Are You At Risk Of Burnout? What The 4 Ps Of Imposter Syndrome Predict [Episode 53]

What do the 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome tell us about predicting burnout? What's the scientific link between Imposter Syndrome and burnout? And why does the '3 Pillars' model hold the key to turning this around?

In this episode, you'll discover:

  • A reminder of the 4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome (there was a full tour of them last week - Episode 52)
  • The science and psychology that explains the link between these and burnout
  • The one thing that gets people 'stuck' in the stress response, on the constant look-out for threats, and why you can't 'mindset' your way out of it
  • How the 3 Pillars model hold the key to setting yourself free from this, either for yourself or for your teams

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Speaker 1 (00:00)
Welcome to episode 53 of the Ditching Imposter Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are talking about the scientific link between imposter syndrome and burnout. Are you at risk of burnout? What do the four P's of imposter syndrome predict? How can you identify this in loved ones or members of your team? And what is the biological link between imposter syndrome and burnout that nobody's talking to, but it should actually be forming the basis and foundation of any employer's wellbeing policy. I'm going to talk to you about the three pillars model from our research so you can spot this more easily. And I'm going to gift you a deep dive training course to find out more about this topic if this resonates with you. So last week in episode 52, we talked about the four P's of imposter syndrome. This is a model that came from my long term research studies I created back in 2018, which now forms the basis of a lot of our diagnostic tools and has also been cited in PhDs around the world. So in case you didn't catch that episode, and it's definitely worth a listen, probably before this one, but definitely afterwards.

Speaker 1 (01:10)
The four P's of imposter syndrome are coping strategies that people use, and what you're looking for is changes in these. They are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people-pleasing. And we talked last week about how these can be used to predict somebody's stress response. If somebody is using perfectionism, that ties in with the fight response. Procrastination ties in with the flight response. You are stuck in busyness and overwhelm and doing. You're constantly moving but not making progress to your goal. Unsurprisingly, project paralysis ties in with the freeze response. And people pleasing, the fourth P, ties in with fawning, which is a new category in the fight-flight freeze response system that is about people pleasing and wanting to be part of the tribe. As I say, there's much more in that in episode So it's really worth a listen if you haven't caught that yet. Now, what I want to talk to you today is the next piece of this puzzle. All of this starts to explain why our research has found there is a causal link between imposter syndrome and burnout. If you increase imposter syndrome for someone, their risk of burnout skyrockets. If someone is heading towards burnout, their imposter syndrome coping strategy stop working and their imposter syndrome will get worse.

Speaker 1 (02:28)
So why is this? What's going on? Well, it's all driven by something that is caused by the coping strategies of the four P's of imposter syndrome, this stress response. When you think about it, if somebody is in that fight, flight, freeze, fawn mechanism, their system is flooded with the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. They are on high alert. They are potentially looking to go and bop that sabre-tooth tiger on the nose or run away from it or freeze and hope it only has movement vision or go and stroke it on the nose with fawning and hope it won't bite. This is a really high stress and anxiety position to be in. And one of the things that happens with imposter syndrome is the body is designed to be in that fight, flight, freeze response for minutes, not months. Yeah? Hear that now, please. It's so, so, so important. This is the link. That chronic stress and anxiety fight, flight, freeze response is designed to kick in and then stand down. It is not meant to last for months. And there is something that's happening when somebody's running imposter syndrome, that means that fight, flight, freeze response gets stuck on.

Speaker 1 (03:41)
And it's something called hypervigilance. Hypervigilance is where someone is stuck on. They are stuck with their radar looking out for danger, for risks, for threats. All of this is controlled by the primal part of the brain that's responsible for keeping us alive. It's actually incredibly useful. The brain is naturally wired to spot threats, to look for threats. But what happens with imposter syndrome is the bit of the brain that filters information from the outside world gets out of kilter. This bit is called the reticular activating system, and we inadvertently train it to look for threats to do with imposter syndrome, like being criticised or found out as a fraud or not good enough. And we filter out all of the good stuff. This is why when I work with people, this is And one of the first things we work on fixing is reprogramming those filters in the brain, the power of neuroplasticity. I promise you it's pain-free and it's actually really fun to get those filters back in balance. So you've got somebody running imposter syndrome, three o'clock mornings, they're lying awake going, what if today's the day my luck runs out? If I speak up with that idea in a meeting, they're going to realise I don't know what I'm talking about.

Speaker 1 (04:54)
If I go for that opportunity to shine, they're going to laugh at me or realise I'm a fraud and I'm faking it. And I've pulled the wool over their eyes. This what-ifing and this catastrophizing train those filters in the brain's reticular activating system to spot more risks and threats, and only to let in information from the outside world that supports those is. But the other thing all of this does is it primes the brain and the body to be relying on stress hormones, on the cortisol, the adrenaline, and other biochemical reactions related to the stress cycle day to day, to be able to cope, to have the energy to keep going. The body gets addicted to that adrenaline. I remember being asked in a keynote talk I was giving for a corporation once, what happens if I ditch imposter syndrome? Will I suddenly turn into a couch potato? Because this person had identified they were relying on the stress, on the adrenaline, on the cortisol to get things done. Now, this is really harmful for the body. It means we're living in a near-perpetual chronic, so long-term, state of stress, anxiety, and worry. Burnout is extreme exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional, that is not resolved by rest When we're constantly in the fight, flight, freeze mechanism, for whatever reason, the body is doing things to mean that we can run, that we can fight, that we can freeze, that we can fawn.

Speaker 1 (06:29)
And it does all sorts of incredible things to do facilitate that. It shifts the blood flow in different parts of the body. It deprioritises things like digestion and cellular level healing and regeneration, because what matters is being able to get massive amounts of oxygen into the lungs and pumping blood through the muscles in the legs and the rest of the body. It doesn't care about long term healing in that moment and health because the fight, flight, freeze response is only meant to last for a few minutes. When it lasts for months, that creates deep harm in the body. But somebody running imposter syndrome is very likely to be hyper vigilant, constantly on the look out for threats. That radar in their brain's filters is fine-tuned to spot what might go wrong, to take a tiny piece of criticism and catastrophize it into something awful. They are constantly living in fight, flight, freeze. And this leads to burnout. Constantly living in the fight, flight, freeze, in the chronic stress, burns out the body, burns out the mind, burns out the emotions. It quickly leads to exhaustion. And so in this vicious circle, people end up then relying on the stress hormones to have enough energy to keep going through the exhaustion, which makes the exhaustion worse.

Speaker 1 (07:50)
And there's another element to this. When someone is stuck in the fight/flight free stress response, then the brain reprioritises the blood flow in the brain to the primal part that's responsible for survival-type thinking. So when you're really stressed, this is why it's easy to make mistakes. It's harder to concentrate. It's harder to have those fantastic ideas or even to remember what to say in a meeting when the spotlight shines on you. There's an episode I'm going to share with you actually below this one, which is number 33, Why does imposter syndrome make your mind go blank in meetings and what can you do about it? It explains the neuroscience and the biology behind why When we're stuck in fight, flight, freeze, it's harder to think straight. It's harder to come up with the answers that are suddenly there available for us the moment the fight, flight, freeze mechanism steps down. This again becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we're stuck in fight, flight, freeze, we actually make more of those mistakes and we actually aren't performing at the level that we normally could, and it hits our productivity. And because the fight, flight, freeze mechanism is overlaid on top of the four P's of imposter syndrome, that perfectionism procrastination project, paralysis, and people-pleasing, that makes our time management and productivity even worse.

Speaker 1 (09:05)
And suddenly you can imagine the size of rabbit hole that we've gone down. So we need to be able to set ourselves free from this hypervigilance to be able to stand down the fight/flight/freeze response. So we can move from fighting to being back in flow. And remember, all of this is controlled by the primal part of the brain, the amygdala and other bits there. And this is run by something called the autonomic nervous system. So that is the bit that makes your heart beat and your hair grow. It is outside of our conscious control. And it's a part of the brain that when we're in stress, when we're in that hypervigilance, that radar, that antenna constantly looking for threats stuck in the cortisol and the adrenaline, it gets to process information slightly faster than the prefrontal cortex that is at the front of your brain, around the forehead area, that does your brilliant thinking. And it's also responsible for the mindset work of, yes, Clare, but they didn't really mean it that way. Come on, let's breathe out and calm down. You're constantly playing catch up between the primal part of your brain that hypervigilance and the reticular activating system filters mean has been trained to look for these threats and the logical part of your brain is like, this is silly.

Speaker 1 (10:21)
It's all right. They didn't mean it. You're safe. So this whole thing is not something you can mindset your way out of. This is also why my natural resilience method work, and I will put a link to that below these show notes, starts with pressing pause. Step one of the five is press pause. Being able to press pause on the stress cycle. Being able to press pause on fight/flight freeze, being able to switch off the cortisol and the adrenaline, to feel relaxed but alert, and to help people to feel safe in their bodies again. Because you can not make change in your life while you're stuck in chronic stress, anxiety, and fight, flight, freeze. Then, step two of the five. Yeah, of course, we do some mindset work. Mindset's brilliant, but it's not enough. In step three, of the natural resilience method, we then clear the body's secret addiction to that adrenaline and cortisol. Because if you don't, it doesn't matter what you do with mindset, the body is going to go, Give me some drama. I'm exhausted. I need to push on through. I need that cortisol and adrenaline hit. Step four is then when we get to that deeper root cause work, reclaiming your personal power, resetting toxic boundaries.

Speaker 1 (11:41)
And step five is where we do the identity shift work to close the imposter syndrome gap? That gap between who you see yourself as being and who you think you need to be in order to achieve something. And we build over that gap what I call the Bridge of Coping Strategies, of which the four P's of imposter syndrome are one. When you clear the deeper stuff and you release those blocks, hidden fears, dare I say, even excuses. When we clear those and set ourselves free from them, we can allow ourselves to become that version of us, closing the imposter syndrome gap. And then you don't need the coping strategies anymore. You set yourself free from this stress, this anxiety, this hypervigilance. You get to become more of who you really are, having the impact your ideas and dreams deserve. So this is why the natural resilience method starts with press pause. Because if you're wearing your shoulders as earrings and you don't remember the last time you took a belly breath and you're stuck in your stress head, how can you possibly do the deeper work to allow yourself to feel safe, to speak up with your ideas, to be present, to be authentic, and to make that vital difference?

Speaker 1 (12:59)
But there are three pillars we found from our research that impact hypervigilance. So this is not all down on the individual. Yes, there are things that we can do in pillar number three, which is personal habits, that can really, really make a difference for burn out. But if you've tried things like bubble bath soaks and going for massages and mindfulness and, I don't know, humming away on your 29th chakra, nothing wrong with that. I'm a certified yoga and meditation teacher. But if you've tried all of that and within and minutes of being back in the office or wherever else is causing the stress, you find your batteries are empty again, you need to be doing deeper work. All of these things are sticking plusters. They can really help the symptoms, but you actually need to address the causes. With the natural resilience method, we're addressing the causes from a personal habits point of view. But habits is pillar three. Pillars one and two of burnout and imposter syndrome are number one, the culture, Number two, the environment. So the culture, this might be an organisational culture, a faith-based culture, family culture, national culture. It's about our beliefs and expectations and the ground rules for how things work.

Speaker 1 (14:15)
Then we have the environment, which is the practical, real-world embodiment of that culture. What does that mean from a day-to-day point of view? And then the third pillar is our habits. Now, you can take one person and move them into a different environment and culture, and you can suddenly switch on imposter syndrome. Or you can move them again and you can switch it off. Imposter syndrome becomes dormant because the culture and the environment are supporting the person rather than triggering the hypervigilance. So if we truly want to clear this, then we actually need to deal with all three pillars. Yes, we need to do that in our work ourselves. We need to put on our own oxygen masks. We need to be taking responsibility for how to change our thoughts, our habits, all of that stuff that I've just talked through briefly in the natural resilience method process. But we also need support from the outside because it's really hard to thrive in an environment that is causing you to feel hyper vigilant. It's really hard to perform to your best in a culture that switches on that radar inside to look for risks and threats.

Speaker 1 (15:22)
One of the things I'm really passionate about is I do not want to teach anyone what is often called mental toughness. It is not okay to run training for a team that allows them to be what I call toxically resilient. Toxic resilience is where we take the brown stuff and we take a deep breath and we bounce on back as though nothing had happened. This is really, really harmful. It triggers that hypervigilance. It gets you stuck in that chronic stress and anxiety from the fight, flight, freeze response using the 4Ps of imposter syndrome as coping strategies. In Instead, we need to work on all three pillars. Help the people as individuals whilst also shifting the culture and then the environment, that practical embodiment of the culture, to be genuinely supportive. And I talked in detail about the three pillars of imposter syndrome and burnout in episode 48. I'll put a link for that in the show notes. So go and have a listen to that one if this is resonating with you. But it's why I will not work with organisations who only want me to support people with the habits. We have to work on both ends of this at the same time to meet in the middle so that people show up as the best version of who they can possibly be at the same time as the organisation becoming the organisation they deserve to support and enable them to thrive.

Speaker 1 (16:48)
Now, in International Women's Day Week, which is when this episode is going out, one of the really big issues we've got is this whole fight, flight, freeze, hypervigilance system impacts women disproportionately compared to men. We found in our research studies that the male respondents were much more likely to push on down that fear and push on through and take action. That sounds laudable, but actually, we found that meant they were five times more likely than women to turn to drugs, alcohol, and medication to cope with that stress and anxiety. Whereas women, that hypervigilance, tended to push them more into paralysis. The freeze response, not speaking up with their ideas in meetings, not going for opportunities to shine, not taking the credit for the breakthroughs their work had created. The proverbial hiding your light under a bushel. That tended to be the more feminine response to imposter syndrome. But there's another reason why hypervigilance disproportionately impacts women and disadvantages them in the workplace. This is why International Women's Day Week, the theme from the United Nations, as I'm recording this in 2024, is invest in women. And this is what we need to We need to invest in everyone by dealing with the culture and environment issues that create a rampant breeding ground for imposter syndrome.

Speaker 1 (18:08)
But we also need to support the women in the way they need to be supported, which is different to men, to enable them to fulfil their potential. So the other thing that's happening with so many women, with too many women, is mental load. The spinning of plates, the juggling, the responsibility for things outside of the workplace. There have been so many research studies over the last few years showing that women are still carrying a disproportionate mental load in general in the family compared to men. So women's heads and bodies are already pretty full of this hypervigilance, this worrying, the what-if-ing, the catastrophizing, the fight-flight-freeze response. When you then add in the same from work, it takes a lot less now for women to hit that paralysis or whichever one of the fight, flight, freeze, fawn is their go-to in that context than it does for men. So this is impacting everything from the gender pay gap and lack of gender equality and leadership roles through to women's ability to perform. Clearing hypervigilance is the key to unleashing their potential. I was listening this morning as I'm recording this. I was listening to an interview talking about mental health issues with young people in their 20s.

Speaker 1 (19:32)
It's never been worse. So many of them are stuck in hypervigilance, constantly on the look out for threats. Imposter syndrome rates are going through the roof. They are up by a fifth since lock down since the pandemic. And anxiety levels are increasing. When you can create the shifts in the culture and the environment and the internal habits that help someone to set themselves free from hypervigilance, it brings imposter syndrome back down to safe levels. It reduces stress, anxiety. It can then prevent burnout. And then they can do that deeper work to set themselves free from imposter syndrome once and for all so that they no longer need to rely on things like the 4Ps of imposter syndrome as a coping strategy. I have to confess, I get really grumpy, particularly on social media, when I see people sharing coping strategies to handle imposter syndrome, to be able to succeed despite it. But so many of the coping strategies people are using for imposter syndrome trigger the fight, flight, freeze, fawn response, fire off the four P's, remember, perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people-pleasing, and leave people stuck in hypervigilance with all the harm that's causing to them, physically, mentally, emotionally, performance-wise, toxic teams, broken relationships at home, and lack of fulfilled potential.

Speaker 1 (21:00)
So that's my invitation to you today, is have a think about this hypervigilance and think, am I seeing that myself? This constant wired for threats. Maybe it's really easy to press my buttons, and maybe I find I'm actually overreacting. Am I seeing people in my team behaving that way? And what could we do with those three pillars, the culture, the environment, and the habits, to reset the way things work so that people can escape and set themselves free from hypervigilance And what can we do to support them with doing that deeper work to set themselves free from imposter syndrome once and for all? If that's something you'd like to talk about, have a look at ditchingimpostersyndrome. Com/naturalreliance. Resilience Method. That gives you information about how it works and how you can actually create scalable solutions in your organisation really quite quickly. So you can help hundreds for the cost of coaching a handful. And I've also got a free training, totally free of charge, and it's absolutely fantastic, called Imposter Syndrome 101. This is what you most need to know about imposter syndrome, hypervigilance and burnout. Whether you're a leader, a line manager, a coach, a consultant, HR professional, mental health first data, or simply fascinated by the topic and want to make a difference, that is waiting for you as my gift.

Speaker 1 (22:24)
There is no charge for this training inside my imposter syndrome hacks app, which you can find at imposter syndromehacks. Com. So if you do one thing as a result of this podcast episode, I strongly, strongly recommend you go and download the app, sign up for free, and go and take the Imposter Syndrome 101 course, and it will help you to really get that deeper grounding in the subject and start coming up with ideas of what you can do right away. And if you want to work together, get in touch. I'm here. I'd love to hear from you, but particularly with International Women's Day and invest in women. We need to invest in all three pillars, the culture, the environment, and the habits, to create a truly level playing field where everybody has the same opportunity to fulfil their potential, to thrive, and to make a bigger difference.

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