Freelance,  Procrastination,  Productivity,  Writing

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome, Analysis Paralysis and Perfectionism

I have a confession to make. I’m scared. I’m terrified, actually. I am horrified at the thought of being rejected and determined a terrible writer. Do you know what would feel even worse than that? The thought of being determined a mediocre writer.

It paralyzes me. It causes me to avoid writing for myself. I have again sunk back into the comfortable world of ghostwriting where I don’t do any favors for my portfolio and I don’t get to feel the pride of sharing my work with people. This adds to my fear of putting my own writing out there.

Fellow writers, fellow people, I have impostor syndrome. We all suffer from it but some of us suffer from it in a big way that interferes with our dreams and our goals, essentially our lives. Even this article is filling me with terror and I am looking for ways to avoid it. Must.Keep.Writing.

It’s hard. It brings real discomfort and it sucks to deal with these self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is basically feeling like a fraud. Any accomplishments you achieve are minimized and don’t mean anything because you didn’t deserve them. As a writer, when I get praise from a client, I assume they are just giving me lip service. Why on earth would they do that? I don’t know, talk to my brain.

Many renowned experts feel inferior to other experts in their field. As a writer, I assume every other writer has more skill than I do. My portfolio has suffered greatly for this. I can’t tell you how much mental fortitude it took for me to even make a public portfolio. I often feel small and unworthy when I send proposals for a writing job. It’s ridiculous but also, very human.

Education is Power

One of the ways I am dealing with this is research, research, research. Research has always been a tool that I use to tackle any problem. When my husband died, I spent weeks obsessively researching grief, its effects and the ways other people had dealt with it. It was so painful and just existing felt impossible, it helped so much to read that I wasn’t alone.

I have to say that the same thing is helping with my imposter syndrome. Reading about so many other people dealing with this sometimes debilitating problem makes me realize that I am more normal than I feel. I am not alone. Many of us never are. It’s just about reaching out and reminding ourselves.

Analysis Paralysis and Burnout

Image by Marketoonist

Research is a funny one because where it soothes me on a personal level, it overwhelms me on a professional level. I get antsy with too much information and my head starts to do somersaults. And do you know what that leads to? Burnout. Even when nothing gets done, I am burned the hell out.

Analysis paralysis is the bane of my existence. I am naturally an over thinker and when you add the sheer amount of information out there to the mix, it absolutely paralyzes me. Overwhelm takes over and don’t know which link to share or which quote to use because I want to use all of them. None of them end up getting used and no words get written. Then I feel stressed, like a failure and my self-worth is annihilated as I beat myself up.

This is exhausting.

Sometimes though, sometimes, I am able to fight through this. And let me tell you when I do finally get myself to slow down and process information in a way where I allow myself to write it down…I face another problem. I always end up hitting my third wall; perfectionism.

Perfectionism

Here we are. I’ve pushed through a terrible case of imposter syndrome. I’ve jumped over the hoops of analysis paralysis. I’m free! I can finally write!

Slow down.

Now, I have to deal with perfectionism. Yes, the words start flowing out but then they aren’t good enough. I start to hate everything I’m writing. Nothing feels right. It slows me down. I stop writing. And now, I am back at square one. I am an imposter. I am paralyzed. Who do I think I am? Will I ever be good enough?

No, I won’t. I don’t think most of us will ever be good enough for ourselves. However, that can be good! I am learning that this is absolutely okay and even healthy! It only starts to become unhealthy when you let it affect your productivity and your self-worth. That happens when you take it to extremes.

It’s good to push yourself to be better. It’s great to call out when you’re being lazy. However, it’s not great to berate or punish yourself. That only makes things worse and it only heightens creativity paralysis.

So, how am I dealing with all this? Here are five ways I’m overcoming imposter syndrome, analysis paralysis and perfectionism.

1) Authenticity Over Perfection

Jerry Garcia was a terrible singer. I say this as a huge fan. I love Jerry. I love the Grateful Dead. That man had soul in his voice. Technically, he was terrible but man he didn’t care and neither do his fans because he was authentic. His authenticity came through and he never fretted the fact that his voice wasn’t the best. There are countless other examples of people who have achieved great things with a lack of what is considered technical talent.

I’ve never really thought much about it until I decided I needed to do something about my perfectionism. When I think about Jerry Garcia, I now realize, it doesn’t have to be perfect but it does have to be authentic. So, that’s what I do now. I write with authenticity and let my writing be mediocre. I can’t and I shouldn’t get caught up in that. There is a lot of mediocre writing on the internet and I never judge those people the way I do myself.

I have been my worst judge all these years. That stops now. I am Jerry Garcia, shouting out Sugar Magnolia in a cracked but somehow soulful and beautiful voice. And I don’t care anymore.

2) A Simplified To Do List

Image from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Tim Ferris of Four Hour Workweek fame has given many of us a huge gift. He swears by only putting one to two tasks on his to-do list every day. His argument is that with a more simplified to-do list, your brain will not be so cluttered and it will be easier to focus on a list that is much easier to accomplish.

This has worked wonders for me. My to-do list used to look like I was trying to figure out if Pepe Silvia actually exists. I constantly set myself up for failure because no human being could ever finish everything I set in my sights. It discouraged me and added to my paralysis.

Now I know, making my to-do list much more minimalist and manageable sets me up for success! How about that?

3) Target Main Points

I get into a good groove, I’ve got my main points, I’m ready to go. Oh, wait but what about this? I should include this, too. Tab after tab is opened for articles that I will skim or just look at and add to my overwhelm. Oy, and that’s where it all starts to fall apart.

So now, I take those thoughts and write them in a separate document or jot them in my planner and I make a plan to write a new post focusing on those points. I copy and paste the links of three of the best articles for these future posts and then close those tabs. Closing tabs has been essential to overcoming analysis paralysis.

This allows me to stick to the main points I have set out for a blog post. I make myself stick to those and I don’t let myself add anything. It helps keep me focused and it makes the whole process less overwhelming.

The best recipes are from a few, simple ingredients. The more you throw into the pot, the more complex the taste and that ends up ruining the flavor. Writing is very similar. I have fought the urge to include more points in this article and I have them set aside for future posts. That, my friends, is huge progress for me and one of the reasons I was able to finish this blog post.

4) A Tweaked Pomodoro Method

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management solution created by Francesco Cirillo. The basics are that you set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on nothing but that task until the timer runs out. Then you give yourself a five-minute break. Do this four times in a row and then take a 15 minute to 30-minute break and start the next block.

It’s a genius method and has helped thousands of people. It’s amazing how much you can focus on something when you are timing yourself. This is a great psychological trick because your brain is like, “Okay, I can be uncomfortable for 25 minutes. Let’s do this.”

I first tried this method a few years ago and it worked for about a day. Then I started putting it off and putting it off until I just wasn’t using it. I, again, felt like a failure. So many other people could make themselves focus for 25 minutes. I have focused for hours before, why can’t I do this?

Well, the simple fact is that 25 minutes is not a one-size-fits-all amount of time. I realized recently that you can do a lot in just five minutes. A block of five minutes is so much easier to commit to. I started doing five-minute blocks with five-minute breaks and that’s when it all clicked for me. My brain just needs a shorter amount of time to commit to.

The best part is that sometimes I’ll work right through the timer and that five minutes turns into 30 minutes or even an hour before I realize it. However, on the days when it is hard to get going, I stop at five minutes and take my break and then keep going. It helps me still accomplish something even when I don’t want to.

5) Self Care

This one is so important, I can’t stress enough how important it is. Burnout happens because we don’t take care of ourselves. This means we never let ourselves relax. Ask any professional procrastinator and they’ll tell you, it takes a lot out of you to not get anything done.

So, I started doing things like taking a five or ten-minute yoga break. I let myself take a nice bath every once in a while. I try to get all my work done by 6 PM so that I can enjoy the evening and not worry about work.

There’s been a lot of talk about meditation in the last few years and it’s for good reason. One of the most important aspects of self-care is meditation. It is something I push myself to do every day. Even five minutes a day can change your brain chemistry and help you feel more relaxed and focused. It is essential in helping with burnout.

My Progress

I think I’ve actually found a system that works. I got so tired of being so cloudy-headed and continually feeling behind on everything that I had to do something. And I’ll be honest, this doesn’t work every single day. It’s a process. I have had to come to accept the fact that it will be something I’m always working with and like anything else, some days the struggle will be worse than others.

The most important takeaway is to not beat yourself up. We are our own worst enemies and that’s because we have such cruel and horrible self-talk. What I have found is that what makes these techniques so powerful for me is that they help me relax with the pressure I put on myself. That’s probably the best thing anybody can do. Take it easy on yourself. Allow yourself to be human.

One Comment

  • Alisa Russell

    I love this, and you are not the only one to feel like an impostor. I also use the time method to get started in the mornings. Put on the stop watch and see how fact I can fill one page with words. Sometimes it goes longer. Once I’ve done that, I’m in writing mode. Have a great weekend!

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