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Why it's bad for your health to talk about Imposter Syndrome


Barely a day goes by without us reading or hearing about Imposter Syndrome. You may have referenced this when talking about yourself or a colleague at work because it's common parlance. I'm going to recommend we make an important and potentially far healthier shift to how we think and talk about the voice of self-doubt that so many of us recognise.


Let's put the idea of a syndrome to one side. The word 'syndrome' implies a disease or disorder; a set of medical symptoms that may join up to indicate illness. Whilst recognising there will be cases where thought patterns are significantly affecting mental health and seeing a medical professional is absolutely the right thing to do, it's not the case for the majority of people. You are not ill if you sometimes feel a sense of self-doubt, particularly when you're under pressure, but you can find new ways to ensure you get into some more effective thinking patterns much more quickly that will be so much more helpful to you.


Let's talk about the inner critic.


Do you recognise the voice that tells you "it's not going to work; you'll get found out; you're going to fail'? Or perhaps "others are better than you; you should keep your head down" or "you must work harder; don't take a break"....etc. It's important to get curious about the thinking patterns which underpin the voice of the inner critic if we are to free ourselves of the limiting beliefs that hold us back.


In fact, it's also important to also recognise the inner critic is there for a really good reason and it plays an important role in your life. Its primary goal is to keep you safe from danger. It's been shaped from our earliest days by our experiences; it is our threat detection response.


That's not an inherently bad thing but what's difficult is that it is sometimes on over-drive, identifying threats where there may not be one and the inner critic is therefore louder than it should be. It stops being helpful because it's reacting to something that may go a long way back or it's being triggered by an experience that is no longer relevant. It's an easy-to-access, well-trodden route of thought that's familiar and quick to follow. As Daniel Kahneman puts it in Thinking, Fast and Slow, it's system 1 thinking. And we're talking about the habits of a lifetime.


The inner critic can hold us back because it's dominating our thoughts and not allowing our longer-term, more rational decision-making part of the brain to put forward alternative points of view. We find we have a kind of tunnel vision and an echo chamber based on the most fearful part of ourselves. We lack quick access to the more balanced perspectives that we also possess and need to listen to in order to move forward effectively.


For some, the inner critic is very well-developed and has a harsh and destructive voice. It's a saboteur. It's different for each person depending on the experiences of our younger days, the role models and influences and the things we learnt to say and do that got us warm strokes or admonishment. Our inner critic can represent the view or voice of some other significant figures for us. And this is where it gets important to separate out what's the helpful grain of truth about risk and what's no longer relevant to us as adults. Sometimes, we need to separate out the inner critic's voice from our voice - depersonalise it so that we can recognise it as the voice of some other person who for whatever reason only tells us the negatives.


In coaching, taming the inner critic is possible through recognising the role it's playing, realising where it comes from, what happens to our bodies and behaviours when it's active and creating new neural pathways to access different thinking more quickly. I think it's less about trying to eradicate the voice of the inner critic but, rather, acknowledge its presence, thank it for the warning but quickly put our energy into calming the system down and having good strategies to access the more effective thinking that's being drowned out by the critic. Over time, the power of the inner critic lessens. It's bit like building a muscle in the gym. With practice, we can strengthen more helpful thinking to counteract the critic.


So what does your inner critic have to say to you?


Who does it remind you of?


Where has it come from?


What is the grain of helpful truth it is offering you and what is a hangover from previous times?


When we get to grips with what triggers our critic and what the effect is on our thoughts, behaviours and our physiology, we can learn how to disrupt it and get to our very best thinking.

 

Georgie Rudd is an accredited Executive & Leadership Coach. She runs Rudd Coaching Ltd, splitting her time between 1:1 coaching, group coaching and facilitation of leadership development programmes. Georgie specialises in coaching for consultants. She works with clients through the key moments of truth in a career, including promotion, return from parental leave and stepping back from the brink of burn-out. She is also co-founder of Think Perspective (www.thinkperspective.com), running The Listening Lab to help people at work unlock the power of listening and have higher quality conversations everyday.

Contact georgie@ruddcoaching.co.uk for more information.

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