The 4 Ps Of Imposter Syndrome – And How They Predict Your Stress Response [Episode 052]

One of the most common questions I get asked about Imposter Syndrome is how you can spot the warning signs. They're masters of disguise.

So, back in 2018, I used our long-term research studies into Imposter Syndrome to create the 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome model. By looking for differences in these 4 Ps, it helps you to spot the early warning signs of Imposter Syndrome, both in yourself and in others.

Now taught at universities and cited in PhDs, the 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome is an incredibly useful pre-diagnostic for Imposter Syndrome, used by individuals, coaches and managers worldwide, every single day.


But there's more! Here's what's waiting for you today:

The 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome

  • What are the 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome?
  • How can you spot them, in yourself in others?
  • How can you use them to predict your stress response?
  • What's their little-known role in performance, productivity and team dynamics?
  • And what can you do if you realise you're running all 4?

Listen Here Now:

Resources From Today's Episode: 

  • Episode 44: All about toxic teammates and their role in Imposter Syndrome
  • Episode 33: Why does Imposter Syndrome make your mind go blank in meetings, and what can you do about it?
  • How To 'Magically' Make More Time - make the most of this monthly hacks training from June 2024 in the Imposter Syndrome Hacks™ App

Join in the discussion:

And here's where we're talking about today's episode on LinkedIn and Instagram.


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Speaker 1 (00:00)
Welcome to episode 52 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Claire Yosa. And today we are talking about the 4Ps of imposter syndrome and how they predict your stress response when imposter syndrome looms and raises its ugly head. This episode is for you. If you've ever wanted to be able to spot those warning signs, they're masters of disguise, either for yourself or others, and to have a research-backed, proven way of checking whether imposter syndrome might be coming out to play. I don't think I will ever forget the day the 4 P's of imposter syndrome model came to me. I was actually in the middle of a coaching session with a C-suite executive, and I had one of those real epiphany light bulb moments It was back in 2018. I'd been running a multi-year landmark research study into imposter syndrome. And you know that moment when your head's full of data and information and suddenly you get that clarity, that insight? I stopped dead in the middle of the coaching session, taught the pairs in this model immediately. Just by understanding it, they suddenly had breakthroughs. Then, after the next cup of tea, the whole overlay that I want to share with you next came to me about how it fits and predicts our stress response.

Speaker 1 (01:18)
And I knew that I was onto something very important. What's happened since is I published the model in my 2019 best-selling book, Ditching Imposter Syndrome. I've taught it to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, both in my workshops and my courses and also in my keynotes, my talks. And it's also been used in universities. It's been taught at hundreds of universities worldwide, up to master degree level and cited in hundreds of PhDs. So there's real substance behind this. And I think the simplicity of the 4Ps of imposter syndrome is one of the reasons why people love it, because they can really get it. When you know this model, you'll I'll sit there and go, Oh, yeah, that's me. Great. I need to do something. ' And it's also the fact it's research-based. I wasn't just sitting in the pub thinking, Oh, we really need a model, and scribbling on the back of a beer mat with some friends. Because data went into this, research went into this, science went into this. Of course, once I'd had that epiphany with that client, I just didn't sit there and take it for granted.

Speaker 1 (02:25)
We fed that into the research and we validated the model. And it's now of the core elements of our quiz-style research-backed assessment models that you can use either as an individual or an organisation to assess whether imposter syndrome is running, how severe it is, and get your personalised action plan. I'm going to put a link for you for that quiz assessment in the show notes for this episode. So this is where it came from. And these are some of the ways it's being used. It has changed lives, which is really exciting and really humbling. But what on Earth are the four P's of imposter syndrome. So they are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people-pleasing. Now, what you're looking for when you're looking at the four P's is for changes in behaviour. So if you're a line manager or a coach or a consultant or a HR professional, or if you're looking at this and listening to this episode for yourself, you're looking for shifts in behaviour. Because all of us have natural behavioural preferences. But what you're looking for is, has something changed in the way these 4 P's are showing up? So let's go through them one at a time.

Speaker 1 (03:41)
The first P, perfectionism. This is setting your standards so incredibly high and then writing it off as fluke or luck when you achieve them. People do this in order to feel safe. So the 4 P's of imposter syndrome are also coping strategies to help people to be able to succeed despite imposter syndrome. If you've hung out with me for a while, you'll know that the primary purpose of my work is actually to set you free from the coping strategies, because by the time you need a coping strategy, you're probably already self-sabotaging and going through that stress and anxiety that imposter syndrome causes. But these are stress responses. They are coping strategies to be able to get things done despite imposter syndrome secretly screaming inside your head. Now, with perfectionism, it's important to make a distinction. I talk about two types of perfectionism: personality perfectionism and imposter syndrome perfectionism. So personality perfectionism is the person who just likes things just so. And you might notice them because, for example, they might never leave the house without perfect hair, nails, shoes, that thing. They just like life to be arranged in a way that's neat and tidy.

Speaker 1 (04:56)
And that's absolutely fine. It can also move into things like OCD, where people need to feel things are perfect in order to feel in control of life. But general day to day, that perfectionism, people absolutely manage it fine. What you're looking for here is the imposter syndrome behavioural perfectionism. So shifts. The way you might see this showing up in someone is, for example, they might suddenly start working much longer hours because they are overthinking things. And a two-hour report is taking two days because they're worrying and second-guessing and trying to get it just right. You might see them grossly overreacting if they make a tiny mistake. Because for them, this is quite an existential threat. Because imposter syndrome is part of our sense of identity of who we see ourselves as being rather than just at a mindset level, it means that if imposter syndrome strikes and we do then get found out as a fraud or not good enough, it hits much harder than it would with somebody not running imposter syndrome. And we're going to talk about that more when I cover hypervigilance in the next episode, episode number 53. So make sure you are subscribed to the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast wherever you love to get your podcast so that you catch that episode.

Speaker 1 (06:16)
It's episode number 53 on hypervigilance. So another way that imposter syndrome perfectionism can show up is somebody can become more critical of other people because they need other people's work to be perfect as well in order for them to feel safe. This is particularly common when someone gets promoted into a role where they're managing or leading where they previously weren't. And maybe their old coping strategies used to work for imposter syndrome, but now they're not enough because the imposter syndrome gap has widened. The imposter syndrome gap, as a quick reminder, is the gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be to do or achieve something. And in order to succeed despite imposter syndrome, we build what I call the Bridge of Coping Strategies to go over the imposter syndrome gap. So this perfectionism trait is one of the reasons why you might find a rising star who then gets promoted, turns into a micromanaging bully boss because their inner perfectionism, driven by the imposter syndrome, gets passed on to their team members. Now moving on to the second P. That is procrastination. Now, there is more to procrastination than cute cat videos on social media, though that is definitely part of it.

Speaker 1 (07:32)
Again, what you're looking for as an imposter syndrome warning sign is a change in levels of procrastination. Or remember, we've talked about before that imposter syndrome is context dependent. So somebody can run it or experience it in some situations, but not others. So you might be looking at a certain situation or project where you or that person is suddenly procrastinating. And procrastinating is where we fill our time with busyness that might look to the outside world like we're working on whatever that thing is that's triggering imposter syndrome. But deep down inside, we know it's an avoidance strategy. So we can become overwhelmed. It can trigger anxiety, chronic stress, burnout, exhaustion. Procrastination is doing things that do not move you towards the goal, because deep down inside, there's something I call the flinch factor, which is where your body thinks about doing that thing and goes, I don't think so. So procrastination is a massive time muncher. And you might spot this in team members because they might be working on a project and you can't understand why they're not making progress, but they're working obviously very hard and they are not seeming to make progress.

Speaker 1 (08:49)
The third P is project paralysis. This is the classic rabbit in headlights. One really common way this one shows up as an avoidance strategy strategy for imposter syndrome is leaving something to the absolute last minute and then using the stress and adrenaline of the deadline to push on through, potentially even pulling an all nighter to get it done. This has huge implications for teams because it means somebody who's in project paralysis is not going to be giving other team members the information they need in a timely manner. Everything becomes about firefighting. So this is an incredibly common strategy that people use to cope with imposter syndrome, How do you handle imposter syndrome. This is why I get real knickers in a twist when I see people putting out great big articles all over social media going, How to handle imposter syndrome. The 4Ps of imposter syndrome are a model that describe how we really, really frequently handle imposter syndrome. But I hope you're getting a sense already of how harmful they can be. It is so much better to do the slightly deeper work, to go beyond mindset, to clear imposter syndrome's triggers so you no longer no longer need to handle it.

Speaker 1 (10:00)
You no longer need the coping strategies. You've closed the imposter syndrome gap, and you can just get on with doing what you want to be doing without fear, anxiety, and drama. So project paralysis, that rabbit in the Headlight, shows up in another way, and I'm hearing this a lot with the senior leaders that I work with, they are absolutely at their wits end. Their team seem to have lost the ability to make decisions. So overthinking is a classic symptom of imposter syndrome, being able to talk yourself in and out of 15 different recommendations in the space of half an hour. But this decision paralysis is part of the project paralysis. If you don't make a decision, if you don't make a recommendation, then you don't have to make progress and you feel safe. So remember, what we're looking for here is changes. Somebody who previously maybe was pretty confident in making decisions and recommendations or speaking up with their ideas. Is another part of that project, Paralysis, the holding back avoidance strategy, so we don't have to take any action at all. So if you're seeing this in your teams or you're seeing this in yourself, it means it's time to do something about imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (11:15)
And the fourth P is people pleasing. Okay, this is saying yes when it really should be a no, taking on things that aren't your responsibility, perhaps going into a meeting with one set of priorities and coming out with a completely different work plan instead of priorities, letting your team know that everything's changed, causing absolute chaos because of people pleasing. If you're running your own business, this classically shows up as discounting your prices without being asked or not charging what your results are worth, having poor boundaries with clients if there's scope creep, overgiving, doing far too much for free. All of these are examples of people pleasing, which is a classic warning sign for imposter syndrome. And remember what we're is what we're looking for here is changes in these behaviours. The people pleasing has really deep roots for us, both at a psychological level and also at a survival level. It's a primal thing. It's cavemen, we needed to be part of the tribe, otherwise we'd be stuck on our own facing the sabre-tooth tiger. This is about our sense of belonging, doing things in order to feel accepted and part of the tribe. Those are the four P's of imposter syndrome in summary.

Speaker 1 (12:29)
They are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people-pleasing. There's an enormous amount of work out there on the Internet, in other people's courses, in books, talking about coping with imposter syndrome. But I don't want to teach you sticking plasters. I want to be able to teach you how to prevent this, because I'm curious right now, how many of those 4 P's do you recognise in yourself? One, two, three, four? Are they linked to imposter syndrome syndrome. Ask your body, not your thinking head. Your body will go, oh, yeah, I think they are. The thing is, don't stress about this. Even if you recognise that you're running all four of the four P's of imposter syndrome, if we do that deeper work, you can clear them out. You simply don't need them anymore. So I did that work back in 2001 by accident, and I spent the next 10 years decoding and reverse engineering how I had managed to set myself free from imposter syndrome, which had caused me to quit an engineering career that I loved. That was a really big deal for me. It's what I now teach, is prevention rather than coping. You deserve more than coping.

Speaker 1 (13:47)
And what you'll find when you do that deeper work on really clearing out imposter syndrome is the four P's disappear. I mean, sure, yes, I sometimes still procrastinate, but usually it's because I'm too tired and I need to move away from the It's not imposter syndrome anymore. I'm doing it because I need to shift my energy or top up my inner batteries rather than because I'm scared. And no longer having to live with that constant fear, worry, and anxiety is life-changing and so much easier than you might think. And I want to come on to the second part of this episode now, which is how the four P's of imposter syndrome predict your stress response and can even predict which members of your team might turn toxic. So So this was the insight I got that momentous day with that client after a cup of tea. And there's something amazing about the human brain, is we can be processing lots of different information, but we can't force our way to a conclusion. You know that thing where you get your best ideas in the shower or at 3:00 in the morning or sometime where you're doing something completely different, out for a walk, for example.

Speaker 1 (14:52)
Or for me, on holiday, my poor family, the number of times I design a training course sitting in a bar on holiday because it's where that inspiration comes. It was like that, my brain suddenly put all the pieces together. So let's look at the classic human stress response and how it fits with the four P's of imposter syndrome. You've got, remember, perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people What are you saying? The first P, perfectionism, fits with the fight response from the fight, flight, freeze response model. Fighting, I'm going to slay that project. I'm going to beat that target and objective. We are going to war with that particular project, target, stretch opportunity, visibility opportunity, whatever it is that we're working on. Now, the problem with this is it means if somebody is challenged in some way, say in a meeting, they're asked a question that maybe gets them a little bit defensive because of imposter syndrome. Oh, my goodness, if I'm not perfect, they'll find out I'm not good enough, I'm a fraud, and I'll die on my own in a ditch. It really is quite existential for most people. They're more likely to come back with the fight response than be collaborative.

Speaker 1 (16:02)
So you really want to watch for this as a warning sign. If you've got somebody who's normally a really great team player, and suddenly they're putting people's backs up, might well be imposter syndrome running. It might be they're running the perfectionism as a coping strategy, and then they come back and fight and get more aggressive than they usually would. This is one of the ways it can really turn teams toxic. This micromanaging bully boss we talked about before, that goes in with that perfectionism, It can really hurt teams fast. I've seen rising stars get promoted, and within six weeks, people in their teams are starting to talk about quitting. I've also seen it the other way around. We certify and train coaches, practitioners in the natural resilience method up to master coach, imposter syndrome master coach level, both for individuals and organisations. And I've seen in-house certified coaches in our methods actually help turn a toxic team back to being healthy and performing and preventing rising stars in that team from quitting because they helped the team leader or manager with their imposter syndrome to clear it out at that root cause level, shifting the entire behaviour and emotional and productivity performance dynamics of that team.

Speaker 1 (17:17)
So perfectionism fits with the fight response. Procrastination is flight. We're running. We're so busy, filling our times with busyness, feeling overwhelmed. The exhaustion of constantly running, being on the go, taking action, but not actually making progress towards our goal. Now, what you might find with this, if you've got somebody, say, in a management role who's using procrastination as a coping strategy, is they'll make lots of promises, but they won't get stuff done. And this can be really frustrating for others who are relying on that person's input to be able to do their jobs, too. So perfectionism is the fight, procrastination is the flight. Project paralysis, it won't surprise you, is the freeze. That rabbit in headlights, that completely frozen, shut down avoidance strategies. I remember once, many years ago, back in my corporate days, a member of my team was working on a database that was really, really important for what we needed to achieve as a team. And for months, every team meeting, this person came in, trotted out their updates. Everything's fine. We hit the night before the deadline when the database had to be published they hadn't even started it because they were so crippled by imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (18:34)
And back then, I had no idea about this thing. I mean, I'd experienced it myself, but I had no idea how to spot it, let alone how to help somebody with it. And so as a team, we ended up working together, having to pretty much pull an all nighter to get three months of project done before the deadline. All because this person had been in project paralysis. And I don't think, looking back, they'd ever actually lied. They just said what we as a team needed to hear to reassure us that everything was fine. This is the thing with imposter syndrome. People feel deep shame because it's an identity level issue. So they will do whatever they can to hide the fact they're experiencing it. And it's why part of my mission is to remove the imposter syndrome taboo. So it's as acceptable to ask for support with imposter syndrome as with Microsoft Office. So we've got perfectionism is fight, procrastination is flight, project paralysis is freeze, even. What on Earth is people pleasing? It's a new category that psychologists have developed in the fight/flight/freeze model called fawning. So you can imagine people pleasing, fawning, is changing your behaviour to be accepted, to fit in, to please the person or the thing that might be triggering the fear.

Speaker 1 (19:53)
So it's the equivalent of going up to the sabre-tooth tiger, stroking it on the nose, and hoping it then won't bite you. This is incredibly common. In our research studies, we found that over 70% of respondents struggle with people-pleasing with fawning. So these are how the 4Ps of imposter syndrome can predict your stress response. So if you're aiming at the perfectionism to cope with imposter syndrome, you're likely to respond in fight mode. You're going to be coursing with adrenaline. If you're in procrastination as a coping strategy, you're going to be in flight mode, being incredibly busy but not really making progress. If you're in people-pleasing, you're going to be in potential freeze mode. Everything from project paralysis to decision paralysis to holding back on speaking up with your ideas in meetings. And I'm actually going to put a link in the show notes below this episode or wherever you're getting your podcast, look at the show notes. I've got a separate episode. If this is you and you're holding back on speaking up with your ideas in meetings, I've got an episode I did a little a while ago on why imposter syndrome makes your mind go blank in meetings, why it's not your fault and what you can do about it.

Speaker 1 (21:07)
So make sure you click on that episode in the show notes. It's episode 33 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast. And I'm also going to put another podcast link below this episode in the show notes, which is episode number 44 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast, which goes into more detail about the toxic teammates issue and actually how that can trigger imposter syndrome in case you want that the other way around. And then that final P, fawning. If you're running that... The P is people-pleasing, the stress response is fawning. If you're running that, you're going to struggle with boundaries, you're going to potentially be overgiving, and it can be really exhausting as well as demoralising. But it's all being done in order to feel safe and like you belong and are protected and looked after and part of your tribe. And if you've got somebody in the team behaving this way, there's a strong chance they can create chaos by constantly changing priorities and agreeing for their team members to be doing things that they shouldn't really be doing in order to please people from outside of the team or even inside of the team.

Speaker 1 (22:12)
So my big passion is moving you beyond sticking clusters into prevention, deeply clearing this stuff out. This is such an important topic with the 4Ps of imposter syndrome that we're actually going to spend one of our monthly hacks in the imposter syndrome app working on this. And it is the one that's going to come live in June 2024, How to Magically Make More Time. It's about turning classic time management on its head and looking at things like the Four P's of imposter syndrome and how they become our secret time theme leaves. And people who've done this particular monthly hacks training tell me it's given them back up to an hour a day. Remember, even if you're experiencing all Four P's, do not despair. We're there to help. Very much the first step is come and join us on the imposter syndrome hacks app. You can find out more and you could get started today with your bespoke, personalised action plan and start creating breakthroughs even before bedtime tonight. You can find out more at imposter syndromehacks. Com. And next week I'm going to be talking about the next level on the 4Ps of imposter syndrome model and these stress responses.

Speaker 1 (23:25)
We're going to be looking at the link between the 4Ps of imposter syndrome and burnout and how you can actually use them to predict whether somebody is heading fast track for burnout and to turn it around. We're going to be looking at something that's little known, that frankly should be taught in school and ways to clear it should be taughtigilance, being stuck on high alert, looking out for threats, and why this is the causal link between imposter syndrome and burnout. I hope you have a fantastic week. I will see you on the next episode.


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