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Imposter Syndrome: Tips and Strategies for Improving Your Self-Confidence

7 min readseptember 24, 2021

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Health & Wellness 😀

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Do you ever wonder if you are really good enough?
A good enough student, athlete, musician, club leader, or any other role you take on?
Imposter syndrome is feeling like a fraud and continuing to doubt your abilities despite evidence to the contrary. It particularly affects high-achieving individuals who may take advanced classes, receive good grades, participate in extracurricular activities or sports, and/or get honors for their accomplishments.
At the root of imposter syndrome is low self-confidence. While an appropriate amount of humility is good (no one likes a braggart), low self-confidence can negatively impact our mood, motivation, and our ability to take pride in our achievements.
Turns out, the majority of high school students often experience Imposter Syndrome. Our recent survey of Fiveable students found that 73.5% feel like imposters most of the time!
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While we can feel like imposters in any domain of our lives, the two most common areas for low self-confidence among high school students are Social Confidence and Academic Confidence.
Social Confidence is feeling comfortable and competent in social settings – feeling like you know what to say, when, and to whom and feeling like you are known and valued for your true self in your social networks. Low social self-confidence may show up in thoughts like:
  • “My friends act like they like me, but they only know the me I show them. They wouldn’t like the real me.”
  • “People think I’m friendly and easygoing, but don’t have any idea how anxious I really am in social situations.”
  • “Sometimes when I’m saying something nice I feel fake, like I’m only doing it because it is the “right” thing to do.”
Academic Confidence is feeling smart and hard-working enough to earn good grades, perform on tests, and achieve academic goals. Low academic self-confidence may show up in thoughts like:
  • “I only get good grades because I work really, really hard; I’m not really very smart.”
  • “I haven’t studied enough for this test/I don’t know the material.”
  • “Someone else did better than I did; someone else is always better than me.”
  • “My grade is only good because I do the homework, I haven’t really learned anything or done well on the tests.”
The irony of low self-confidence is that it is counter-productive to our ultimate goal of being successful.
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Most students (83% in our recent survey) report that low self-confidence makes them feel anxious and interferes with performance! And almost everyone wants to improve their self-confidence.
So how can you build your self-confidence and reduce your imposter syndrome? Below we highlight 5 specific strategies that can help banish imposter syndrome.

1. Think specifically, not globally.

We all have different aspects of our identity, roles, and activities, and we may have more or less self-confidence in some compared to others. It is easy but probably overly simplistic to say “I have low self-esteem” or “I have poor self-confidence”. The recent survey showed that self-confidence among high school students varies by domain, with students reporting lowest self-confidence in athletics and social domains and highest self-confidence in getting good grades. Interestingly, even in academic domains there were differences between self-confidence for grades compared to test scores, with students reporting higher self-confidence for grades than tests.
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So challenge your own thought, “I have low self-confidence”, to identify which 1-2 domains you struggle the most with versus where you actually feel more confident. For example, I often feel like I lack good social skills in big groups but I feel more confident talking 1:1 with a friend, and I am more confident in my ability to take a test than I am in my ability to write a blog post like this 😊.

2. Make a list of your strengths and positive qualities using the prompt “I am…”

Use “I” statements to identify your positive qualities and strengths. These are most powerful when they are present tense (“I am…”) and positively framed (“I am good at juggling in soccer” is better than “I don’t suck at juggling”).
Try identifying 10 personal strengths and qualities across lots of different domains in your life. Remember to include things such as how you are as a friend, daughter/son, student, athlete, club member, band mate, or just individual. One person’s list might include “I am” statements such as smart, hard-working, responsible, and kind while another’s might include statements such as creative, funny, a good listener, and positive. Need ideas? Below is a master table of positive qualities to give you ideas!
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2FScreen%20Shot%202021-08-24%20at%203.29-zERSRRBKxubP.png?alt=media&token=f7952c94-e4c3-469b-b573-387cbdaac4d7

3. Celebrate you! Keep a record of your accomplishments.

Make a memory box, scrapbook, or file to keep track of your accomplishments. Make sure to include a journal or notepad to write down things that just happen on a day-to-day basis. Examples include awards, transcripts, teacher feedback, cards of appreciation, pictures of good times with friends, teammates, or club members. Remember it doesn’t need to be MONUMENTAL accomplishments – the daily ones are just as important. In the journal, write down compliments or positive feedback you receive. Make sure to look at your accomplishments every week or so to remind yourself of ALL YOU HAVE DONE AND CAN DO!

4. Use positive affirmations.

Let go of perfectionism, comparisons with others, and negative self-talk. Replace them with positive affirmations that emphasize strengths & a growth mindset. Negative, critical, or self-doubting thoughts can often feel like gremlins that just worm their way into your brain and won’t let go. If the only time you can feel good is if you’re perfect, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If the only time you can feel successful is if you’re better than someone else, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If the only time you can feel positive is when someone else gives you feedback, you’re setting yourself up for unhappiness. YOU can control your brain by practicing, practicing, practicing replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones.
Rather than expecting perfection, remind yourself that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.
Rather than lamenting what you don’t know, celebrate how far you’ve come and recognize the opportunity to keep growing.
Rather than telling yourself you’re not enough, foster an internal voice that reminds you that you are worthy just as you are.
A great way to cultivate more positive self-talk is to write down 5 positive self-affirmations and stick them to your desk, mirror, or bedroom door. Examples of positive self-affirmations include:
  • I accept myself for who I am right now.
  • I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy and lovable.
  • I am me; I am a special human being who will be appreciated for my unique qualities.
  • I am not afraid of mistakes because they teach me new things.
  • I deserve others’ respect.
  • I am the only person who can choose my purpose and goals in life; no one else decides my future but me.
  • I have the power to love myself and to forgive myself when I make mistakes.

5. Engage in regular self-care.

When we get busy and stressed, we tend to let the basics go – sleep, good nutrition, down time, and fun. We tell ourselves this is in service of our goals! We need the time to study, for school work, to meet social obligations. Right?
But what happens when we overwork ourselves is that we feel stressed and anxious, and when we feel stressed and anxious we tend to make more mistakes and find it hard to keep our mental state positive. This lets the low self-confidence gremlins take over in our brain.
So one way to combat low self-confidence is NOT by working so hard to achieve more, but by doing more to take care of ourselves. Self-care includes good sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet, taking time to do things you enjoy, good hygiene, treating yourself with kindness, and surrounding yourself with supportive people. When we feel exhausted, out of shape, unattractive, and like life is no fun, we set ourselves up to feel badly about ourselves. When we feel well cared for, we can start each day with more self-confidence. And it reminds us that we are worth taking care of.
What can you do to start improving your self-confidence?
Looking for additional resources to provide your parents/guardians? Joon's companion article on parenting teens and young adults with imposter syndrome details the significant decline in self-confidence that teens are facing and provides ways for parents to support their students.
For more information visit Joon’s website to learn about resources for teen and young adult mental health.
Authors: Amy Mezulis, PhD and Gailen G., Joon Student Advisory Board Member
  • Amy Mezulis, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her BA from Harvard University and her MA and PhD in Clinical Psychology from University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dr. Mezulis provides services to older children, adolescents and adults utilizing an evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral approach that includes mindfulness and acceptance-based treatments. Dr. Mezulis has specialized training in mood and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, suicidality and self-injury, trauma, substance use, and adolescent development.  She is currently on the faculty at Seattle Pacific University, where she chairs the Clinical Psychology PhD program.
  • Gailen is a senior at Seattle Academy of  Arts and Sciences, a member of Joon's Student Advisory Board, and a marketing intern at Joon. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and all different aspects of public health & healthcare, primarily mental health.
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