November 23, 2021

Episode 14: Imposter's syndrome

Ever been in that situation when everyone tells you you’re doing great but you’re certain that any minute now, you’re going to get found out? You're plagued with self-doubt, you second-guess everything you do? That’s imposter’s syndrome, baby. And I’ve got the cure.

What you will discover

  • Imposter’s syndrome in action
  • Why thinking of past successes doesn’t really work
  • Why was imposter’s great for survival rate
  • The only way to put imposter’s to bed for good
  • What to do in the meantime


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

Hi, welcome to the Excellent Rider podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo. We're going to talk about impostor syndrome today.

Imposter syndrome is my friend, imposter syndrome is the story of my life. And I would like to share today, what it looks like and what you can do to get rid of your imposter syndrome if you also have this friend in your life. So what does impostor syndrome look like? Let's talk about that for a moment.

Typically you have a new job, for example, and it seems that your new boss and your clients are so far pleased with you. But you get this crippling feeling all the time that they're going to find out any day now that you're bluffing; that everything you do is a lucky strike and not the result of your competence.

Intellectually, you know that it's ridiculous, but you can't help it. You know, you've always made a difference in all the jobs I've ever had. You've always been considered as a high potential, a strong performer, a great asset to the team. You know you always figure out how to do a great job and yet you cannot escape that feeling.

Every new task that you undertake, you think: “this is the one that's going to take me down” or “this is the one where I'm going to get found out”. And what's particularly crippling with imposter syndrome is that you're very alone in facing it, in the sense that it's very difficult to talk about it. You cannot really go to your new boss and ask if they also think that you are a fraud.

And you cannot really talk about it with your peers because if you do, they think that you're fishing for compliment, when actually you’re not, you're very unsure about what's going on. So you're just left with this feeling of total inadequacy. And sometimes it gets so bad that you cannot really focus on the task at hand. You see yourself fail before you even begin.

You tell yourself: “this is not good enough. I need to do better” like you second-guess every single thing that you produce. And it's not really perfectionism. It's just completely overwhelmed with the task. You see the task as so big, as so complicated, that you can never finish it. So then of course what happens you procrastinate.

And you can listen to the previous episode if you want to understand bit more about procrastination. So you do tons of other things but you don't do the main thing that you know you should focus your efforts on. You postpone it. And then when the deadline comes around you have to finish it really really quickly, which means that you don't do it as well as you would have done it if you had had more time.

So you're ashamed of what you hand in and if you have to make a presentation about it for example, you doubt yourself and you cannot explain your ideas in a convincing way, even though it's a topic that you actually understand quite well. And you know that your ideas are perfectly sound and good and everything, but you feel clumsy about it.

And if you have to wait for a result or a decision or a client's opinion on your work, this is psychologically very tasking. You spend the entire waiting time, and sometimes it can be weeks, rehashing the most horrible judgments about what you did, and how it was all wrong, and amateurish and inadequate and all the things.

So rationally, you know that you have no reason to feel this way. Everything, every sign that you get seems to show that what you're doing is okay. You’re probably even getting compliments about the quality of your work and about how quickly you're settling in and how good of a understanding you have of the new situation, etc.

Your peers think that you're getting a hand of the of the new job very quickly, that your work is always okay. They enjoy having you on board and they tell you so, they show you so. But that doesn't matter. I mean, you try to remind yourself of all the successful projects you've ever worked in, all the difficult things that you've pulled off, all the accolades that you've received through the years.

And it can help a little bit. But when you're back working on your task, you're crippled again by the imposter syndrome; it paralyzes you. And it starts to feel like your mind is your worst enemy. Everything in you is screaming at you to not do the task. You're plagued with self-doubt. You second-guess everything you do.

You're terrified of getting it wrong and your mind keeps on presenting you with very vivid images of the nasty consequences if you should fail. You're not able to show up as your usual confident and outspoken self. You take every little sign – the absence of a compliment for example, or somebody you know raising an eyebrow in a meeting, a look, anything – to mean that you're not up to par.

And you waste so much time thinking about the task and trying to reason and plead and convince yourself and double-checking everything you do, that you're not at all productive as you normally are. And all of this stress starts to spill over to your personal life, of course. You can't leave work. I mean, in your mind, you don't leave work at work.

You're at home, you're spending time with your family and friends, and you find yourself consumed with thoughts about your work and how incapable you are of doing a good job. And the worst part is perhaps that every time you think that you've overcome it and put it safely behind you, you slide back down into imposter syndrome with a new task. So what is imposter syndrome?

If you want to understand what it really is in order for you to get out of it, I need to tell you a little bit about how the brain works. So our brains have evolved over millions of years and they're extremely well adapted to the life that we had a hundred thousand years ago. And back then there was danger everywhere. Everything was quite dangerous.

And in particular, any new thing that you were going to do potentially included a lot of dangers. There was no way to Google about the world back then so of course, when you were doing a new task, there were potentially a lot of things that could kill you or that could create a serious distress or serious problem for you.

So, your brain has evolved in order to keep you in the safety of the familiar. And what we call the comfort zone. It's not necessarily comfortable. It can feel awful, but it's what's familiar. And when you're doing something familiar, your brain is relaxing, because for this thing to be familiar, it means that you've been doing it many times before.

And if you've done it many times and you're still alive, well; this is probably a safe thing to do and our brains love safety. Right? And every time you're going to get out of your comfort zone. So every time you're going to try something new, do something that you're not yet skilled at, something that you're not simply not used to doing;

your brain anticipates that it's going to end up in total disaster and imminent death. And the primitive part of the brain does not really do nuances so well. So it only has two settings. Either everything is familiar. Everything is fine. Everything is okay. Or it's not familiar, and then the primitive brain thinks that you're about to die. There's nothing in between basically.

So every time we step out of our comfort zone every time there is a risk, a doubt, a perceived threat or a perceived uncertainty, the primitive part of the brain goes to this second setting of “we're about to die”. And in order to save your life, because that's its job, it needs to get you back to the familiar, to the comfort zone, to what you're used to doing.

So, to get you back to the familiar, what your brain will do is the only thing it can: it will send you thoughts, that create feelings, which will make you act in ways that keep you at least away from the danger of the new thing and if possible back into the familiar. So you're very happy that you got this new job. You're very excited. It's exactly what you wanted.

But your primitive brain is terrified because you're doing a new thing. You're doing an unfamiliar thing and it thinks you're about to die. So it sends you a lot of thoughts about how you're going to fail. How you're going to screw up, how you’re a total fraud, how you're going to be a found out anytime soon.

And all of these thoughts they create all of these feelings that are preventing you from going all-in into the task and you go to bed in the evening thinking you’re a total failure and feeling like a fraud and feeling horrible; and your primitive brain goes to bed thinking: “Yes! I saved her life once again!” Right? So this is just that discrepancy, which is the cause of imposter syndrome.

Your brain only wants you back in familiar surroundings and it's letting you know the only way it can, which is with thoughts and emotions. So your brain is sending you thoughts that create a feeling of incompetence, of inadequacy, of overwhelm, fear, disconnection, and many more; and all of them have only one goal: to move you away from the new task and get you back to your previous situation.

To your old job, to your old life, to the familiar one. The brain does not care that you outgrew that previous job. That you were bored, that you felt constrained. It felt safe. And that's the only thing that it’s interested in feeling again. So the first thing to remember about impostor syndrome is that it's the absolutely normal in-built, evolutionary smart way to react to a new situation.

So it's not an exception, it's not unusual. It's not abnormal. It's the in-built normal way to react, anytime you're getting out of your comfort zone. Especially in a new situation in which you need to take responsibilities and to expose yourself. When you feel imposter syndrome, it just means that you have a human brain that is doing its job.

If it's any comfort, it means that if you had been born a hundred thousand years ago, you would have been one of those who survived the longest. That’s the only thing, it means. So when you understand that, you understand that the only way to get rid of imposter syndrome, it's to make the new situation familiar.

And the only way to make a new situation familiar, well, it's to do it so many times, to repeat the new thing so many times that the brain starts to notice that you are doing this new thing and you're not dying. And so it will start to catalog it as a safe activity and it will become part of your comfort zone. And once it's part of your comfort zone, you're not going to freak out about doing the task anymore.

And so, very practically, it means that you need to double down on the tasks that are the most frightening for you in your new job. That create the most second-guessing for you. So if you’re new manager and you're completely unsure of the decisions that you're taking for your team, you need to take more decisions, faster, with less context;

so that your brain gets used to you, taking decisions and you surviving after having taken those decisions. If you're in a new role where you are presenting to clients and getting super nervous about presenting to clients; you need to present even more often, to even more clients, with even more stakes. Some of the time with even less preparation.

So that your brain gets used to it and notices that well, you know, you're presenting sometimes with not a lot of time to prepare and you're not a hundred percent sure what you're sharing and you're still surviving and you're still okay. And to do that, it will take a little time. Depending on how new the tasks are, how supportive your environment is, how exposed to external judgment your situation is; how complicated the tasks are; how often you perform the new task...

It might take anything from a few weeks to a few months before the new tasks feel familiar. So I want to give you a tip so that you can survive emotionally in the meantime, right? Because you need to get through those few weeks or few months until your brain associates the task with the familiar.

First of all, you just need to understand that you're facing a few weeks of feeling these feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, and that's completely normal. And you're going to need to do exactly what you do when you are afraid. You need to transform your fear in courage. And just remember, it's not possible to be brave if you're not afraid.

And in the same way, you're not going to be able to be bold if you're not feeling inadequate. So you need to remind yourself of all the reasons why doing this new job, why expanding out of your comfort zone is exactly what you want to do. And you need to remind yourself that impostor syndrome is an absolutely normal step in that process.

It's not a problem to feel imposter syndrome. It's not the sign that something has gone wrong. It’s just an information that you are out of your comfort zone. Period. Nothing more. And in the episode notes, I'm giving you a list of thoughts that you can think that can help you get through those few weeks or few months. But just remember that nothing has gone wrong.

This is just the sign that your human brain is doing his job and you're getting out of your comfort zone. And it's just telling you that. So there's those feelings of inadequacy, those feelings of incompetence, feeling like a fraud, feeling like a failure. All of that. In those, in those context of your new task, is just a sign that you're doing something new. That's all it means.

So to conclude imposter syndrome is when you think that you're not up to the task and you get out of imposter syndrome by the time you start to think and to believe that you're going to do just fine or that you're doing just fine. Right? But there's a little caveat to this and I just want you to understand it.

It's that when everybody around you thinks that you're doing a good job and you're the only one who thinks that you're not doing a good job; eventually, you're going to start to believe that you're doing a good job and everything will be okay. But sometimes you will find self in environments where people around you mistakenly believe that you're not able to do the task. Right?

And that will add a layer, it will make it less easy for you to believe that you are in are fact able to do a good job. So, I'm thinking for example, if you're the only representative of a minority in a management team, for example, if you're the only person of color or if you're the only woman or any sort of diversity like this.

And other people around you have prejudice against the category that you represent, whether you want to represent it or not that's another question, but you end up representing in that room. Just factor this in when you're tackling your imposter syndrome thoughts. Just notice that whatever other people are thinking is their problem, but just acknowledge that it makes it that extra difficult for you to believe what you want to believe about yourself, right?

So be simply aware of the fact that you may be the token representative of diversity in this room and use that as a way to create that extra edge you need in order to get through those weeks in which you are proving to your brain that doing the new thing is actually okay, and that you're not going to die and that you're going to be just fine, right?

So do even more of the things that scares you do, do even more of the things that you feel terrified to do. When you feel determined and purposeful and you understand how imposter syndrome works and you understand that maybe the thoughts of people around you are not helping and actually adding a layer that is making it more difficult for you to believe the thoughts that you want to believe.

Just use that to fuel your determination. To get the point across. For example, that you're not a cliché, that you're an individual, with individual skills and that you're completely able to do the task. And that you're going to prove it to yourself and to them if needed, right? It's a little bit less difficult to be brave when you're very aware and you clearly understand what's going on for you.

And you clearly understand that you not only need to change your own thoughts, but you also need to not let the thoughts of other people influence your own thoughts, which is an additional layer. So, I just wanted to say that so that you don't think that I put everything on you, that it's completely and uniquely your own fault or anything like that, but it is your responsibility. You are the one who can change your thought.

So what you need to do is even more of the thing that scares you and even more of the thing that terrifies you because it's unfamiliar and you're not used to it. And so your brain thinks that you're going to fail and you're going to die.

And just be aware that when everybody else around you or many people around you have the kind of thoughts that come and fuel and seem to add evidence to the thoughts that you're already entertaining about yourself, just be very aware of that and just understand that you're just swimming against the current but that's okay.

That's probably why you want to be able to do it anyway. You can use that as a way to feel your determination and your courage and your purpose. So use this as a way to be even more determined to get through those first few weeks or months that can be difficult and prove to yourself that you are completely able to show yourself that these new tasks can completely be part of your comfort zone and that you're going to make it.

If you liked what you heard, go to my website That's Excellent Rider in one word dot com and get the episode notes. They are organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember and there are additional exercises and illustrations that you don't get in the audio. And if you really liked what you heard, go to your podcast platform and leave a review.

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So thanks a lot for listening today, and I hope to talk to you again very soon because you my friend, even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want; even when you are stuck in negative emotion and unpleasant thought loops; and even when you don't believe it, especially when you don't believe it, you absolutely rock.

And you'll soon be an excellent rider because there are no bad horses, only untrained riders.

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