3 Reasons Why Confidence Is NOT The Antidote To Imposter Syndrome, And What You Need Instead [Episode 035]

Do you ever tell yourself you just need to be more confident, to get past Imposter Syndrome? Or are you told it by others?

In this episode of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast you'll discover 3 reasons why confidence isn't actually the answer, and what you could be doing instead.

What You'll Discover Today

  • 3 reasons why confidence isn't the answer
  • Why aiming for it can actually make IS worse
  • Why 'faking' confidence is a big trigger for anxiety and burnout
  • What we need instead
  • The role of the 2 types of fear
  • Your next step

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

Welcome to Episode 35 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today, we are talking about 3 reasons why confidence is not the antidote imposter syndrome and what you need to be doing instead. This is for you today. If you have ever told yourself or been told you just need to be more confident, or if you're a line manager, HR professional, coach, or business leader, mental health first aid, and you work with people whose confidence you want to be able to boost, who are struggling with imposter syndrome and maybe you're not sure what to do. Hint, some of the most confident people I know really struggle with imposter syndrome. Listen on to find out what the alternative to confidence is. Here's the thing. So many people are obsessed with getting people to increase their confidence, especially for women. If she could only be more confident, she would go for that next job, that opportunity. She would be more visible, she would speak up with her ideas. I've been researching this area now for 20 years, and I can tell you that is not true. If somebody is running imposter syndrome, it doesn't matter how confident they are, they still risk self sabotaging in order to feel safe due to their imposter syndrome gremlins.

Here's what we're going to cover in today's episode. We're going to talk about three reasons why confidence isn't the answer, why aiming for confidence can actually make imposter syndrome worse, why faking confidence is a big trigger for anxiety and burnout and fake it till you make it is really bad advice. What we need instead, the two types of fear and your next step on this journey. There are 3 reasons why confidence is not the antidote to imposter syndrome. The first one is that confidence is context dependent. For example, somebody might be really confident in one situation and not in another, particularly if imposter syndrome is running. I had a situation last night where I was doing a keynote talk for a group of about 150 people live in the room, which was lovely. It's a rare thing these days. I felt no fear at all going up onto that stage. I felt the excitement about what we might be about to co create. I had complete confidence. But there are other situations in my life such as I love mountains, but I'm terrified of heights where I completely lack confidence. We think somebody is confident, but actually what we mean is they feel confident in certain situations.

In a working environment, for example, they might feel generally confident, but there might be a specific scenario, such as pitching the board or a client or a certain person being in the room, that really shakes their confidence. This isn't something that's a once and done. It's context dependent. Reason number two is confidence is actually about what we can and can't do. Our skills, our capabilities. It's tied in with self doubt. We used my research studies to create a model that we call the imposter syndrome iceberg. And you can find a direct link to that in the show notes. This explains that confidence and self doubt are actually quite high up on the iceberg just below the surface of the water. They're about those skills, the capabilities, what we can and can't do. Imposter syndrome, however, is right at the bottom of that iceberg, our sense of self identity. Who are we? When we're talking about, you've got to build up confidence, or you're a line manager trying to give someone pep talk to help boost their confidence, the chances are we're treating what they're actually experiencing. Impostor syndrome is a mindset issue, that confidence surface level.

You can feel confident and still have imposter syndrome, self sabotaging your success. You can also lack confidence and not run imposter syndrome. The two are actually separate things. So imposter syndrome, I like to talk about it being the secret fear of being found out by others is not good enough or somehow a fraud, despite external world evidence that we're doing really well. I talk about the imposter syndrome gap, the gap between who we see ourselves as being and who we think we need to be to do or achieve something. And to get over that gap, to bridge it, we build what I call the bridge of coping strategies, all those crazy things that we do to succeed despite imposter syndrome, which come at huge personal cost. So if you've got somebody who's lacking confidence, they're doubting themselves. For example, in the context of presentation skills, you could send them on presentation and then speaker skills training, help them to improve their skills, have frameworks, practise, build their confidence, and they will improve. If they're running imposter syndrome, despite that, they will still lie awake at three in the morning the day of the presentation and possibly weeks before and afterwards going, What if today is the day my luck runs out and they realise I'm a fraud?

They're two different things. You can help somebody to work on their confidence, which is skills, capabilities, what they can and can't do, but it doesn't mean it will sort out imposter syndrome for them. The huge benefit, though, is if you do the deeper identity level work, if you know how to do that, the thing I teach in Ditching Imposter Syndrome in the book or in my Natural Resilience Method facilitator Imposter Syndrome First-Aid, of course, or my Master Coach program. When you do that deeper work to clear imposter syndrome, the confidence fixes itself. The third reason is confidence can feel like an impossible goal. The four P's of imposter syndrome are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing. If somebody is naturally tending towards running the perfectionism setting standards incredibly high, writing it off as fluke or luck or team effort, if they achieve them, and you tell them they've got to be confident, you're setting a standard that for most of them can feel unachievable. It can actually make imposter syndrome worse. They do whatever it takes to try and build their confidence, but they're still quietly dying inside and living in fear, meaning they feel like even more of a fraud and a failure because aiming to confidence this impossible holy grail didn't fix the problem.

So if we keep focusing on confidence being the tool to clear imposter syndrome, we end up in a situation where people are pushing on through the fear. So there's an episode I did number 29, the truth about Do It Scared. It's really worth a listen if this is the first time you're hearing me talk about why pushing on through the fear is such a bad idea. Listen to it after this number 29. There's a link to it in the show notes. One of the problems with pushing on through the fear that's caused by imposter syndrome is it means that people get stuck in the body's stress response, the fight flight freeze response you've probably heard of. This triggers anxiety. It causes something called hyper vigilance, where the person is stuck in high alert most of the time and everything they see feels like a threat. That then leads to burnout. The research study I ran in 2022, you can find a link in the show notes, explains how imposter syndrome and burnout are linked at a causal level. Increase one, the other goes up, decrease one, the other comes down. This is really, really important because it means that by clearing imposter syndrome, you can actually massively reduce somebody's risk of burnout.

That's important right now because I've been running an ongoing research study into this for a few years now, and we found that currently, 1 in 10 employees is thinking of quitting their job due to burnout or imposter syndrome every single day. Not week, not month, every single day. Continuing to ignore this or continuing to think that confidence this holy grail is somehow the solution to imposter syndrome, means it's not helping that one in 10. By the way, it's 22 % thinking about it every single week. If you look around your office right now, that's one in five. The other issue is the gender pay gap. There's a link to the white paper in the show notes for my research study into the link between imposter syndrome and how it's one of three hidden drivers of the gender pay gap. Go and read that and find out what the other two are. If we keep insisting that women just be more confident in order to get promoted, then what happens is they tend out of the fight flight freeze response to end up feeling they've got to pick the fight response, to become more alpha male, to become more assertive.

The challenge we have in our society, and that's a whole different podcast episode, is a woman behaving like a man is often perceived as being aggressive and judged and then overlooked for the promotion. These are the risks of us keeping going with this myth that confidence is the issue that will fix imposter syndrome. I talked earlier in this episode about how confidence is context dependent. There are many things that I feel confident doing and experiencing. I mentioned that fear of heights means that mountains and big, beautiful views are not something that hits my confidence button and gets a yes. If you look at the show notes for today's episode, you'll see a beautiful panorama taken from the top of a very, very big hill recently on holiday. I was very fortunate to get to Turkey with my family to one of my favourite spots in the world. And we went on a jeep ride. And this is one of those open backed, no roof, no sides, jeeps, bouncing over stone tracks. Yeah, a few tarmac roads, but not many. I bruised my coccyx, at the end of the day, that's how much we were bouncing around.

I was the only one in the back wearing the seat belt. That was part of my coping strategy. I did really well until the guy said, Right, now we're going to look at the view. He pointed to the top of what might as well have been Mount Everest for me. Deep breath, doing my stuff, all the stuff that I teach, meant that I got most of the way up in the back of his Jeep. Then we hit the bit where the guide said, The next 10 minutes are the bits that cars can't do. My heart started to pound. Literally every corner we went round, I just wanted to scream, 'Stop the Jeep. I'm getting out. I've got my kindle. I'll see you in an hour'. I did not want to go up that mountain. And it really was quite hairy. My 16 year old son, on the other hand, was almost leaning out of the Jeep, staring over these precipices that it felt like we were only about 6 inches away from at 30 miles an hour as we zig-zagged up the side of this mountain on a gravel track that was full of massive ruts from where the winter rains had washed away half the surface.

He was completely fearless. And it got me thinking in that moment, because I needed to distract myself about the two types of fear. I've talked about this before in a previous episode, but I talk about two types of fear. There is legitimate fear, which is, I'm in this Jeep, it's dangerous, my body is telling me it wants me to get off. I'm just going to lie on the ground face down on a patch of grass and wait, pretend there's no view around me and wait till everybody comes back. That is legitimate fear. But there's also a second type of fear I talk about, mind story fear. That is the what if thing, the catastrophising, the worrying. Every thought we think fires off a bio chemical reaction in the body that creates our experience of emotions that impacts the actions we take. And the problem is your body feels every thought you think and it cannot tell the difference between legitimate fear and mind story fear. It obeys those thoughts. It fires off those bio chemical reactions, even if it's just a what if in catastrophising as though that event were really happening. So what was happening in my head was, yeah, there was a decent dose of legitimate fear there.

Yeah, it was not the safest thing I've ever done in my life. But that jeep driver had done that tour at least a hundred times in that jeep in much worse weather conditions, most recently the day before. The reason he was zig-zagging like a lunatic is he actually knew the safest path to take up the mountain. I was probably safer in the Jeep than I was if I'd been walking. I knew at that point I wanted to get to the top of the mountain. I wasn't entirely sure I was going to wander around and lean over edges, but I wanted to feel that I'd achieved that. I didn't actually want to get out and sit there and cry at the side of the road for an hour, not knowing what it was that I was missing out on, feeling like I'd failed. I decided to reach instead of for confidence, which is what my son was feeling, for courage. I define courage as taking action despite the fear. Confidence is not feeling the fear in the first place. So courage is taking action despite the fear. Confidence is not feeling the fear in the first place.

My son was confident. He wasn't feeling the fear. I needed to find my inner courage. And that courage needed to come in tiny steps. I talk about micro courage. This is about finding tiny little bits of courage, having first dealt with the mind story fear and turned it down a few notches. So if you've got my book, Ditching Imposter Syndrome, there's an exercise in there that can really, really help with this. It's called turning mountains into molehills. You can find it on page 132. And if you've got the kindle version or the audiobook version, look for, Honey, I shrunk the mountains. So this is the exercise that I used in that moment to calm the mind story fear, so I didn't need anyone near as much courage. And this is the key. So the way you do this, in essence, is you need to reset the fear response. The press pause breath that I teach, that 60 seconds of belly breathing with your hand over your diaphragm. It's in Ditching Imposter Syndrome, it's in the Transformation Toolkit, all of my courses, that press pause helps you to reset the stress response. It gets you off the roller coaster.

And when you've reset the stress response and the fear hormones in the body, the mind story fears start to quieten. Your thoughts change. You can start to choose thoughts that actually empower you. That's what I teach in the neuroplasticity work that I share on using my ABC process to be able to actually rewire your thoughtsand turn your inner critic into a genuine cheerleader. So I was doing that to take the mind story fear out. So all that was left was the legitimate fear. And I used my process for microcourage. So you start with that press pause breath I just mentioned for about 60 seconds to reset the body's fear and stress based fight flight freeze response. Then you breathe in a really deep breath to the bottom of your lungs. You breathe out, you smile and you take the first step of whatever the action is that was making you feel scared. That first tiny step. There's some wonderful science behind why this works. When you've done the press pause, you've reset the stress levels, the cortisol, the adrenaline, everything that was firing off because you realised you're sitting in the Jeep going up the side of a mountain with a sabertooth tiger flashing its beautiful teeth at you.

You've reset that. That means you're in a position to choose a different response. This switches off the automatic things in the body that happen from mind, story, fear that mean that we might start to self sabotage. Because obviously you can apply this technique at times when you're not going up dangerous mountain sides and maybe you're about to speak up with an idea in a meeting. So you've done the 60 second press pause breath. You breathe in, you breathe out, you smile. So there is a number of reasons why smile works there. It's signaling to your brain, Okay, I'm going to feel good about this, or at least okay. You cannot feel scared while you've got a genuine smile on your face. So it helps to connect you with the bio chemical reactions in the body that are positive rather than negative. And then you take that first step. What is the tiniest first step action? My inner engineer looks at this from the point of view of friction. Friction is when things rub against each other. I used to specialize in my engineering days in Six Sigma, specializing in diesel engine manufacturer and design. There are two types of friction, static versus dynamic.

The majority of damage that's done to an engine's parts happen from a cold start. All of the oil that lubricates all of those joints and surfaces is in the sump, which is a big bucket below the engine. And getting things started from a standstill takes a lot of energy, a lot of effort. But once something is moving, it takes a lot less energy and effort to keep it moving. It's like that inertia, we're holding back. You do the pause breath, breathe in, breathe out, smile, and then that microcourage, I'm going to take the first tiny step. You're moving, you've started. You're really shrinking that mountain down to the size of a mole hill. And the more often we can show microcourage and do this, we're rewiring the neural pathways in the brain not to have that fear response. We are reprogramming the filters in the brain's reticular activating system to notice that actually, maybe this thing isn't so scary, and we're reprogramming the body not to have an automatic response to that particular trigger of fear and terror, and instead to start to shift towards curiosity. You build confidence through daily microcourage, rather than forcing yourself to try and achieve an impossible perfection level of whatever confidence means to you.

The real antid to imposter syndrome in its simplest form is microcourage, clearing out the mind story fears, releasing, doing that deeper identity work to clear the baggage, the stuff that meant those fears came up in the first place. And then confidence will happen naturally, easily with breakthroughs for nearly no effort. If you're a line manager, HR person, mental health first aid, a coach, therapist, I've got a master class I ran recently that I want to give to you, which is all about how you can support other people in imposter syndrome on a one to one basis. So if what you've heard today you're thinking, I want to be able to do this with my teams, please go and watch that. It's at clarejosa.com/masterclass. And I will make sure a link to that is also in the show notes. You can just look at the show notes, click on that link, register and go and watch it right away. And if your heart is calling you to dive in more deeply on this, if it's about helping others, make sure you check out the link for my Imposter Syndrome First-Aid, Natural Resilience Method Facilitator Training, places of just open for the next public access cohort.

I'd love to get to share that with you. It's a 12 week program that gives you the skills to work with people on this one to one at foundation level. It's actually a prerequisite for my Imposter Syndrome Master Coach training. If that's on your radar for next year, you need to be doing this course this year and it's actually included in the Master Coach course fee. If you want to get support for yourself and start creating breakthroughs even before you go to bed tonight, then you need the Imposter Syndrome Transformation Toolkit. Link in the show notes. It brings the book to life. It gives you the entire audiobook, the print book. It gives you an online journal that you can do the self mentoring exercises in. It gives you ninja tip videos and you've got the option of up to six months of tutorial calls with me once a month to get hot seat coaching and answers to your questions. You can find that at ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/toolkit. I hope you found that useful today. Three reasons why confidence is not the antidote to imposter syndrome and what you can do instead. Let me know how this episode has helped you.

Share on social media. Tag me, I'm @ClareJosa on the platforms I'm on and use the hashtag #microcourage to celebrate those tiny courage steps you take to build your confidence.

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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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