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author: @aestranger

Reading time: 11 minutes

How to deal with imposter syndrome using Gamification

Utilizing concepts from gamification and behavioural psychology to help overcome feelings of inadequacy

Considering these unique times, many people are exploring new areas that they may not have wanted to try or have been waiting for a better time to try. But as those luxuries are no longer an option, many have jumped into the deep end to figure out a way to survive and succeed.

What comes from this then is that you might start to develop the feeling of being inadequate and an imposter. So for this week’s piece, I felt that I should revisit how you can use concepts and methods of gamification to help develop yourself and to aid you in overcoming some mental and emotional issues.

Having had imposter syndrome myself and having overcome it, to some extent, I wanted to cover this one specifically. Imposter syndrome is essentially a feeling of not belonging or being discovered as a fraud despite being capable in what you are doing. Around 70% of people experience this feeling at some point in their lives. And it affects all kinds of people, regardless of age, gender or education.

How does Imposter Syndrome manifest?

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that your success is down to pure luck and not due to your talents, skills or qualifications. It was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes and was initially focused around the fact that women were uniquely affected by it, but this is no longer the case, as it affects both genders equally.

To have a better grasp of what forms imposter syndrome can take, Dr Valerie Young, an expert on the subject, has divided it into five separate subgroups to give us a better understanding of it:

  • The Perfectionist
  • The Super-person
  • The Natural Genius
  • The Soloist
  • The Expert


Each these subgroups follows a set of internal rules that govern why people in them have the feeling of being an imposter.

  • The Perfectionist – this individual requires everything to be perfect and thus feeling inadequate when the impossibility of perfection is not reached.
  • The Super-person – they have an internal need to prove their worth by working longer and harder than others. This is to create a basis of proof for their worth in reference to colleagues and peers. Generally, these are workaholic’s that seek continual validation.
  • The Natural Genius – these are people with a sense that if they are not a natural at something, in that it took time to learn or master something, then they must be frauds and clearly not suited to the task that required the skill.
  • The Soloist – soloists have the idea that if they ask for help, it will reveal that they are in fact fakes, as requiring help means that they are apparently unable and incapable of doing it themselves.
  • The Expert – the expert has the belief that more experience and more knowledge will make them less of a fake. They have the fear that they are always too inexperienced or not knowledgeable enough for the job or task placed in front of them.


The next question from this categorization is likely why do people have or get imposter syndrome? There is no simple or single answer for this, unfortunately. Experts are divided between it being a personality trait or influenced by family, relations, experiences during childhood, discrimination, and so on. One aspect that does pervade through it all is that the feeling can be broken down to the intrinsic need to belong in order to have a sense of confidence to continue with a job, project, career or choice.

Using gamification concepts to help with imposter syndrome

There are various strategies that you take, follow or develop so that you can build your self-assurance and confidence and overcome imposter syndrome.

In many of the self-help articles around imposter syndrome, you will come across the mantra of “Fake-it-till-you-make-it”. Which on face value and as a basis is fine, but for those that have a sense of being a fake, perhaps this isn’t quite the right wording.

A better concept for this is to be just prepared enough, with just enough knowledge to make it. You cannot be an expert in everything, nor do you need to be. You just need to be enough for the moment that requires it. For this to work though, and to not fall into the trap of the Expert, you will need to acknowledge and understand your abilities and skills. And you will need to realise that perfection is not always attainable, and should not be something that you consistently chase after. And if you have any doubts, then discuss your strategies and ideas with like minded individuals, gaining feedback and hopefully some confidence from it.

A method that is specifically connected to gamification is targeting specific motivational levers and using them to change your mindset and perspective. These motivational levers are the same as those found in Self-Determination Theory and more. The aim of using them in such a targeted manner is so that you can develop an overall strategy that will soften, lessen or remove the sense of being an imposter.

The five motivational levers that I’ll be looking at in this piece are :

  • Purpose
  • Mastery
  • Autonomy
  • Belonging
  • Esteem


There are some others, but I feel for now these are the main five that we should start with.



When considering the intrinsic motivator of purpose, you should start by creating and/or developing a (personal) goal that offers you a purpose that you can strive towards. It needs to be something that you can easily understand, has meaning for you and is properly contextualised in relation to what you are trying to achieve overall.

For example, it can be a goal that is “I wish to be better at public speaking”. This is fine as a broad goal but has no real intrinsic meaning. Why do you wish to be better at public speaking? The ‘because answer’ to this question is what will give you meaning and context. “I wish to be better at public speaking because it will offer me more professional opportunities and boost my sense of confidence and worth outside of large speaking engagements.

It does not need to be a lengthy answer, but simply something that can act as an anchor point for yourself and that you can use to affirm and confirm validation for yourself when you achieve the goal. This point is what makes purpose an intrinsic motivator, as the acknowledgement of success, by yourself, is no longer external validation, but an understanding internally that you achieved what you wanted.

To use the vernacular within gamification, you will need to develop your own Epic Quest Objective. Have a single line of what the goal is, and then create a few more sentences that cover the ‘because’ and additional positive outcomes that you can envisage from accomplishing the epic quest.


Mastery is essentially about visualizing, understanding and putting on paper the skills that you have. Placing this somewhere that you can read and consider them will allow you to develop an idea of what their worth is and what your level of ability is with them. It is an exercise in moving out of the abstract and into the real.

When you know what skills you have, you can start to breakdown challenges and tasks into more manageable chunks. This allows you to understand what you have and what you need. This, in essence, augments the exercise with Purpose.

If you require a clearer framework from figuring out your skills, then perhaps do a personal SWOT analysis. Once you have made the analysis or done one similar, you may want to place your discoveries into a skill tree and/or develop a character sheet for yourself, as is done in many RPG’s. From here you can see what you can do, from good to less skilful.


One of the most useful motivational levers in combatting imposter syndrome is autonomy, and realising that you have the power and freedom to choose your path. And with that freedom comes the ability to recognise the choices that you have and manage the time and resources to deal with them.

This is fairly straight-forward and it is the basic concept of self-empowerment. A way to realise this is by creating your player journey as it were. You can either write down or draw a roadmap or choice tree of what is available to you. This then gives you a better overview of what you can and want to do, and what you can’t. This simple exercise can refine your worldview and simply make it manageable, removing some of the complexities of life that create anxieties that can lead to imposter syndrome forming.


Belonging is a fundamental motivator. People want to connect, and connecting with people similar to you, with similar interests, hobbies, knowledge, and experience can improve and increase your sense of confidence and self-worth. This may not have to be a direct connection of interacting with another similar individual, even though this is the most powerful and efficient method. But simply knowing that there are others out there like you and connecting with them by proxy, for example through watching a vlog or training videos that they do, can be enough for many people.

Often the feeling of being an imposter is there because you are unable to connect with those around you and not because of the idea that you may or may not be adequate. Many feel like fakes in their professional lives, simply because there is no common ground with peers, and this lack increases the anxiety of being an imposter, even when there is no basis.

Therefore, to combat this, find or create your Clan or Guild as it were. Discover and connect with like-minded individuals, have a tribe that you can connect with, either directly or indirectly, and learn and collaborate with them. And if possible, go to them for advice when needed.


The final motivational lever is esteem, likely one of the most important levers when dealing with imposter syndrome. Esteem is broken down into two parts, it is how we wish to be perceived and how we are perceived.

To make use of this concept when dealing with imposter syndrome, you must become aware of what you have achieved, how you have reacted to it and how others have. And with that take an active effort to reward yourself for your achievements. Acknowledge the wins and practice visualising the successes you still wish to achieve and what you value about achieving them.

Naturally, you will not always be successful every time, and failure is a natural part of life. When you do fail, reframe it as an opportunity to learn and maybe innovate. Use this process so that you can increase your chances of success next time. Accepting and embracing failure is an important part of overcoming imposter syndrome.

And when you do succeed, ensure that the reward that you give yourself is something of actual value to you and is something that aid’s in achieving more successes. The reward must validate what you have done and allow you to keep going and/or improve what you are doing or wish to do next.

You as a brand

Another method for dealing with imposter syndrome that builds on the use of the motivational levers is to develop a persona in addition to yourself. In essence, you are creating a brand of and for yourself that can serve as the expert and by proxy slowly lessen the sense of being an imposter.

Some of the concepts in achieving this are taken from Marketing Gamification. Develop a brand around yourself that has an epic purpose and then promote it. Through this, you will slowly gain confidence in your knowledge and abilities as you put yourself and your brand out there. This makes use of the motivational levers of esteem, autonomy and belonging.

As you develop your personal brand, you will invariably connect more and more with it and with others who recognise it. This will allow you to create a bridge that can slowly help you overcome the anxieties associated with the feeling of being an imposter. You will initially struggle with the idea, but as you invest more time and effort into the brand, you will have a sense of value and worth that comes from your investment. Essentially what this creates is something similar to the balcony technique, where you detach yourself to gain perspective and calm. Your brand is outside and separate of you, allowing you perspective and hopefully also allowing you to realise your worth and expertise.


Final thoughts

A few final thoughts on dealing with imposter syndrome. In the end, remember that you have had successes and people have valued those. These can be professionally and privately, recognise them, understand them and celebrate them.

Remember that failing doesn’t mean you are a fraud, failure happens to everyone and it should simply be a chance for you to learn to succeed better or more often from then on. Life is an iterative process, believing that there is such a thing as a one-hit-wonder is unrealistic.

And finally, always be sure to talk to others about what you feel and discuss how you have achieved things and how you can achieve other things. Always contextualise and use the intrinsic motivators found gamification to your advantage when dealing with these feelings. Afterall the motivators are based on concepts in behavioural psychology and they do indeed work, even speaking from personal experience.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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