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How to use a diary to let go of imposter syndrome

‘The sinking, self-doubting sense that you are a fraud in your job, role, position, or classroom setting, regardless of your actual credibility, authority, experience, or accomplishments.’

That’s how Dr Drea Letamendi, psychologist and director of resilience at UCLA, defines imposter syndrome.

It’s a feeling that many people will have experienced – the sense that you don’t belong, that you’ve bluffed your way to your current state, and that you could get ‘found out’ at any moment.

Imposter syndrome can feel all-consuming and insurmountable. Could something as simple as writing in a diary be a solution?

I felt immense imposter syndrome as a first-generation college student, struck by the idea that I didn’t ‘belong’.

In my first year of college, I started writing a diary – and found it helped me navigate the challenges I faced while studying.

A diary gave me space to express myself. I believe everyone should give the same technique a go.

Drea backs this idea. So does Alpana Choudhury, counsellor and founder and director of Wove Therapy, who tells that writing in a diary can help you to take the first step in tackling imposter syndrome, which is recognising that this is what you’re dealing with.

‘Writing can serve as a witness to what is happening,’ Alpana says. ‘When you are trying to sort out what is suffering and what is the nature or suffering, writing serves as the witness of your own life when thoughts are running around.’

So, how can we start to use a diary to tackle imposter syndrome?

How to start writing in your diary

You may think of a diary as a traditional little notebook with a lock on it shown in movies, but a diary comes in various forms.

Along with the traditional small notebook, Alpana suggests that you can write sentence fragments in a notebook, draw cartoons to express how you’re feeling, record videos of yourself talking about your emotions, write screenplays for no other people’s eyes, or even use the Notes app on your phone. Find a format that encourages the process of journalling, especially the ones that are spontaneous.

After you pick your format of a diary, you need to consistently write in it in order to combat imposter syndrome.

Dr Lauren Cook, a clinical psychologist and founder of Heartship Psychological Service, recommends writing in your diary at the start of the day for five minutes before the day starts to get too busy.

This is an important commitment – show up every day, for just five minutes, to write without judging whatever you get down on the page.

Lauren warns that ‘relapse’ is a common issue when working on a new or long-standing habit. To tackle this, she suggests consciously adding your diary to your to-do list and setting an alarm reminder to write.

And don’t stress if you write less or more on a certain day, or if the words won’t flow.

‘Simply sit with it and come back to the practice of writing,’ Lauren says. ‘It’s the intention of showing up that counts.’

Topics to write about in your diary

Try not to get bogged down in what you’re writing, or try to make your diary a cohesive document.

Dr Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend The Mind, says that just the act of writing can be powerful.

‘When you stop writing, you are fueling the fire of imposter syndrome,’ Sanam explains. ‘Therefore, it is hindering you from moving forward.

‘Constantly writing anything, from your small successes to your most minute thoughts will help you overcome the fear of self-doubt.’

Sanam emphasises that your diary is your safe space and place where your ideas run free.

‘There is no specific format as to how to format your entries, as long as you are writing,’ she tells us. ‘Everybody has a different way of expressing their feelings, therefore, writing one paragraph or one page is up to you.’

Setting yourself prompts can help you to keep the habit going and directly tackle imposter syndrome.

Drea suggests asking yourself questions such as: ‘What is one good thing that happened today?’, ‘What am I proud of today?’ ‘What affirmations would I give myself today?’, while Lauren recommends: ‘When was I brave recently?’, ‘When did I surprise myself?’, ‘How did people respond to me when I put myself out there?’.

These questions all encourage you to celebrate small achievements that you might not otherwise consider – and challenge you to reflect positively on what you get up to.

Drea adds: ‘Consistently list or document moments of achievement, no matter how big or small.

‘Achievements include academic or occupational successes but they may also include “wins” in different domains in your life, including financial wellness, time management, household tasks, social fulfillment, and self-care accomplishments.

‘It is generally unhelpful to simply record cognitive distortions about imposter syndrome without providing oneself an assuring and more realistic reaction to those impulses, such as “Everyone makes mistakes” or “I am always learning, always growin.” or “I will be kinder to myself”.’

It can be helpful to go back and re-read old diary entries, too.

‘Assess where you have made the most progress on things that you still need to work on in terms of conquering the imposter feeling,’ Sanam suggests.

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