How to Avoid the Trap of Impostor Syndrome
One of the most insidious traps in negotiation is the impostor syndrome. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like you are good enough, or if you’ve sabotaged your outcomes because of imposter syndrome, you won’t want to miss this episode. I walk you through the root of behavior that generates our results and concrete steps you can take to shift your mindset, from a place of lack to one of abundance, confidence, and power.
Full Episode Transcript
Hello! Welcome to Episode 36 of Born to Thrive with Jamie Lee. I’m your host and coach, Jamie Lee.
It feels really auspicious to be recording and publishing the 36th episode of this podcast while I am still 36.
My birthday is on December 31st, so I have the whole year to be 36. I’m really looking forward to turning 37, actually.
But, in any case, I just want to say thank you so much for listening, for subscribing to this podcast. If you have any questions for me that you would like me to address, please, feel free to reach out. I read every email. I respond to every email. firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to just reiterate that I believe that we are all born to thrive.
I believe that abundance is our birthright.
I believe that it is our nature to be in peace, to be in cooperation with other people, and that’s why negotiation skills help us lead, influence, and thrive, because through negotiation we can collaborate, unlock more value, and contribute in a bigger way.
When I say thrive, you may think, “Oh, does it mean just act happy?”
This is something that one of my clients actually said to me the other day when I was explaining to her some of the concepts that I will explain to you today.
She was like, “Oh, I get it! You just act happy!”
I’m, like, “No! No no no! You’re not getting it! No. It’s not about acting happy, it’s about getting to the root of our behavior so that we can generate bigger, better results in our lives.”
And I want to explain to you where I’m coming from.
I define leadership as creating solutions in the best interest of everyone. I define negotiation as a conversation with the intention of reaching agreement where everyone has the right to say no. Our basic autonomy. Our fundamental free will, in other words.
And in the conversation where you’re negotiating, you want to understand so that you can align your interests with theirs and ultimately you want to influence other people’s behavior.
But before you can influence other people’s behavior, you have to first be able to influence your own behavior, right? I mean, you can’t do with other people what you can’t do for yourself. That’s why you can’t love other people before you can love yourself.
And today I want to talk to you about some self-sabotage behavior when it comes to negotiation due to Impostor Syndrome.
It’s something that I have experience with. I was coaching an analog astronaut earlier this week. Did you know there are people on Earth who recreate the experience of being in outer space for the benefit of furthering science and exploration in outer space? I didn’t know, and they’re called analog astronauts.
So, anyway, I was having a coaching session with this analog astronaut and she’s like, “Yeah, you know what? I think we’re talking about Impostor Syndrome here.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I think so, too!”
So, Impostor Syndrome. What is the behavior that is associated with Impostor Syndrome? I will speak from my own personal experience. I know that when I was in the grips of feeling like an impostor, like a hack, like a fraud, I would try to please everyone and anyone by never saying no, not setting boundaries, saying yes to all the distractions because I would rather be distracted than feel the discomfort of feeling like an impostor.
And I also have heard from my clients that they see this in their own behavior. Let me give you one example from an entrepreneur client: He says that he oversells himself. You know what I mean? You are kind of acting out of desperation, neediness, and you try to pitch somebody even though they’re not all that interested and in your overselling you kind of create this unintended consequence of looking like you really need the job, not that the client really needs you.
And this can have an adverse impact on the perceived value of whatever it is that you’re offering to your potential or current client, so my client was self-aware enough to realize that yeah, this behavior is not serving him.
I have another client who explained to me she sees this self-sabotage behavior when she feels like she’s not good enough - in other words, when she’s in the grips of feeling like an impostor. She blows herself up like a blowfish. And we both agree this is a great analogy where you blow yourself up to be something you are not. So, it’s kind of like trying to be a fake to be accepted and it’s painful, it’s awkward, it feels uncomfortable, and in the long run it doesn’t serve you because you’re kind of selling people on a false bill of goods.
So, now that we’ve identified some behavior that’s associated with Impostor Syndrome that can sabotage your outcomes, I want to talk to you about the root of this behavior. The root of all behavior really comes down to your mindset.
What are you thinking and believing?
Because what you think and believe will generate the emotion that generates action that generates the results that you get.
And for me, I know that the thought associated with Impostor Syndrome is: I am not good enough. I haven’t done enough. And I’ve worked on this mindset for years now, and I still do. It’s a life-long process.
You might have thoughts like: I’m a hack. I don’t deserve it. I’ll never have enough money because I’m not good enough. That’s another one that I can relate to.
Here’s a very insidious thought that can have a really adverse impact on your negotiation outcome: I need other people’s approval to prove my worth. I need money to prove my worth. In other words, I need external circumstances - the things that are outside of me - to make me feel that I am enough.
What happens, what do you feel, when you have these kinds of thoughts?
For me, the biggest emotion that’s associated with feeling like an impostor, like I’m not good enough or I need other people’s approval to feel that I’m good enough is resentment. Feeling this anger and frustration. Resentful.
Mostly at myself.
There’s a lot of self-loathing associated with that.
And this comes from comparing other people’s shiny outsides to my shabby inside.
Just a few years ago, I remember so vividly how I would go to my life partner’s work functions and I would see the happy, well put together professionals having beers, hanging out, laughing and they seemed very relaxed. And I would see their shiny outsides. They’re very young, they seem content and I would compare their shiny outsides to my shabby inside where I was hating on myself and I would just feel worse.
Does that sound like something that you do as well? I’ve been there! Done that!
And what happens in this cycle of self-loathing is that you project your resentment onto other people. Especially other people who are in a position of authority. For example, your boss, your parents, your teachers. Because when we’re thinking that we need other people’s approval, we need other people to give us money, praise, promotion, raise, whatever, to make us feel good, what we’re doing is we give them the power to make us feel something.
And they can’t do that.
Nobody has the power to make you feel something.
I know this is contrary to a very popular and pervasive myth that people make you feel something but they don’t. The only person who has the power to make you feel that you are enough, make you feel that you are worthy, make you feel that you are valuable, is yourself.
Because the only person who has the power to choose your thoughts is you.
No one has the power to choose your thoughts for you.
What we do is we often fall back on default patterns of thinking. Patterns of thinking that we were taught to have when we were young. Patterns of thinking that we inherited from our parents. Patterns of thinking that we see other people like our friends have and then we adopt them because we feel like, okay, if they feel and think that way then it’s okay for me to feel and think that way.
That’s default thinking and so many of us fall into that trap. And when we do this, we feel powerless because we feel like we need other people to make us feel something and help us feel it by giving us something that we feel would make us feel better.
I want to quote master coach instructor Rich Litvin who says, “You can never have enough of what you don’t need.”
We don’t need external validation. We don’t need money. We don’t need other people’s approval to make us feel that we are worthy. We can do that for ourselves.
And I want to talk to you a little bit more about how to do that but before we get there, I want to talk a bit more about the trap of Impostor Syndrome when we give other people power to make us feel something that we’re choosing not to feel because we’re not choosing the thoughts for ourselves.
There are three types of traps. Basically, you freeze, or you take flight - you run away, you avoid - or you put up a fight. And I’m talking in the context of conversation, negotiation with other people who have the ability to help you or to cooperate or to say yes or no.
When we are in the traps of feeling powerless and resentful at people because we feel that we are not good enough and we need them to give us something to make us feel good, we feel powerless and we feel trapped. And from that place of feeling trapped and powerless, the amygdala is triggered, basically our lizard brain, and we either freeze, fight or flight.
Is that something that you can relate to? Because that is something that I’ve definitely done. I’ve frozen in conversations with my bosses because I was just in this mental spiral of oh my God, I don’t know what to say, I’m not good enough, he doesn’t like me, he doesn’t think I’m good enough and oh, this isn’t gonna go well. So, I’m just in this mental spiral and I don’t know what to do so I get frozen.
I’ve avoided conversations because I didn’t feel I was good enough. I’ve done that a lot.
I’ve taken up fight, like go in there and make demands and try to manipulate people into giving me something that I feel would make me feel good. And that has never worked out. All of those attempts have backfired on me and I’ve talked about them a few times on this podcast.
So, how do we get ourselves out of this trap?
I want to offer you a simple process. But first, you gotta take a pause. If you’re feeling like an impostor, if you’re feeling like you’re not good enough, if you’re feeling like you’re a hack, take a pause - a strategic pause - to first, feel your feelings.
The traps that I mentioned where you freeze or your fight or you flight, the cause of this trap is that we’re trying to do away with feeling the discomfort and the pain, and the frustration, and the anxiety and do it away by either running away, or picking up a fight, or freezing.
And emotions like resentment, frustration, anger, they’re all just vibrations in the body. You will live if you allow yourself to feel the feelings. You will be okay when you acknowledge what you feel instead of reacting first by doing things like freezing, running away, or fighting.
And if you want to know more about this process of accessing your felt resources so that you can feel your feelings, ground yourself, please check out Episode 31, interview with expert and somatic coach Jay Fields, who talked about this in detail.
So, first you gotta pause. Second, you gotta feel the feelings. And number three, you want to write down your thoughts, your stressful thoughts. Write it on paper. And write them in short, simple sentences.
I have a journaling process that I’ll share with you.
When I’m feeling kind of anxious, resentful, frustrated, stuck, afraid, I do a thought download in my journal and it’s a very simple prompt. I just fill out the blank in this sentence: I’m afraid that __________. I’m afraid that I’m not good enough. I’m afraid that this will fail. I’m afraid that people will be disappointed.
Just write as many as you can think of. And once you get the hang of writing your thoughts down in this way, just allowing your brain to empty itself out, what happens is that you get to realize, oh, these are just thoughts! And they’re outside of me. These are just sentences in my head that are causing me to react in a way that doesn’t serve me in the long term.
You could also do other sentence prompts like:
I want _______________.
I need ________________.
I should _______________.
I want people to like me. I need people’s approval. I need to make more money. I should be doing more.
These are all sentences that are associated with Impostor Syndrome, at least for me. And once you have done your thought download, once you have written down your thoughts on paper, the fourth step here is to distinguish, differentiate between what is fact versus bad fiction.
What is fact? What is true? What is observable, measurable, repeatable, provable in the court of law versus what’s just a story?
It’s very likely that the thought I’m not good enough is just a story, an opinion that you have. An opinion that you’ve been repeating in your mind so much that it feels like it is true. But can you absolutely know that this is true? Can you prove in the court of law that this is true? If so, how? If not….hmmm. That’s interesting, isn’t it?
What are the facts of your circumstances?
And circumstances, I want to emphasize, are neutral. And when I do this work with my clients, something really surprising happens. Here’s how. So, I ask my clients to just list the facts of their situation and it’s something like this: I have an interview tomorrow or I have a client. The interviewee or the interviewing company or the client, they asked for something. They asked for x and the truth of the matter is I have experience in x, in digital marketing or software development or whatever. I have done this in the past and I can do more.
So, when you list just the facts, we realize that the stories we have about ourselves, about our ability, they’re just stories. They’re not necessarily true. And often they are bad fiction.
And once we have written down the facts of the situation, of your circumstance, here’s another question. How do you want to feel about the facts? Because you have the power to choose your story. You have the power to choose a perspective that serves you.
And often my clients tell me they want to feel accomplished. They want to feel confident. They want to feel proud. They want to feel okay.
And so now that we have identified how we want to feel, as opposed to how we feel through default thinking and Impostor Syndrome, now we can generate some new thinking, a new mindset, a new perspective.
And here are some new perspectives that I want to offer you:
I have something the other side wants. Because, let’s face it, otherwise they wouldn’t even bother initiating a conversation with you, right? And in fact, negotiation expert Chris Voss says that if you are in a conversation with somebody it means that you have leverage. If you are in a hostage situation and the hostage takers are still talking with you, it means that you have leverage. You have something they want.
That’s an extreme example, but for most cases, in work situations, you have something that people want. You have value to offer. You have experience, you have skills, you have strengths that people benefit from.
Another thought is: I have something to add. I can create more value. I can add more value.
Another thought is: I’m doing a good job. Who’s to say that you’re not doing a good enough job? If it’s just a story in your mind, you can also tell a new story that you are doing a good enough job. And in fact when I walk my clients through this process, this is the point when they tell me, “Oh, you know what? Actually, come to think of it, my supervisor just sent me this praise. Come to think of it, this hiring manager said ‘She is awesome,’ and they meant me when they said ‘she’.”
And here’s one more thought: I am enough. No matter what.
This is a thought that I’ve been practicing intentionally for the last year and I have to say, it has really generated some amazing results in my life. And one of my clients just this morning wrote me an email to tell me that in the process of working with me for about a year, she’s been changing jobs and the most recent offer that she got was 33% higher than the offer she had at the same time last year, and she said she really attributed that result to the thought work that she’s been doing that she is worthy, that she is enough and that she can believe in her own value.
So, what about you?
What are some thoughts you have in your mind that are creating Impostor Syndrome, that are creating sub-optimal results, that are creating resentment and feelings of powerlessness. If you are experiencing this, I invite you to do a thought download. I invite you to separate fact from bad fiction. And I invite you to think about, “How do I want to feel about the facts and what are the thoughts that will help me work through this so that I can have an abundance mindset? I can feel that I am enough and I can feel that I can create more value in the world.”
Because this is how you will thrive.
I believe in it.
The question is, will you?
I want to wrap this up with an invitation to another webinar that I will be doing in partnership with the United Women in Business. It’s going to be held on October 17th and if you come over to my site, jamieleecoach.com, you can register for free. There’s no obligation. I also have some free resources for people who are preparing for salary negotiation. So come check me out. Please subscribe and please leave me a review if you can.
Thank you, and I wish you an abundant week.