53 - Optional Part 3 The Imposter Syndrome

دوره: Coursera – Learning How to Learn / درس 53

Coursera – Learning How to Learn

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53 - Optional Part 3 The Imposter Syndrome

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You’ve written a little bit about something called the imposter syndrome.

What is the imposter syndrome and how can students overcome it?

Okay, the imposter syndrome is like a tape that plays inside people’s heads,

not just students, a lot of people.

Let’s do it in a student context though.

The tape is like this,

so the student is sitting in class,

looking around and thinking,

“Boy, these people are really good.

They get this stuff,

they can answer the teacher’s questions,

they can do the homework,

they can do fine on the test.

But I,” the tape inside the head continues, “I’m really not.


I’ve managed to fool them all over the years,

the tape goes, my friends,

my family, my teachers,

into thinking that I’m this real hotshot who belongs at

this first-class university taking engineering,

taking science, taking economics, whatever I’m taking.

But I know better.

The tape continues, “The very next tough question I get in class,

the very next hard test that I have to take,

that’s what’s going to finally once and for all reveal me as the fraud,

the phony, the imposter that I know I am.

Then what happens then is usually too horrifying to contemplate and so at that point,

the imposter usually stops the tape,

rewinds it, and gets it going again.

The interesting thing about that phenomenon is how utterly common it is.

But every student playing that tape imagines that he or she is the only one who’s doing

it and the idea that a lot of people are

doing it and that hotshot in the front row with a 4.0 average,

the tape is playing louder than it is in anyone else’s head,

comes as a surprise to them.

The reason that I’m so sure about how common this phenomenon

is is that I’ve given this talk many times to students.

So, I am in an auditorium full of students that I’m giving this talk to and when I get to

the part about they all think I belong here but I know better,

it’s like I plucked a guitar string.

There is a quiver that goes over the entire audience

and eyes dilate and jaws go slack and then they start

checking each other out and there’s this tangible relaxation that

goes over the entire room as they realize this is just a scam.

I’m playing on myself and it is a scam.

If a student managed to do everything needed to get into this college,

to pass all of the entrance requirements,

maybe to get through that difficult first year, then obviously,

they have the ability to do it because they did it.

So, when I make that speech, as I say,

it relaxes a lot of students and once you’re familiar with that phenomenon,

what happens is imposters keep showing up.

In my office, not a week goes by that I don’t see two or three imposters

coming into my office and as soon as they start

talking about the problems that they’re having,

“Okay, here’s another imposter.

I reach into the left middle drawer of my desk in a file folder there.

I pull out a copy of a little column that I

wrote on the imposter phenomenon and I say, “Here.

Check this out.

You might find it intriguing.

So, this imposter in my office reads his or her biography and it’s high drama.

I get the tears from male and female imposters.

I get practically screaming.

I had one woman student accuse me of stealing her diary.

So, it’s a really good thing for teachers to know about and it’s a very,

very good thing for students to know about because we’re all playing it.

It may surprise you to know that a lot of us have that imposter feeling often

and that’s something that each of us has

struggled with in our whole adult lives as well as some of our students.

The power, I think,

is in naming it,

oh, it’s the imposter.

Once you realize that that’s what you’re doing,

then it diffuses a lot of the power.

You can just remind yourself,

“Okay, I know how to do this, I can.

This may be something new,

but I’ve met challenges before.

I’ll meet this one.

I can do it,” and go ahead and push on.

You’ll find that as you get into whatever the task may be,

that you settle down and you realize you really

can do it and you have resources if you have trouble.


So, now, let’s turn to something a little different.

What do you both do to avoid

procrastination when it comes to something you’d really rather not be doing.

Do you ever struggle with this?

It’s hard to think that two of these.

Let me get to you later on that.


When we figure it out,

we’ll let you know.

No, we definitely both struggle

with it as I’m sure you knew when you asked that question.

We found some strategies,

[inaudible] for each of us that work,

but it is still something we struggle with.

I like to try to schedule myself if I’ve got a big task,

schedule a small amount of time every day to work on it,

to do just a little bit.

Not try to do everything all at once but to bite off a small chunk.

I’ve also found it to be really helpful where I keep a to-do list on

my phone and if I break the task down into smaller pieces,

whats the very next thing that I need to do that’s manageable,

then that makes it less overwhelming and I’m able to get going on it.

Once you get started,

it’s easier to keep going.

Oh, absolutely.

This is one area where Rebecca and I are exactly on the same page.

So, I use the same strategies.

There were two points in the strategy that she mentioned which I’ll just reiterate.

One is breaking it up into small pieces.

If I think I’ve got to write the book or I’ve got to write

the dissertation or I’ve got to write the 25-page proposal,

it’s Mount Everest and it’s very hard to get myself to take that first step.

But if I say,

“I’ve got to write the first two pages of the introduction to this thing,” that I can do.

That’s not that formidable.

So, if I just break it up into small pieces and set easy targets for myself,

then I can keep marching.

Then the other suggestion that she made which I would agree

with is make appointments with yourself.

So, if I work well in the morning,

I’m a morning person,

I think well, I’m clear headed then,

then 10 O’clock to 10:30 every morning on my calendar,

I make an appointment with myself,

I’m going to work on that proposal for

that half hour then I’ll stop and I’ll go back to the rest of my life.

Next day, 10 O’clock,

assuming I don’t have other obligations at 10 O’clock,

I’ll do another half hour on it.

It’s incredible how stuff gets done when you can do things on a regular basis and

the ones that you’re most reluctant to do that you’re

putting off because I don’t want to do that,

those are the ones that you’ve got to schedule appointments with yourself.

What a lot of people do is they work on the block of time theory and a time

to work on the proposal now or the term paper now,

but as soon as it’s the weekend,

as soon as this fall break or anything like that,

that’s when I really get it done, and it doesn’t work.

Among other things, as soon as you get to this block of time,

other things rush in to fill it.

Also, it can be so long since the last time you worked on it,

you forgot what you were doing,

and by the time you figure it out and get your momentum back up,

the block of time may be over.

But the steady appointment to just do the next chunk for half an hour, it’ll get done.

Some people find some form of accountability is helpful.

A charge where they’re checking off the stamps or

a friend who will check in with them regularly,

“How’s it going on that project?

Are you making progress?

But those kinds of things can be good strategies to.


Well, I’m a big believer in the half hour chunk.

That time frame seems to work really well for me for

something that I’m having difficulty completing.

I would like to thank you ever so much for

your incredible responses that I think people will find enormously helpful.

It’s a great pleasure.

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