mental wellbeing by focusing on unhelpful thinking patterns and developing coping strategies to replace negative behaviours with more positive ones. 

In essence, what we think affects how we feel, what we feel affects how we act and how we act affects what we think! Here’s a reminder of the image we shared. 

The thinking cycle we shared at the interactive session in June

When our thoughts, feelings and actions are negative, it’s essential to break the cycle – being aware we have a choice and can influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions is critical. 

To build on this, through the session, we saw participants applying a range of thinking to challenge their personal stretch goals, pausing to reflect and developing actions to move forward. Here is some of their feedback. 

Feedback from participants on their learning points (1)
Feedback from participants on their learning points (2)

Break the negative cycle 

In our first article, we explored what Imposter Syndrome is and whether it is a valid label in the role you perform or for you as an individual. 

If you’re facing your challenge, you can start by asking 

  • What are the strengths and abilities that you can call on in challenging situations? 
  • Who is in your corner? 
  • What are (or can you) control? 
  • What’s your next positive action? 

I’ve had a great few days reflecting on my achievement, and I’m now ready to think about my next challenge. 

We’d love your questions and feedback about this article if you’d like to get in touch. 

About author 

Kath Thomas

Kath is a leadership development and sports coach. As an age-group triathlete and open water swimmer, performance and progress are at the heart of Kath’s own life. She uses her core beliefs around practice, support and stretch to create the right environment to grow and develop. She supports the development of strengths, management of risks to performance and builds understanding and appreciation of our uniqueness and the possibilities this brings. Kath has experience across sectors and geographies.

See more at https://www.clearwater.coach/ or e-mail kath@clearwater.coach 

This blog is the second in a series following the session delivered by Kath Thomas and Liz Needham on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as part of our Branch Annual Meeting on 21 June.

Liz Needham and Kath Thomas are both accredited coaches and Strengthscope® Master Practitioners. This blog series draws on their experience as Coaches and Consultants who have supported individuals to deliver their best performance in hundreds of situations, and their work leading teams across complex organisations. They are not Psychologists. 

Read the first blog

What is Imposter Syndrome?

4 July 2021

Location Manchester, England E-mail manchester@cipdbranch.co.uk Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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