What are the hidden benefits of Imposter Syndrome?
This episode is for you if you've been trying to ditch Imposter Syndrome for ages, or putting up with it for years, and you're secretly wondering whether it might actually be a good thing. Or maybe you've read one of the thousands of well-meaning articles out there telling you it's actually an essential part of success, and that that famous person wouldn't be where they are today, without it.
But part of you wonders whether that's really true.
What You'll Discover Today
- What on earth is Imposter Syndrome? And how is it different to having an over-active inner critic?
- What are the most common benefits that people think it brings?
- Why is this such a big problem?
- What is the secret reason that people cling to those benefits?
- The mistake most people are making
- The two primary emotions - and which one decides whether you fulfil your potential
- How you could get started on this today
Listen Here Now:
Resources From Today's Episode:
- Get your Imposter Syndrome score with this research-backed scorecard, plus a personalised action plan - as my gift: DitchingImposterSyndrome.com/quiz
- Listen here: The Truth About ‘Do It Scared’: The Antidote and Which Of The Two Types Of Fear Is Trashing Your Confidence [Episode 029]
- Read or listen to Ditching Imposter Syndrome - p112 Are You Falling Into The Hypervigilance Trap?
- Listen here: Is it time to forget the 'feel the fear' message? Episode 019
- Start creating breakthroughs even before bedtime tonight with the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Transformation Toolkit
Prefer To Read?
Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.
Welcome to Episode 32 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about a question I am asked so often. What are the hidden benefits of Imposter Syndrome? This episode is for you. If you've been trying to ditch Imposter Syndrome for ages or putting up with it for years and you're secretly wondering whether it might actually be a good thing, or maybe you've read one of the thousands of well meaning articles out there telling you it's actually an essential part of success and that that person wouldn't be where they are today had they not run Imposter Syndrome. But part of you wonders whether that's really true. Here's what we're going to cover in today's episode. What on earth is Imposter Syndrome? And how is it different to having an overactive inner critic? What are some of the most common benefits that people think it brings? Why is this such a big problem? What is the secret reason that people cling to those benefits? The mistake most people are making? The little known solution that can unleash your potential and how you could get started on all of this today.
So let's start with what on earth is Imposter Syndrome? I define Imposter Syndrome as being the gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be to do or achieve something. And over that gap, because running isn't always an option, we build what I call the bridge of coping strategies. That gap, depending on how big a thing it is we want to achieve or how important it is to us, might be quite small. It might be like a little stream we could actually step over, or it might be a mighty ravine with a thundering glacier river at the bottom. We put so much effort into the bridge of coping strategies, because this is what allows us to succeed despite Imposter Syndrome. But depending on how big and deep the gap is and how secure the bridge of coping strategies is, depends on whether we self sabotage, whether we play small, whether we hold back with our ideas, whether we lie awake, worrying at three in the morning that somebody's going to find out we're not good enough, we're a fake, we're a fraud, despite the external world evidence that we're doing well.
Another way I define Imposter Syndrome based on my research studies is the secret fear of others judging us the way we judge ourselves. So Imposter Syndrome is right down there at what I call the identity level. It's about who am I? What if they find me out? It means we take praise or criticism personally. We make it about who we are rather than what we're doing. How is it different to having an overactive inner critic? Well, your inner critic, your self talk is up there at the surface. It is a symptom. If we're looking at cause and effect, it is the effect. That deep rooted Imposter Syndrome has trained our brain with neural pathways and the filters in the brain to think thoughts that support Imposter Syndrome. And the more we think thoughts about Imposter Syndrome type worries, which I call mind story fears, because they're all in our heads most of the time, the more we've wired our brain only to spot things from the outside world that support our world view of somehow not being good enough. So you can have a really overactive inner critic but not be running Imposter Syndrome. But if you're running Imposter Syndrome, you are likely to have an overactive inner critic. The inner critic is that surface level, semi-conscious awareness experience of running Imposter Syndrome below the surface. Now, everywhere from social media through to Harvard Business Review is packed with articles, videos, podcast episodes telling you there are benefits to Imposter Syndrome and you need it to succeed. Some really high profile people have attributed their success to Imposter Syndrome, despite the fact it opens up the Imposter Syndrome gap, it means we need to put a huge amount of our awareness and energy into that bridge of coping strategies, and we are constantly feeling that fear and trying to succeed despite it. So one of the problems with this approach is the bit of your brain that's triggered when you're thinking of fear based thought, a mind story fear, a worry, a what if, catastrophising, overthinking, it's designed to keep you alive. So it processes information ever so slightly sooner than the prefrontal cortex bit of your brain at the front that is sitting there saying, Hey, here's this brilliant idea, this thing I want to achieve. That primal part processes information first because it needs to have that split second response to keep you safe if a sudden threat or danger comes up.
Unfortunately, that means it presses the button to say, 'Hey Clare, self sabotage process is required right now. Hold back. Don't speak up with that idea.' Before the rational bit of your brain at the front can go, 'Don't be so silly, it's fine'. So you've already kicked off the self sabotage before you even realised you were having Imposter Syndrome thoughts. So why do people think it's a good thing? Well, the secret reason that people so often cling to the idea that there must be benefits to Imposter Syndrome is because they didn't know how to ditch it. They had to work so hard to succeed despite it. What they've tried hasn't worked because usually people are using mindset level techniques to clear an identity level problem. So all you can ever do is then be plastering over the cracks on the surface. And they're secretly scared that if they ditch it, they'll fail. Some of the benefits people claim for Imposter Syndrome, without it, I wouldn't have pushed myself to succeed the way I have. In my research studies, I found this is very much a post rationalised benefit. At the time that people were pushing themselves to succeed, they were not sitting there thinking, I'm so glad I feel so lousy due to Imposter Syndrome right now that it makes the success absolutely terrifying.
I haven't slept for six weeks and I'm rowing with my partner and my kids at home all the time and my dog is scared of me. It's after the event that we want to find a reason, a why. We all know from little kids how good they are at asking why until you just want to hide in the loo and say, please stop. Yeah? We want to know a why. Why did I have to struggle so much for that success because of Imposter Syndrome? So we convince ourselves, Well, I must have needed it. It must have been important. It must have driven me. Another one I hear a lot, It pushes me beyond my comfort zones. So this is a self talk fib. Imposter Syndrome does not push us beyond our comfort zones. The last thing that makes you stretch a comfort zone is that self talk of I'm not good enough. They're going to find me out. I'm going to fail, my luck is going to run out. They're going to realise they made a mistake hiring me, everybody's going to laugh at me and I'm going to die penniless in a ditch. That is not a healthy way to stretch a comfort zone.
It is so unlikely to drive us to push our comfort zones. What is much more likely to get us to grow that sphere of feeling safe and comfortable is to clear out the hidden fears inside instead of screaming at them and trying to succeed despite them. One of the things I often find for people who are claiming that they need it to succeed and that it's driven them and pushed them to excel beyond where they could have been is most of them didn't actually have Imposter Syndrome. They had a natural drive to succeed. They might have doubted themselves. That's about our skills and our capabilities. It's not down there at the identity level where Imposter Syndrome is. But when I talk to people who are adamant that without it, they couldn't have succeeded, I haven't yet met one of them that was truly running it. I haven't met one of them who was crippled by it at three in the morning. I haven't yet met one of them who ended up self sabotaging a dream because of Imposter Syndrome. So they didn't really use Imposter Syndrome to thrive. But the problem with this myth being shared so widely is those who are truly running Imposter Syndrome then end up feeling guilt and shame that it doesn't have the same impact for them, that it isn't making them thrive, that it isn't making them smash their comfort zones, that they are not hustling their way to happiness.
Another one of the really common benefits people think it brings is they say they need Imposter Syndrome to perform. I need that stress to give my best. There was some great work done by a Hungarian-Canadian endocrinologist called Hans Selye, on the two types of stress. It's something I talk about a lot when I give keynote talks on Imposter Syndrome. He talked about distress, which is the stress Imposter Syndrome triggers, that worrying, that fear based catastrophising that leaves our heart racing, hands going clammy, upper chest breathing. You can't think straight. And he talked about Eustress: e. u. stress. 'E. u' being the ancient Greek for good, that good stress, that anticipation, slight excitement, nervousness, but that comes from a place of love and hope rather than fear, worry, and pain. And actually peak performance is tied in with Eustress, not Distress. So you don't need Imposter Syndrome to perform. To perform at your best, you need that edge that comes from the distress rather than the destructive distress. And another reason why people think they need to need Imposter Syndrome is they say it makes them human. Without it, I would be arrogant, pigheaded, Dunning–Kruger, where you grossly overestimate your abilities compared to your actual capabilities.
No, what keeps you humble and human is you being you, not Imposter Syndrome. But as I've said, people cling to these benefits and even share them with others because it helps them feel like they didn't make a mistake trying to succeed despite Imposter Syndrome. They didn't know how to ditch it. They tried stuff and it hadn't worked. And they were scared that if they did ditch it, they would then fail in the future. And so we pass on these beliefs. And the mistake I see most people are making with Imposter Syndrome is hoping that Imposter Syndrome will go away. When it doesn't, deciding it must be because they need it, that it's bringing them some benefit. I want to talk to you about Lisa. Lisa is a highly ambitious line manager, and she had always felt like she wasn't quite good enough ever since she'd been promoted. Despite her many achievements, she always had this nagging feeling inside that she was a fraud, that she didn't deserve the success she had achieved. She thought that this feeling of Imposter Syndrome was what made her strive to be the best she could be and helped her to perform at her peak.
But as time went on, Lisa began to realise that Imposter Syndrome was actually holding her back. She found herself procrastinating, people pleasing, overthinking her decisions, fearing that any mistake would reveal her as a fraud and get her fired. She was constantly second guessing herself, seeking external validation. It was affecting her confidence as a manager and her team's performance. Eventually, a friend recommended that Lisa read Ditching Imposter Syndrome, and that inspired Lisa to get help. She ended up joining my stepping up to lead program, working with one of my Imposter Syndrome Master Coaches. And the thing is that everything Lisa had been doing up to that point had been coming from a place of fear, overcoming the fear, the worry, the beating herself up. She was putting so much energy into surviving and thriving despite that, that she was close to burnout. By working through the Stepping Up To Lead programme, though, she realised there are two primary emotions which I'll come to in a moment, and one of them gives much better results with much more fun. Here's the problem of the whole 'I need Imposter Syndrome to thrive, to be successful'. Pushing on through the fear comes at a huge cost physically, mentally, emotionally.
It's something I'm really passionate about getting people to ditch. There are two episodes in the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast Series that are really, really worth you listening to on this. Episode 19 and Episode 29. Episode 19 is all about, is it time to forget the feel the fear message? Why it's so harmful? Why pushing on through your fears is so dangerous? But that doesn't mean you should wait till you don't feel scared. Then Episode 29 is the truth about do it scared, the antidote, and which of the two types of fear is trashing your confidence. Plus, of course, as you'd expect from this podcast, what you can do about it. Then there's another problem with that pushing on through the fear, thinking we need Imposter Syndrome to survive. Imposter Syndrome wires the body and the brain to be looking for threats. And it cranks up the dial on this because every bit of feedback from the outside world, whether it's a facial expression or a performance review, is a chance for us to be found out as a fraud. And every action we take, every bit of us we show to the outside world, whether that is writing an email or giving a pitch to the board or a client, is a chance to be found out.
This means people running Imposter Syndrome are much more likely to get stuck in chronic stress and to fall into something I call the hyper vigilance trap. This is where we get hard wired to constantly look for threats and you can actually end up triggering something called complex PTSD, so complex post traumatic stress disorder. It can be a really serious thing. It trashes our performance, it trashes our confidence. If you've got ditching Imposter Syndrome, that's on page 112. If you've got the eBook version, search for Falling Into The Hyper Vigilance Trap. And if you have got the ditching Imposter Syndrome audiobook book, it's track 19, Falling Into The Hyper Vigilance Trap. That talks more about what hyper vigilance is, how Imposter Syndrome triggers it, why it's a bad idea, and some of the things that you can start to do to clear that out, both by rewiring your brain and also, perhaps more importantly, your body. And I promise you, it's pain free. Another reason why pushing on through Imposter Syndrome and even thinking that we need it to succeed, which you can imagine, that's like hugging it close. I'm never going to let go of it if I need it to succeed, because then if I don't have it, I'll fail.
One of the side effects and warning signs for Imposter Syndrome is something I've developed the 4P's model to describe. So this is the 4P's warning signs that Imposter Syndrome is running for you. The first P, perfectionism. The second one, procrastination. The third P, project paralysis. The fourth P, people pleasing. I'm going to be doing a whole podcast episode on these very shortly, so make sure you have subscribed to the Ditching Imposter Syndrome Podcast wherever you love to get your podcast to make sure you catch that one. What we found with Lisa is she was massively there on the perfectionism, the procrastination, and the people pleasing. She was really struggling with boundaries. She was overgiving, she was overworking, holding herself to ridiculously high standards. Even if she met them, she would then write it off as success or luck or fluke or worry about the Icarus effect, meaning that today might be the day her luck finally run out. So one of the key things we did when I was working with Lisa is help her to realise that she could make a shift. Forget, do it scared. Wouldn't you rather do it excited and curious? And this brings me back to the two primary emotions that motivate us.
They say that there are two core emotions, fear and love, and that pretty much every emotion can be categorised under those two. When we tell ourselves there are benefits to Imposter Syndrome and we need it to succeed, it means we are constantly pushing on through the fear. Everything that fear does to trash our performance, that's Episodes 19 and 29 for the detail on that, is then a constant part of our daily lives. We are doing it scared, holding back, not showing up as all of who we really are, and living in constant worry, what ifing, and catastrophising. Instead, if we clear what's running below the surface, if we clear and resolve and release the secret hidden fear or block that had been using Imposter Syndrome to keep us safe, if we do that deeper work, the surface level symptoms of Imposter Syndrome disappear. And then we get to take the actions we're taking from a place of love, confidence, groundedness, excitement, curiosity, and hope. That's really my message for you today. Forget, do it scared. Wouldn't you rather do it excited and curious, full of hope, knowing that you're fulfilling your potential and having the impact your ideas and dreams deserve.
So with Lisa, she discovered that her belief in the benefits of Imposter Syndrome was actually a myth, and that it was harming her performance rather than helping it. It was holding her back, keeping her stuck with Imposter Syndrome, which she hated. She realised her self doubt and her negative self talk were actually preventing her from realising her full potential. And the belief that she somehow needed Imposter Syndrome was keeping her stuck with it, having to push on through that fear, many, many times a day. When we worked with Lisa on the Stepping Up to Lead programme, clearing the hidden blocks that had been driving all of this so she could move from coping strategies to confidence, she rewired her brain and her body to recognise and celebrate her achievements without becoming arrogant and egotistical and to stop needing external validation from others. As a result, her confidence grew. She performed her best without the shackles of Imposter Syndrome holding her back. And there were hidden benefits. She had better boundaries. Not having those four P's anymore, the perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing freed up loads of her time. A lot less people pleasing, which meant she said no to a lot more meetings and had more time to actually get her work done.
And her general internal dialogue and the way she was experiencing life was curious, excited, and hopeful. Today, Lisa has been promoted into a global leadership role. She no longer lies awake at night, worried that people will find her out. But it all started with her realising that she'd been lying to herself about needing Imposter Syndrome to succeed because she couldn't imagine a way of ever being free from it. So if this episode has resonated with you, your very first step is go and get your Imposter Syndrome score with my free research back scorecard. This tells you which of the three types of self sabotage Imposter Syndrome is driving for you and how big your risk is of Imposter Syndrome, getting in the way of who you want to allow yourself to become. It's yours as my gift and it even gives you a free personalised action plan so you can start taking action today. That is at ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/quiz. And if you're ready to dive in and start creating breakthroughs with super low effort and might even be fun, even before the end of the day today, I'd love to get to support you with the Ditching Impostor Syndrome Toolkit.
That is at ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/toolkit, and it turns your book into an interactive online course that has the power to transform your life in just a few minutes a day. I'd love to get to share that with you at ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/toolkit. If you found today's episode useful, please share it far and wide. Let people know about it so they can find it helpful too. And maybe leave us a lovely review wherever you love to get your podcast episodes. I will be back next time with another ditching Imposter Syndrome installment. And in the meantime, I hope you have an amazing week.
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