Why Does Imposter Syndrome Make Your Mind Go Blank In Meetings? [Episode 033]

Have you ever had your mind go totally blank when you're asked a question in a meeting, only to have the answer you wanted to give miraculously pop up, the moment the spotlight moves on? Want to know how to fix that?

Then this episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast is for you!

What You'll Discover Today

  • The mistaken belief that most of us pick up when our mind goes blank
  • What my research says about how scarily common this is
  • The caveman effect - and why neuroscience means you can't prevent this.. unless..
  • The two types of fear, and how to press pause on the one that is making your mind go blank
  • Why you need to start today, not in the meeting, to turn this around
  • A sixty-second emergency quick fix you can use as the spotlight is coming towards you

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Note: this is an AI-generated transcript, so please forgive typos.

Welcome to Episode 33 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today, we are talking about why Imposter Syndrome makes your mind go blank in meetings and what you can do about it. So today, it's for you if you've ever had that feeling of the spotlight coming your way and you've got those great ideas and things you want to say, and then as it reaches you, your mind goes completely blank and the minute the spotlight moves away, you can suddenly remember everything that you were previously thinking of and you spend the rest of the day, week, month, or year secretly beating yourself up. So we've all been there. The spotlight comes, we know it's going to be our turn next or somebody asks a question and we've got a brilliant answer. And as soon as they say, Hey, Clare, yeah, what do you think? It's like mind goes emptier than a Buddhist monk who's been on a retreat for 15 years. The minute somebody else then answers the question, we're sitting there going, but I wanted to say this and I can remember everything now and it's not fair because my answer was better than that.

So what we're going to talk about today is the mistaken belief that most of us pick up when our mind goes blank. What my research study says about how scarily common this is, you might be really surprised. The caveman effect and why neuroscience means you can't prevent this unless you've got the tools I want to share with you today. The two types of fear and how to press pause on the one that is making your mind go blank, why you need to start today, not in the meeting to turn this around, and a 60 second emergency quick fix as my gift that you can use as the spotlight is coming towards you. When this happens, we're sitting there, we've got this great idea, or we know the answer to a question, or maybe we don't, and our mind goes blank. The minute the spotlight moves, we're suddenly sitting there with full access to the brilliant answer we would potentially have given. The mistaken belief most of us pick up when that happens is that we're stupid. We're somehow not good enough. We're somehow broken. We need to be fixed. We have failed. The thing is, this isn't true at all.

The caveman effect is what's actually driving this. We're going to talk about the neuroscience behind it, the mind body link in a moment. But first, I want to share with you what my research studies have said about how scarily common this is. So I've been researching imposter syndrome for over six years now. We've had an ongoing research study going. Here are some of the stats that you really need to know, because in that moment we tend to think we're the only person that feels this way. We're the only person this happens to. I want you to realise you're actually in the majority. Now, this one's a biggie. My research study shows only 10% of people feel fully confident speaking up with their ideas in meetings. Ninety percent. Yeah, 90%. Nine out of 10 people. You're in a meeting with 10 people, nine out of 10 of them are feeling the way you're feeling. Sit there and they get a flinch, like, I'm going to have to say this. And of course, you won't be surprised to hear that the more edgy the idea, the harder this 90% of people feel speaking up with it.

So if we're leading a business, we're assuming everybody in the room is feeling comfortable with sharing their ideas, their thoughts, challenging the status quo, being creative, being innovative. But actually nine out of 10 people are sitting there secretly terrified that the spotlight is coming to them. There's another part to this stat, though. For 32% of people speaking up with their ideas in a meeting is a really big challenge and they actively avoid it. That is one in three. So if you're in a meeting with 10 people, that's three and a third of them who are feeling that way. And these are the people who are actively avoiding it, not just feeling a bit scared, having to take the deep breath and then speak up. They are actively avoiding it. They might have the idea that would unlock a problem, prevent a mistake, thrill through a challenge, yeah? And they're not speaking up because they're secretly scared. You won't be surprised to hear that good old imposter syndrome is behind a huge amount of this. But that one in three figure is pretty frightening. Here's another thing about this. It's context dependent. And that context depends on the topic, the people in the room, the environment.

So one of the things that we've seen with remote and hybrid working is if somebody is on a Zoom or Teams call and it's normal procedure for videos to be off, they're much more likely to sit there and hide in the literal dark than speak up with their ideas. When we look at Teams and Zoom calls, that one in three figure actually goes a lot higher. It's easier to hide when you're not in person and not on camera. There's another statistic I want to share with you. The number of people who are comparing themselves with others and judging themselves not to be good enough on a daily basis is 72%. Seventy two precent. Seven out of 10 people. So you're in that meeting room of 10 people, seven of them are sitting there going, "Oh, my goodness. I've been comparing myself to whoever in the company today, and they're better than me". That's a really great way to hold back on your ideas. Even if we secretly know inside that our idea is great or our opinion matters, or we want to have more impact, all of this makes us hold back. And it's because of the caveman effect.

So I'm going to give you a whistle stop tour here of some demystified neuroscience. There is a reason why the human race has stayed alive for so many millennia. And it is because the body and the brain are wired for self preservation. We are wired to pay more attention to threats than to opportunities. Because taking an opportunity without first spotting what the threats might be is a really good way to get munched by the Sabertooth tiger on your way to go and hunt a gazelle. This means that your brain has hard wired into it a process that is the reason why your mind goes blank in meetings. Have you ever had the experience of you're about to cross a road and suddenly you pull back and there's a car that you hadn't noticed that goes by? That is the primal part of your brain saying, Hey, Clare, I'd really like you to see another sunrise. It receives information from the outside world slightly sooner than the bits of your brain that do your clever thinking and question answering. This is really brilliant. It allows us to react instinctively to threats and to danger, rather than having to have a long, detailed conversation with ourselves about the relative pros and cons of running from a Sabertooth tiger, popping it on the nose, or hiding standing still, hoping it can't see us.

If that thing had to go through the rational processes of our thinking mind. Most of us wouldn't have made it to the age that we currently have. Where this goes wrong in meetings is this is your body kicking off what we call in layman's terms, the fight flight freeze response. Most of us have heard of that. It is then going to do things like divert blood flow to the bits of your body that are best for running in case you decide that you're going to fight it or flight, run for it. What it also does, though, is it prioritises blood flow in the brain to the part of your brain that is doing that instantaneous thinking, almost really non thinking, reacting to the outside world danger. Because the last thing you want to do is be telling yourself a pros and cons story when you've got to make a split second decision. This reduces the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is where your brilliant answer to that question in the meeting is sitting. So this is why when the spotlight comes round, if you're one of the 45% who feels like, if I'm in the spotlight, then everyone will see if I make a mistake so I hold back.

If you're one of the 90% who doesn't feel fully confident sharing your ideas in meetings, if you're one of the 72% who compares yourself to others and judges yourself every single day, the spotlight coming towards you in that meeting is like the Sabertooth tiger. It is an external threat. Your body naturally prioritises the bit of the brain that's going to respond to the threat rather than responding to the question. Then when the spotlight moves on, that bit stands down, your body goes, "Okay, red alert over". Suddenly you can access the bit of your brain that had the great idea and you're sitting there going, I didn't speak up again. So it's not your fault. You are not stupid. You haven't done anything wrong. You are not broken. There is nothing to fix. And there is nothing that you can do to prevent this. Unless you do the below the surface work to remove the fear. There are people who do feel confident speaking up in meetings, that 10%, yeah. There are people who are not judging themselves and comparing themselves to others every single day, 28%. There are people who feel like the spotlight could actually be an okay place to be, and you could be one of them, but you can't do that work when you're sitting in the meeting and the spotlight is already shining on you.

So the thing is, there are two types of fear. I talk about this quite a lot. I've got a recent podcast episode that I'd love for you to listen to on this. It's Episode 29, and it's called "The Truth About Do It Scared", and which of the two types of fear is trashing your confidence? You can find a direct link to that in the show notes, or if you're listening to this episode on your favourite podcast app, just have a scroll down to Episode 29. I talk about two types of fear. There's legitimate fear, which is where you're doing something that's genuinely a bit dangerous like jumping out of an aeroplane with a glorified tablecloth on your back. Then there's something I call mind story fear. These are the fears that come from the stories we're telling ourselves in our heads. The 'what if-ing', the worrying, the catastrophising. They're not real. But the problem is your body feels every thought you think, and it fires off the stress response. So what's actually causing the problem with the spotlight coming towards you is not the spotlight, it's the stories you've spent decades telling yourself about what happens when the spotlight shines on you.

So the only way to prevent that caveman effect from coming up and thwarting you from sharing your wisdom and your inspiration and your ideas is the stories you've been telling yourself. The mental rehearsal you've done that has programmed the primal part of your brain to say, spotlight in meeting is exactly the same as Sabertooth tiger. So actually, if you want to clear this and not have to do the pushing on through and feeling the fear and pretending you're fine and mumbling your words and wishing you'd said everything more eloquently with the way it was in your head rather than the way it came out of your mouth, the time to start work on that is today. The core difference between the 10 % who feel fully confident and the 90% who don't is the stories we've been telling ourselves about what could happen if we speak up. And the brilliant thing is that neuroplasticity means you can actually rewire all this. These thought habits, the filters in the brain is something I talk about in depth in Ditching Imposter Syndrome, if you've got a copy. And the very first step for being able to set yourself free from this autopilot response, it's run by something called the autonomic nervous system, which is the bit of you that keeps your heart beating and your hair growing.

The very first step is knowing how to press pause on the stress response. I'm going to teach you how to do that in just a moment. But first, there is a secret that sets you free from your mind going blank in meetings. Here it is. Others aren't judging you. That's something you're doing to yourself. Others aren't judging you. That is something you're doing to yourself. So we're sitting there, what if thing catastrophising, worrying, going, Oh, my goodness. If I speak up with this, then so and so is going to think I'm an idiot, and so and so is going to think I'm aggressive, and so and so. All this stuff in our heads, worrying, second guessing, overthinking how others might respond to us. The vast majority of people are sitting there thinking exactly the same thing about you and everybody else in the room. They're all too busy judging themselves and beating themselves up to give two hoots about you. It doesn't mean you're not important. It just means that they're not judging you. The judging comes from within. When I work with people on imposter syndrome, or they work with my Master Coaches, for example, on my Stepping Up To Lead Programme, or my Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp, hybrid-coaching program.

The core aim of that work is to help people make the inner changes at a very deep level to set themselves free from judging themselves. Because when we don't judge ourselves, we're an awful lot less worried about others judging us. And this is an incredible way of truly, genuinely, without pretending, growing deep, natural confidence. This is why mindset work is not enough to fix this problem. I've got a podcast episode for you on that as well. It's Episode 15, "Why Mindset Isn't Enough to Shift Imposter Syndrome". So if you've not listened to that yet, go and have a listen straight after this one. It's really, hopefully, very useful for you. All of this is why waiting until you're in the meeting and the spotlight is coming your way is too late to prevent that primal self preservation response. So one of the things that you can do is learn how to reset the stress response in the moment. There is a technique I am gifting you as part of this episode. It's my press pause breath. It's a fantastic way in 60 seconds as an emergency quick fix to reset that stress fight flight freeze response.

Even if you're in the meeting and you haven't done the deeper work and you haven't done anything to clear Imposter Syndrome, it can still really help you. And a lot of the time that might be all you need. So you can find that, there's a link in the show notes, or you can find it at clarejosa.com/pause, go and get that as my gift. And the important thing with this is to play with it before you're in the meeting. The more you reset your stress response every time you notice that fight flight freeze kicking in on a daily basis, the more intuitively you will remember to play with that technique in the meeting as the spotlight is coming towards you before your mind goes blank so it doesn't even need to. There's also a really useful section in Ditching Imposter Syndrome about how to spot your early warning signs so you can bring that press pause technique in. If you have the book and it's a print copy, you want to read from Page 118. If you've got the eBook, search for 'spot your early warning signs', and if you've got the Audiobook, it's Track 21.

But the true fix for all of this is to realise that your mind going blank under that stress point is actually just a surface level symptom. It's that effect, it's not the cause. So you might bring in strategies to help you press reset, which can really help in that moment. But to fulfil your potential and really have the impact your ideas and dreams deserve, the easiest way is to clear what was driving that fear. Do the deeper work, get support to ditch imposter syndrome, to clear out what's driving the symptoms, the behaviours. Do the work to rewire your neural pathways and the filters in the brain to be able to turn your inner critic into a genuine cheerleader, to reprogram the body to release its subconscious addiction to the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline that can actually cause it to provoke fear based, mind story fear, mind story drama thoughts if it hasn't had a hit lately. And this work is so much easier than you might think. It's there for you. The support is there. You've got my Ditching Imposter Syndrome Transformation Toolkit. There's a link in the show notes. You've got the book change your life forever for the price of a pizza.

Yeah, I can't make it easier than that. If you want support, you've got my Imposter Syndrome Bootcamp. And if you want to learn to support others with this work, you can join one of the certification programmes. My biggest message for you is don't let the caveman effect get in the way of you speaking up with your ideas, sharing your truth, being the creative, innovative, problem solving, amazing being that you are. Take a little bit of time. It's so much easier than you might think to get help to ditch imposter syndrome. And watch how you change the way you feel about meetings. One of the most common responses my clients have and my master coach clients have had with their clients after they've done this work is I don't feel scared anymore in meetings. And another huge thing that happens is people start getting feedback saying, "hey, when you speak up in meetings, you're not so defensive anymore". I actually can really understand what you're saying. It doesn't put my back up. Because the fight flight freeze response includes fight. So if that has struck when the spotlight comes in, it's one of the reasons why people can actually get aggressive or defensive when they share their views, rather than just being able to influence authentically from a place of grounded confidence.

So I hope you found that useful make sure you check out the show notes for the link to be able to join in this discussion on LinkedIn and Instagram. I'd love to hear from you. Play with the press pause technique and let me know what happens once you've got that under your skin. The next time you're in a meeting and you realise you don't have to feel scared anymore about speaking up with your ideas and your mind no longer goes blank, I want to hear what the idea is that you share. I'll be back next week with the next episode. I hope you have an amazing week.

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About the author

Clare Josa

Clare is considered a global authority in the fields of Imposter Syndrome, burnout and toxic resilience, and has been an international keynote speaker for over 20 years.

The author of 8 books, a reformed engineer and the former Head of Market Research for one of the world's most disruptive brands, she blends research-backed practical inspiration with demystified ancient wisdom, to help you create breakthroughs in ways that are fast, fun and forever.

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