4 steps to stop imposter syndrome from putting out your charismatic fire


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If I’ve learned one thing from life in New York (and about 40,000 re-watches of Almost Famous), it’s that the best way to come across as charismatic is to act like you belong. Charisma gets results; it’s why the best way to walk into a music venue without a ticket is with your head held high. So it’s not shocking to learn that imposter syndrome (AKA the often unwarranted fear that you don’t belong or aren’t worthy of your position) can impede your charisma factor, as reported in a recent New York Times article. But, um…how do you stop internalized issues such as imposter syndrome from stifling your charisma? And furthermore, is it even possible to learn how to be charismatic?

Well, it helps to regard charisma as a forward-facing, perception-based personality trait that’s not necessarily reflective of anyone’s inner self. “Charisma is a public quality,” says clinical psychologist and author of I Know I’m in There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity, Helene Brenner, PhD. “It’s not a quality you have in private with the people you are really close to. Charisma is not about intimacy; intimacy requires vulnerability, allowing someone to see you as just human, with flaws and weaknesses like everyone else. Charisma is almost the opposite of that.”

Meaning? Faking it is essentially the name of the game, especially because being uncharismatic can be a problem in the  pursuit of getting ahead. For example, if you’re about to take on a leadership role or flex your entrepreneurial muscles, you really don’t want the people around you to fall asleep because you’re not captivating them enough with your presentations.

And while “learning” charisma isn’t an exact science, it’s possible to put quell symptoms of imposter syndrome that may be drowning your charisma. Check out the four small alterations below.

1. Project yourself as a “taller” person

Society is totally biased to those of us who can never reach the top shelf, I know. But, as organizational psychologist Katy Caselli previously told Well+Good, “we know from research that we tend to have taller presidents, we tend to have taller CEOs, and people who tend to fall more easily into an authority role seem to be taller.” While sky-high stilettos alone  aren’t necessarily the best means available for squashing your imposter syndrome, cultivating a tall personality can help.

“If you want to have more charisma with a group of people, imagine yourself taller and larger.” —clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD

“If you want to have more charisma with a group of people, imagine yourself taller and larger,” Dr. Brenner says. “Conversely, you can also imagine them to be smaller. Not in a bad way, but imagine that they are less confident and in control than you think, which is probably true.”

And keep in mind one more simple hack for growing your way into feigned confidence: improving your posture. I just sat up straight while typing this, and I feel like the most regal person in Starbucks.

2. Lift other people up as much as possible

If you consider the connection between being charismatic and being a leader, it makes sense, then, to connect being charismatic to being an inspirational figure who inspires change. So, be a less in your head about how you don’t fit in and more encouraging to those around you.

“It’s not just that the person with charisma can do things easily that others can’t; rather, they pay attention to people, both one-on-one and in groups, in a way that makes those people feel that they, too, are capable of more.” Dr. Brenner says. “People with charisma lift others up and inspire them, and they lift up the group.”

3. Use your community to (positively) measure yourself

“The best way to combat feelings of self-doubt and not belonging is to give validation and support to the people around you,” Dr. Brenner says. “Work on validating yourself by figuring out a way to measure what you are doing, giving yourself a yardstick to look at your own work.” Being part of a successful team or among a great group of friends is a great way to achieve this.

“The best way to combat feelings of self-doubt and not belonging is to give validation and support to the people around you.” —Dr. Brenner

This is less about the toxic comparison, or focusing on what other people have (a job, a vacation, clear skin, a corgi named Waffles), and more about what they do. If you recognize good work, offer compliments, and try to learn so you can better yourself. Doing so may earn you friends, amp up your feelings of belonging, and create room for sharpening your skills.

4. Remember that you’re not alone for sometimes feeling unsure or insecure

One common side effect of moving up in the world is that imposter syndrome moves right along with you. It’s a big part of why you may not feel like you’re projecting your best self when you enter a new role, and even if that feeling doesn’t 100 percent vanish, a few coffee one-on-ones will confirm you’re in good company. Even if charisma can gain you mass appeal, genuine, vulnerable intimacy allows us to become better together.

After all, “self-doubt is an important, corrective emotion,” says Dr. Brenner. So, do your best to put your best charismatic foot forward—but also cut yourself a break for being a human being who considers situations holistically. Doubts and all.

By the way, these are the three personality traits shared by “everyday saints.” And here’s how to be more “out there” if you’re still feeling a case of the insecurities. 

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