Imposter syndrome is experienced by the best of us. It makes us doubt our abilities and may keep us from taking steps toward our professional goals.
Whether you run your own practice or work for a larger health and fitness company, the coaching profession is often driven by an entrepreneurial spirit. To market their services and build trust with clients, coaches, and other health and wellness professionals are required to be confident in their knowledge and their ability to apply their knowledge to benefit the wellness of individuals with different needs and wants.
However, the risks coaches have to take to grow their business or strengthen their personal brand, in addition to the responsibility of understanding and empowering clients to improve their health, can be daunting. This is where imposter syndrome can creep up and take over.
This article gives you an overview of what imposter syndrome looks like and how it might be experienced by health and fitness professionals. Finally, it provides you with tips for how to tackle imposter syndrome so you reach your goals and carry out your health and fitness services confidently and securely.
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What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is “the fear of being exposed as a fraud as expectations and responsibilities increase.”
In most professions, incremental progress is made through learning and experience. Only by making incremental progress can professionals become competent and achieve mastery.
People experiencing imposter syndrome might ask themselves the following questions:
- Do I belong here?
- Do I deserve this position/praise/income/opportunity?
- What if I make a mistake?
- What if it was just luck the last time?
- Is it even worth it to keep seizing opportunities if I am a fraud?
And the ultimate question of people who experience imposter syndrome is, “What if others discover I am a fraud?”
The thing about imposter syndrome is that those who experience it aren’t frauds. They have the knowledge; experience required by law; and the legal permissions, licenses, and certifications to practice. In other words, as licensed therapist Dr. Courtney Tracy puts it in her podcast A Dive Into Imposter Syndrome, your brain is lying to itself, often as a result of past criticism, developmental trauma, and expectations we have of ourselves.
What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like for Health and Fitness Professionals?
It’s not always easy to recognize whether what you are experiencing is imposter syndrome.
Some of the “symptoms” of imposter syndrome include:
- Feeling like a fraud
- A lack of confidence in your ability and knowledge
- Anxiety about making mistakes
- An inability to celebrate progress
- Feeling unworthy of praise
- General passivity in the professional environment
- Attributing achievements and recognition to luck
- Desire to reject opportunities
- Guilt and self-doubt after successes and failures
- Playing it safe; a lack of desire to take risks over worries of failure
- Feeling like you don’t belong in the professional environment
In the previous section, we highlight the underlying pervasive thought of people experiencing imposter syndrome: “I’m a fraud.”
In the health and wellness world, a real fraud would fake or lie about licenses, certifications, and permissions to practice and sell services based on that lie. These people should have a fear of being found out because what they are doing is not only unethical but also illegal. In contrast, people with imposter syndrome can practice as a health or fitness professional, but self-doubt makes them feel like they are a fraud.
By the way, if you are wondering whether you are within your scope of practice, AFPA has an excellent chart that summarizes state laws.
How to Tackle Imposter Syndrome as a Health and Fitness Professional
Here are four ways to help assuage imposter syndrome as a health and fitness professional. Keep in mind that the cause of imposter syndrome is different for everyone, and it may be linked to past trauma, past criticism, and unrealistic expectations you place on yourself. If you are concerned about the cause of your imposter syndrome or you feel like it is affecting your health and wellbeing, please reach out to a counselor or mental health professional to support you.
Learn about State Laws and Scope of Practice for Health and Fitness Professionals
Learning and abiding by your scope of practice is not only ethical but also important to give you confidence in the services you are offering.
Look at your certifications and licenses and review state laws that delimit your scope of practice. AFPA has summarized the state laws for nutrition professionals and summarized the permissions and limitations of practice for health and wellness coaches.
When you have a doubt about whether you or your business is operating within the scope of practice, refer to these resources and state laws. Revise your processes if necessary, but overall you can have confidence that you have the correct permissions and certifications to do what you are doing.
NOTE: Remember that for many certifications to stay active, you need to complete continuing education courses every few years. If you got certified through AFPA, here is some information on making a plan to keep your certification active.
Get Constructive Feedback from Clients and Peers
Tuning your ear and training your mind to receive constructive feedback is a vital part of developing professional maturity and crushing imposter syndrome.
A health and wellness professional dealing with imposter syndrome might take a genuine suggestion from a person who has their best interest at heart and feel like it was a punch in the gut and there is no reason to continue offering their services any longer.
Constructive feedback is a great way to get real-life feedback on your practice and methods, which you can then implement to get better at what you do. It helps you identify your weaknesses to work on them and build on your strengths. It is important guidance that helps you achieve your goals in the long run.
It takes practice to take constructive feedback well and avoid confusing it with malice criticism. Business leader Amit Kumar suggests several ways to get better about receiving constructive feedback:
- Have a positive mindset.
- Align the feedback with your goal (and recognize when it doesn’t align with your goal).
- Ask questions after receiving feedback.
- Ask for help from others when needed.
- Avoid taking feedback personally (it’s about your performance, not about you).
Accept That Mistakes Will Happen
We are all human. Making mistakes is part of being human. If you hold yourself to a standard of perfection, you will very likely be disappointed. Health and wellness professionals are often held to a higher professional standard because of the impact their mistakes could have on others.
Rather than swearing to yourself that you will never make a mistake, accept that it is entirely possible that you will make a mistake, even if you do everything in your power to avoid it.
Spend some time thinking about the potential mistakes you could make in a non-judgmental manner. Then, make a contingency plan for what you will do or how you will act if a mistake is made. It might even be beneficial to write it down. That way, if a mistake is made, you know that you have already thought about what to do in these situations, and you can help assuage anxiety, guilt, and panic that can ensue after doing so.
When you have imposter syndrome, it is easy to think about mistakes and then dig yourself deeper into a hole filled with a feeling of inadequacy. When you set aside time to make a contingency plan if a mistake is made, remember that these potential mistakes are not about you—they are mistakes that could happen to anyone in the same profession.
Save Your Achievements and Positive Feedback in a Place You Can Refer To
If you are easily affected by negative feelings, roadblocks, or negative feedback, it can be useful to have a folder on your desktop or a journal where you keep a record of your achievements and nice things people have said about your services. Every time you get a new certification, complete a course, win an award, get invited to participate in a podcast, or get a positive review, save a record of it in a place where you can refer to it easily.
That way, when imposter syndrome takes over and you think you are a complete fraud, the contents of the folder or journal will be the antidote and reassure you that you are indeed equipped to do the job well.
A Note About Confidence Vs. Overconfidence
Remember that confidence is not the same as overconfidence. Overconfidence is generally a state that is detrimental to your practice in the long run. It is often a symptom of a fixed mindset.
It is important to learn to secure your confidence while making peace with the fact that there is always room to learn and grow more. Open-mindedness, curiosity, and listening abilities help you to be a good coach who is willing to learn and be flexible and is a sound reflection of your confidence.
Imposter syndrome happens to the best of us. Even when you know that you are fully equipped to take on a new experience, imposter syndrome lies to us and tells us we’re frauds.
As health and wellness professionals, it is vital that we are knowledgeable about our local laws as they affect our scope of practice to gain confidence in taking on new clients and getting recognition. Other ways to help tackle imposter syndrome include learning to take and appreciate constructive feedback while also accepting that making mistakes is part of being human.
Finally, when you need a quick imposter syndrome antidote, keep your achievements, certifications, positive feedback, and anything else that gives you confidence in what you are doing easily accessible.