But I Need Imposter Syndrome To Perform! (And Other Pretend-Benefits) [Episode 057]

Today we're looking at the myth around "But I need Imposter Syndrome to perform!"

This episode is for your if you've ever found yourself thinking (or saying!) this, because - spoiler alert - this myth is going to stop you from ditching Imposter Syndrome, as well as potentially trashing your productivity and performance. You deserve better than that, so I'm sharing solutions today!

And this is also essential listening, if you're a line manager, HR professional, business leader, mental health first data, or somebody who simply cares a lot about helping people with impostor syndrome, because this is one of the biggest barriers to clearing it out once and for all. It can turn teams toxic in just a few weeks, and it is a myth we really need to ditch.


What's waiting for you:

  • What really happens when we use Imposter Syndrome to perform?
  • How does that impact performance, productivity, people and profit?
  • The problem with dependency on stress for motivation
  • How can we motivate ourselves to excel, without using Imposter Syndrome as a self-destructive crutch?
  • Why the two types of stress are the key to unlocking this
  • And the simple attitude and culture shift we all need to make, to support people in shifting from surviving to thriving

Listen Here Now:

Resources From Today's Episode: 

  • The Imposter Syndrome Hacks™ App - make sure you do the Imposter Syndrome 101 course (it's even available for free members)
  • Imposter Syndrome Hacks™ App - Courage Club members have access to the March 2024 monthly hacks training on escaping the stress cycle (Join here now, if you're not a member yet)
  • Episode 24 - But Surely Imposter Syndrome Is Incurable?
  • Episode 11 - How To Spot The Imposter Syndrome Warning Signs - Before You Self-Sabotage
  • Episode 52: The 4 Ps Of Imposter Syndrome - And How They Predict Your Stress Response
  • Episode 48 - The 3 Pillars Of Imposter Syndrome & Burnout (And Why It's Not Your Fault You Can't Shake It)
  • Episode 44 - How Toxic Teammates Trigger Imposter Syndrome
  • Episode 37 - Imposter Syndrome: The Silent Threat to Team Performance
  • Episode 29 - The Truth About 'Do It Scared': The Antidote and Which Of The Two Types Of Fear Is Trashing Your Confidence

Join in the discussion:

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


Prefer To Read?

Click here to read the transcript

Hello and welcome to episode 57 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast with me, your host, Clare Josa. And today we are looking at the whole myth around, but I need impostor syndrome to perform. This episode is for you. If you've ever found yourself thinking that, or even saying it out loud or a variant of that, because spoiler alert, it is going to stop you from ditching impostor syndrome and trash your performance. And you deserve better than that.

So I'm sharing solutions today, and it's also essential listening if you are a line manager, HR professional, business leader, mental health first data, or somebody who simply cares a lot about helping people with impostor syndrome, because this is one of the biggest barriers to clearing it out once and for all. It can turn teams toxic in just a few weeks, and it is a myth we really need to ditch. So there are so many myths out there about impostor syndrome, everything from it being incurable to it being invented by the patriarchy to hold women back, even though men and women experience it at pretty much the same rates, according to our research study. But there is a really secret, insidious myth that is keeping so many people stuck with impostor syndrome, and this is the belief that you need it to perform. Unfortunately, I see this belief being perpetuated on social media every single day by the whole hustle culture is I wouldn't have achieved the meteoric success that I have if I hadn't had impostor syndrome.

But when you dig into it, the vast majority of these people have never actually experienced impostor syndrome. What they're doing is conflating it with the normal, natural, healthy self doubt that comes with growing and stretching our comfort zones. So before we dive in a very brief definition, what is impostor syndrome? It is the secret fear of being found out as not good enough or a fraud, despite external world evidence that you're doing really well. And no amount of pep talks and positive thinking and growth mindset is going to clear away that fear, because it's deep down inside, at the identity level of who we are.

And it's not just stored in the body at a mindset level in the brain. It's also a visceral thing in the body. There is a link between the two. And I have what I call my light bulb definition of impostor syndrome, which is the secret fear of others judging us the way we're judging ourselves. And what we do is we end up experiencing life through that philtre, that lens of the fear of others judging and criticising us, and it makes us hold back.

Or if we push on through, we're doing it from a place of fear and potentially creating trauma. It doesn't have to be that way. But the fact that most people don't understand the link between impostor syndrome and trauma in both directions. Trauma can cause impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome can create trauma is why so many people think that impostor syndrome is incurable, because they're using mindset level growth, mindset positive thinking strategies to try to clear out something that's actually stored in the body and is deeply connected with our sense of self.

So if you want to know more about that, episode 24 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast is the one to listen to. But surely impostor syndrome is incurable. Massive spoiler Alert. It's not. Okay, so what is going on with this whole I need impostor syndrome to perform?

I remember I was doing a keynote talk a couple of years ago for an international bank, and one of the leaders was very brave and they put into the chat because it was a virtual keynote, but oh my goodness, if I lose impostor syndrome, I'll turn into a couch potato. Yeah, I'll never get anything done. I need impostor syndrome to give me the drive, to give me the energy to help me to perform. So what is going on there? There's this illusion that somehow impostor syndrome drives performance enhancement.

There is a certain tiny element of this is that when we take actions that grow us beyond a comfort zone, we can do that with one of two main motivating factors. So Noam Chomsky did some fantastic work on motivational traits, which, if you've come across NLP neurolinguistic programming you might have heard of as metaprograms. And there's one of the metaprograms is about how we are motivated to do things. The whole carrot versus stick, and it's called towards and away from. Are you motivated by achieving your goals, by becoming something, by doing something, by the positive outcome or by the stick?

The fear, the avoidance of disaster, is I want to make sure I don't. Such and such. Now, if you're in that fear based space, stress can actually be a motivator to get you taking action, but it's still going to get you self sabotaging. You are still going to be holding back, you're going to be pushing on through that fear. And that is something I want to share with you in more detail.

There's another podcast episode on that. It's episode 29 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast number 29, the truth about do it scared, the antidote. And which of the two types of fear is trashing your confidence? So, yes, stress can give us drive, but it comes at an enormous cost. It impacts the whole fight flight freeze stress response when it floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline.

There are so many negative consequences that by far outweigh any potential motivation it might have given us to take action. Relying on stress and anxiety for motivation directly impacts the actions we take, how we experience them. And it can lead to physical issues, and it can even lead to mental health and long term anxiety problems. So line managers, business leaders, they must understand the risks associated with promoting a culture where stress and anxiety are seen as necessary drivers for success, because it can lead to burnout, decreased performance and productivity, and it can turn teams toxic. So this fear that people will lose drive if they clear impostor syndrome is because so many people, when they experience impostor syndrome, get stuck in that stress cycle, the fight flight freeze response.

And they are using that to keep going despite impostor syndrome. They are using it to try and overcome the fear. The approach I recommend instead is clear the fear and do it anyway. Just imagine a world where people didn't have to feel scared and use stress hormones to push on through and get things done. And I'm going to talk about that and how to do that later in this episode.

So what happens when somebody is running impostor syndrome? And our latest research study shows that about 60% of people have experienced it daily or regularly in the past year. To an extent that's affecting their well being and performance is you can get stuck in that stress cycle, something that's called hyper vigilance, where the stress hormones in the body and the vagus nerve, which is part of the stress cycle in the autonomic nervous system, gets stuck, wired on constantly, chronic low level stress, looking for threats. And I've got a recent podcast episode that can be really helpful for you on this. There's two of them, in fact.

One is if you want to be able to spot the impostor syndrome warning signs before you self sabotage, that's episode eleven. And another is episode 52, which is the four P's of impostor syndrome and how they predict your stress response. Very briefly, we found from our research studies, we've created the model called the four P's of impostor syndrome. They are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing, and they are directly linked with the fight flight freeze response. So if somebody is using stress to push on through and get things done despite impostor syndrome, they are going to end up with a stress response from that fight flight freeze.

And the fourth category that psychologists have brought in, which is fawning, so that people pleasing, and it's pretty easy to imagine how perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis and people pleasing are going to affect productivity and performance. But they can also turn teams toxic, because if somebody's subconscious go to in the fight flight freeze response is the fight, that's where they get nitpicky, critical, even confrontational or defensive in meetings. And that can turn teams toxic in just a few weeks. So these are some of the reasons why we really, really need to stop relying on impostor syndrome to give us the adrenaline and stress boost to push on through the fit. And there's another huge negative, unintended consequence of using impostor syndrome to perform.

It's something we call toxic resilience, that need to feel that you can just bounce back and keep on going as though everything is fine when you've just been through something that at some level could potentially feel traumatising. So using impostor syndrome to perform does not lead to sustained high performance. It leads to self sabotage, it leads to chronic stress, it leads to physical illness, absenteeism, burnout, leave of absence requests, difficulty retaining your best team members. Toxic teams. It's pretty negative.

If you want to know more about the toxic teams, I've got an episode number 44. It's how toxic teammates trigger impostor syndrome and what you can do about it. And also, it's worth listening to. Episode 37, the silent threat to team performance. So what about this brave soul who asked me in that keynote, what do I do if I clear impostor syndrome like you're suggesting I should?

I'm going to turn into a couch potato. What was happening for her? Well, there's something we need to understand. Some brilliant work by someone called Hans Selia. He looked at the two types of stress and he talked about distress.

And you. Stress, that's EU, from the greek meaning good. So distress is that fight flight freeze response, the adrenaline, the cortisol, the pushing on through the fear. But if you imagine a situation where you do need to step up and give that little bit more, you certainly don't want to go in there feeling totally laid back and totally chilled out. You want that bit of a buz.

Yeah. When we look at the nervous system, something I studied when I was becoming a yoga teacher. There are two main elements to the nervous system. There's the sympathetic nervous system, which is the whole stress based fight flight freeze response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation response. And actually, most of the time, unless we're really there chilling out, then what we actually want is a balance between the two so we can be relaxed but alert.

But what happens when you do need to give that little bit more? Well, instead of pushing on into the fear zone, you can actually trigger a little bit more of the sympathetic nervous system, that cortisol and adrenaline, that kind of buzz that gives you a little bit of a rush and an oomph through using what Hans Selia calls the youth stress. So you still get a little bit of cortisol and adrenaline, but what you're actually experiencing is anticipation and excitement rather than fear and anxiety. And this is really the solution. When we're looking at somebody who's struggling because they think they need impostor syndrome to perform, and that without it, they won't be taking the actions, they'll turn into a couch potato.

They won't push themselves to grow and stretch and learn, then explaining to them about the two nervous systems, the parasympathetic and the sympathetic, helping them understand about that cortisol and adrenaline stress response. And then Hansel's two types of stress, the distress and the, you, stress, can be incredibly liberating, because suddenly you disconnect that belief that they have to have this awful thing that's impacting their daily experience of life and keeping them at 03:00 a.m. In order to achieve success, and that they can flow their way there instead of fighting their way there. And this is really the key, is supporting people to do the little bit deeper work that allows us to move from fighting to flowing. But there's another element on this, and I talk about this in much more detail on episode 48 of the Ditching Impostor Syndrome podcast, my three pillars model.

So, the three pillars of impostor syndrome and Burnout and why it's not your fault if you can't shake it. So, one of the things that's happening here, when somebody thinks they need impostor syndrome to perform, there will be an element of that that comes from inside of them. In my three pillars model, I call that their habits, but it will also be supported by two pillars that are external to them, the culture and the environment. So, as line managers and leaders and HR professionals and individuals, we need to take responsibility for what have we created in our culture and environment that mean that people feel they have to rely on stress and pushing on through and toxic resilience in order to perform and succeed? And how might that be harming them and causing them to fast track their way to burnout?

Our latest research study shows that one in ten people is thinking of quitting a job due to burnout and impostor syndrome every single day and each week. That's one in four. That is huge. They're genuinely thinking of quitting, and quite a number of them will. So when we're talking about well being at work and promoting psychological safety, which is actually a legal requirement now in the UK, my inner engineer, I used to be a six sigma and mechanical engineer, really is passionate that we've got to stop tinkering with the symptoms and start addressing the root causes.

That means looking at why people are pushing on through the fear, using stress and fear from impostor syndrome to perform, why we're driving them to do that. What is it about the culture and the environment that means they've picked up that belief that is going to hold them back? Because, after all, who on earth is going to ditch impostor syndrome if they think letting go of it and being free from it is going to turn them into a lazy couch potato? If there's someone that's already pretty driven and ambitious, we need to look at what's been happening in the culture and the environment. That's maybe setting unrealistic expectations for team members, meaning they feel they've got to run on fear, adrenaline, cortisol and toxic resilience driven by impostor syndrome in order to be seen as successful to meet those expectations and goals.

You are never going to get your best work out of people when they are stressed, anxious and exhausted. Deep down, we all know that. Yeah, and then there's the other element of it. In addition to dealing with and addressing the cultural and the environmental factors, they can be things like meeting load or expected response time to pings and interruptions. There are so many different things.

I've got resources for you, which I've got in the show notes. Basically, if you want to know more about this, I suggest you cheque out the training in the impostor syndrome hacks app, which is even available to free members. Impostor syndrome 101. In that training, I talk about the link between impostor syndrome and burnout, and how some of these cultural and environmental factors can impact people, even if we don't realise that they might and how quickly we can do things about this. And in addition to those culture and environmental pillar factors, we also need to look at the habits.

What can we offer as individuals or organisations to support people in clearing out impostor syndrome so that they can show up as all of who they really are, feeling comfortable in their own skin, no longer feeling like they have to wear the masks and the armour and push on through the fear and use something as horrible as impostor syndrome in order to succeed. A really great first step is the impostor syndrome hacks app. And also you can train people on my certification coaching programmes as impostor syndrome first aiders and even up to master coach level. And another resource that I've got for you, if you're an impostor syndrome hacks Courage Club member, make sure you look at the March 2024 hack escaping the stress cycle. It can feel like you've got a magic wand to press pause on stress and negative self talk in under 60 seconds.

Because we need to break that stress addiction cycle ourselves while we're also working on the external factors. And there are techniques in that training that you can use even up to 20 times a day, that will help to clear the body's subconscious physiological addiction to impostor syndrome to that stress, the cortisol, the adrenaline to allow you to shift from fighting to flowing, to prevent self sabotage, and to allow you to really feel that you can thrive and fulfil your potential without having to push on through the fear. All of this is absolutely essential if we're looking at preventing the next epidemic, which we're already seeing coming, which is burnout. Yeah, I'm already hearing from client organisations how they're struggling with staff retention. They're finding that sickness rates have gone through the roof.

Sabbatical request, leave of absence, struggling to retain their best team members. And so much of this is easily preventable when you understand the three pillars, model that culture, environment, habits, and you proactively work on all three. I hope this episode has been useful for you and you've been able to ditch the myth that you need impostor syndrome to perform and you've got some concrete ideas for what you could do next. Instead, as I say, there's plenty waiting for you there in the Impostor syndrome hacks app. If you're just dipping your toe in the water, you can come and join us as a free member and get the impostor syndrome 101 training.

But if you're on a mission and you really mean this, make sure you join us as a trial member for the first 30 days at Impostor syndromehacks.com as a courage club member. And then you get the full archives on demand training, monthly new hacks, really focusing on clearing out the stress, because this simply isn't something you have to put up with. I'll be back next week with episode 58, when we're going to be looking at whether impostor syndrome stems from trauma, or whether it's a personality trait or simply human nature. I hope you have a great week.


Loved This? Want More?

Want to stay in the loop with the latest news and events? Get Clare's free occasional What's On newsletter: