We are all real runners…
…regardless of how much we run, how far, or how fast. But it’s much easier to tell that to others than to believe it for ourselves. Why? Because of Imposter Syndrome. Those with Imposter Syndrome doubt accomplishments as real successes and often pass them off as flukes or good luck. When we fail, we actually feel shame.
You feel like you don’t belong
I have a friend, let’s call her Gina because that’s her name, who has been running since she was a kid. She’s really talented. She’s headed to the Olympic Trials for the marathon. Her passion for the sport is unwavering. But she admits that sometimes when she’s standing on the line for a competitive race, she battles thoughts that she doesn’t belong.
“I’m looking around at these elites thinking, ‘I was up nursing a baby last night and changing diapers, what am I doing here?’”
For most of you reading this, you probably think those thoughts are crazy. Of course, she belongs. She’s trained so hard (while taking care of tiny humans, mind you) that she’s one of a few hundred in the country to qualify for the Olympic Trials! Yet, she sometimes thinks she doesn’t stack up.
(Related: Ditch “mom guilt” for good.)
Introducing Imposter Syndrome
I think a lot of us can relate.
The other day I was talking with a co-worker about training plans. Let’s call her Jennifer because that’s her real name. She’s really driven to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I suggested she get a coach. Her reply, “I’m not good enough for that.” Umm, what? According to who? You’re committed to the sport. You’ve put in the work. You love it. Why on Earth would you think you’re not ‘good enough’?
I too suffer from feeling like I’m not good enough to belong.
I’ve been running since I was six. But now that I am chasing my wildest running dream of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I look around at others going after the same goal and think I’m not a real runner. I didn’t run in college like most of them. I haven’t spent years competing. It’s only been my hobby. That’s despite accomplishments and those familiar with my running ability telling me that it’s possible.
Related: How this mom mastered self-talk to qualify for the Olympic Trials Marathon
Do you doubt your accomplishments and abilities, too? There’s a good chance you do. Imposter Syndrome favors women more than men (lucky us!) and also tends to affect people who are perfectionists and high achievers (aka runners).
According to Sharon Moore, licensed therapist, Imposter Syndrome can be a real detriment to your running. It can lead to self-sabotage, dissatisfaction, emotional exhaustion, poor performance, and going overboard on goal-setting and tasks, to name a few.
Related: 7 self-care tips for moms
How do you know if you have Imposter Syndrome?
You can take a test here to see if you have Imposter Syndrome. You can also ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a hard time accepting praise?
- Are you an over-worker?
- Do you feel like you need to be the best?
- Do you avoid showing confidence?
- Do you compare your obstacles and struggles to others?
- Do you focus more on what you haven’t done?
- Do you dread success?
- Do you feel like you aren’t good enough?
If you answered yes to most of these, you could have Imposter Syndrome. So, what to do now?
10 Ways to overcome Imposter Syndrome
You can beat Imposter Syndrome, says Sharon. Here’s how.
Talk about it.
Open up to someone who cares and understands. Tell them how you feel. And listen, really listen, to their response and accept their words of affirmation as valid.
Accept that you’ll never be perfect.
Perfectionism is impossible. So, try to convince yourself to stop wasting your energy striving for it. Look around. Do you know anyone who is perfect? Who does EVERYTHING perfectly? Probably not. Choose what matters most to you and focus your energy on doing your best there..
Chase away bad thoughts.
Challenge those thoughts that say you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that your accomplishments aren’t real. Instead, focus on facts. What have you done and what can you do? For every negative thought, chase it away with a positive one about yourself and your accomplishments.
Recognize your script.
And then, rewrite. What do you commonly tell yourself when you’re meeting people for a run or getting ready to race? Are you telling yourself that you’re an outsider? Or not as good as them? Flip the script so that instead you’re recognizing how brave and tough you are to run with new people or wake up early to race. Highlight for yourself all you go through to run and how steadfast you are in your commitment.
Accept things for what they are.
Mother runner Lindsay, mom of 2—soon 3—runs most days with her kids and dog in tow. She’s not running super fast or super far, but she gets out there despite the obstacles that stand in her way (like growing a human!). She knows reaching her highest running potential isn’t going to happen right now but she feels like a “real runner” in spite of that because of her commitment to the sport. She accepts the current situation and does the best she can.
When you don’t do something the way you had hoped, try to shun the shame. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to improve. What did you learn? What could you have done differently?
Do what professional athletes do to succeed and take time to really picture what that looks like. When you’re headed to the finish line, who is there cheering for you? What does the clock say? What does the crowd sound like? How will you feel afterwards? Studies show this practice actually improves performance.
When you succeed at something, like completing a hard workout or race, reward yourself. Take a nice long bath. Book a massage. Tell your friends about what you did. This breaks the cycle of dismissing your accomplishments by validating and celebrating them instead!
Seek professional help.
If these tips aren’t helping, a therapist who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help you improve coping strategies by challenging your unhelpful thinking patterns. You can find a therapist in your area here.
Realize you aren’t alone.
This article came about from me hearing other mother runners talk about not feeling like a “real runner” even though, of course they are! Knowing that you’re not the only one feeling this way can undercut those negative emotions so that eventually they may go away.
We’re all in this together—every step of the way. So let’s honor ourselves as much as we honor each other.