All achievers want to do their best. 

But when you feel like an impostor, your “best” includes a host of self-expectations that go far beyond doing well. 

Whether you know it or not, your view of competence is a major contributor to perpetuating your belief that you are an impostor. 

Over the years you’ve adopted notions about what’s required for you to be considered talented, knowledgeable, skilled, or, in a word, “good” enough. And these notions have everything to do with how competent and confident you feel.

The fact that everyone else sees a capable individual, where you see an inadequate fraud, tells me you operate from a competence playbook that bears little resemblance to reality. 

It doesn’t matter how intelligent, talented, or skilled you are right now because I have news for you: 

You are never going to consistently reach that absurdly high bar you’ve set for yourself… e-v-e-r.

That’s why, if you truly want to unlearn impostor syndrome, you must adjust your self-limiting thinking about what it takes to be competent.

The goal is to learn to think like someone who is genuinely humble but who has never experienced impostor feelings. A person I refer to as a Humble Realist™. 

This redefining process is, bar none, your fastest path to confidence.

What’s in Your Competence Rule Book? [SH1]

Every “impostor” on the planet has a distorted view of competence. 

I know this because from my early research came the central finding that our view on competence impacts how competent we feel. 

So, when I designed my first impostor syndrome workshop in 1982, I included an exercise called “What’s in Your Competence Rule Book?”

How will you know when you’re “competent”?

Take a moment to complete the following sentences. Try not to over-intellectualize and instead go with the first things that pop into your head:

I’ll know I’m competent at [fill in the blank] when…

If I were really smart, I  would always…

If I were really qualified, I would…

Workshop participants were then invited to join a small group to share their responses and work together to add even more. 

The walls were filled with flip charts of twenty, thirty, sometimes fifty-plus rules we have about what it takes to be “competent.”

Over time I noticed patterns. 

Even though everyone with impostor syndrome holds themselves to impossibly high standards, they don’t all do it the same way. 

In addition to the Perfectionist, there is the Natural Genius, the Soloist, the Expert, and the Superhuman.

Each represents one kind of erroneous thinking about what it takes to be competent — your inner competence rule book. 

Competence rules include words like should, always, don’t, and never. Like the Ph.D. student who told me, “I should already know what I came here to learn.”

Or the attorney who believes, “If I were really qualified, I’d never lose a case.” 

Both statements are, of course, ridiculous. They’re also highly problematic.

Because the rules you use to determine your competence in turn guide your behavior.

If, for instance, your inner rule is “If I were “really” smart, I’d always know the right answer,” it may in turn drive behaviors like:

Never raise your hand unless you are 100 percent sure you are right.

Don’t ask for help.

Always over-prepare. 

At its core, your rule book represents a strong internal expectation that you meet a standard of performance that is rarely achievable and most definitely not sustainable — at least not for mere mortals like you and me. 

So repeat after me:  

The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. 

This begins with a new competence rulebook for mere mortals.

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