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Conquer your imposter syndrome for good

Discover Clare Josa's tips and strategies for not only recognising imposter syndrome but also learning how to banish it once and for all.

Clare Josa

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As an entrepreneur, you’re probably constantly doubting your abilities and achievements. Or maybe you’re afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

Well, we’re here to tell you how to conquer your imposter syndrome once and for all.

Joining us on the Sound Advice podcast is Clare Josa, a renowned expert in tackling imposter syndrome. She’s spoken at the likes of Downing Street and the European Parliament, and she’s here to share her proven techniques to help you break free from self-doubt and step into your true potential.

With 10 books under her belt, Clare also runs Soultuitive, a leadership development programme dedicated to overcoming all the barriers that are preventing you from becoming the leader you were born to be.

Discover all of Clare’s top tips for recognising and challenging self-sabotaging thoughts, cultivating self-confidence, and banishing your imposter syndrome for good.

Here is all her unfiltered advice below:

Why is imposter syndrome such a current issue?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I feel like we’ve set you quite a hefty task because this is like a chronic issue.

People are talking about imposter syndrome everywhere.

The New Yorker just published a huge essay on it. Why is this such a modern and pervasive issue and topic?

Clare Josa:

It’s been there forever. There’s always been this kind of, “What if they find me out? What if they realise I’m not good enough?”

And I suspect even cavemen and women felt the same way. It’s that need to belong in the tribe, that need to fit in, that need to be accepted.

But what’s changed in the last 20 or so years is our ability to compare ourselves with others and judge ourselves as lacking.

When I think about how, back in my olden days, when I was at school, we were only just getting the internet and email and stuff, so comparing yourself only happened inside your real-world connections, or in a magazine, or a newspaper.

Whereas now, if I look at my teens, my sons, they are bombarded with thousands of social media posts and images every single day, allowing themselves to compare themselves to others, to judge themselves.

And when we look at how fast life moves as well, one of the things we’ve found is the level of how stressed people are also really impacts imposter syndrome and the stresses we experience have changed.

It’s gone from the survival stresses to the information rush, the expectations we place on ourselves for learning curves, for being able to be the best, the hustle culture, all of this has fed in to making imposter syndrome there in people’s faces.

And the brilliant thing is that people are now talking about it. People used to suffer in silence before.

I quit the engineering career I loved back in 2001 because I felt this thing that didn’t have a name, and there was nobody there to help me.

That kind of thing wouldn’t need to happen now.

What is imposter syndrome?

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, absolutely. And I’m going to ask you about that.

But first I think it might be useful if we define what we mean by imposter syndrome, just in case anyone listening is like, “Oh, I kind of know. I’ve heard of that, but I’m not sure what it means.”

So how do we actually pick that apart?

Clare Josa:

I define it in two ways.

The official way is the secret fear of being found out as not good enough, despite outside world evidence that you are.

Or if we’re just going to whisper in each other’s ears here, it’s the secret fear of others judging us the way we are judging ourselves.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Wow, that just sent a shiver down my spine, that kind of, if others judged us the way we judged ourselves, that would be very harsh I think for most of us.

How can imposter syndrome start?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you’ve given a clue there that you’ve actually suffered from that. You’ve experienced that feeling before.

So I’d love to hear about that journey because I think you’re a mechanical engineer by training?

Clare Josa:

I am.

Bex Burn-Callander:

You worked at Dyson. I mean, if you look at your CV, you are the most accomplished person. How could you ever worry that you were good enough?

So tell me how you arrived at the imposter phenomenon.

Clare Josa:

The first time I remember experiencing it, before I knew it had a name, it was actually the day I got my degree result. I’d spent five years, I’d done a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in German.

It was in the olden days when they used to put the results up on sheets for everybody to see. And I thought, “All right, let’s aim high, let’s start at the 2:1s.”

And I wasn’t on the list and my heart sank.

And I was like, “Okay, let’s look at the 2:2s.”

And I wasn’t on the list.

By this point I could just feel my heart really racing. I looked at the thirds and the fails, and I wasn’t on the list. And then I looked at the firsts and there I was.

And my immediate thought was not, “Fantastic!”.

It was, “Who’s eyes did I have to pull the wool over to tell me that I’m good enough to get a first? I’m a fraud. I don’t deserve this. Somebody’s given it to me just because I’m a woman.”

And I started telling myself these stories.

I pushed it all down, went into my engineering career, and then it was about 2001, I realised that I was on antidepressants due to stress and anxiety.

I was working 14-hour days, classic imposter syndrome symptom. I had become a perfectionist. It was affecting my home relationships.

At 3am every single morning I was lying awake thinking, “What if today’s the day they realise I’m not good enough? That I have deceived them, that I am a fraud? What if today is the day they realise I don’t belong, they send me out of the factory, and I’m told not to come back.”

And it felt really existential.

It wasn’t just, “Okay, how am I going to pay my mortgage,” it went to, “I’ll die alone in a ditch,” which often happens with imposter syndrome.

And my coping strategy at the time, because I didn’t know this thing had a name, I thought I was the only person in the world that felt that way, so what I did was I engineered a way to take a sabbatical, which is something I see so many people doing now because of imposter syndrome.

I decided to take a year out to go travelling, to study Spanish in South America. And I was running away, but I convinced myself that actually that was the right thing to do.

And I ended up quitting a career I loved because I was so terrified that today would be the day my luck would run out, and they would realise they’d made a mistake in hiring me.

I came back from that year of travelling and my imposter syndrome was gone. I became head of market research at Dyson, something for which I had the skill set for but no paper qualifications, and I never felt it again.

And it took me about 10 years to reverse-engineer what I’d done, because quitting your job and going on a sabbatical for a year is not the ideal way to ditch imposter syndrome.

But I just came back, and it was gone.

Imposter syndrome is on a spectrum

Bex Burn-Callander:

I’m going to ask you how you reverse-engineered it and what you found out, but I’m keen to know whether people experience imposter syndrome in a very wide spectrum of intensity, because that sounds really full on and that sounds like something that could definitely lead to a breakdown.

But do some people just get hints of it, and it just has a slightly negative impact on their life?

Is it a spectrum from sort of mild to severe?

Clare Josa:

It absolutely is.

So there is a sliding scale from something that you can just gently push out the way, through to something that’s completely crippling.

But the problem is most people don’t ask for help until they’re at the crippling end.

The research studies I’ve been running over the last 10 years show there’s a direct link between imposter syndrome and burnout.

I was absolutely ready to burn out because all the symptoms of imposter syndrome and the coping strategies mean we push harder, we work harder, we are worried, we’re not sleeping, there’s more stress.

So it’s a sliding scale, but it’s also context-dependent. You might have someone who feels crippled by imposter syndrome at work, but in the supermarket they’re absolutely fine.

And this is really important because it means it’s something that isn’t part of you. It’s like malfunctioning software that we can reprogram.

And that context can be really, really specific, even down to the level of, you can present in a meeting and be fine, but then such and such person walks in the room and suddenly imposter syndrome is in your face.

Are entrepreneurs more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome?

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really interesting. And do you find that entrepreneurs are just as likely to suffer from this?

Because we have an image of people who found and build businesses as being extremely confident, as having absolute faith in their abilities, and a vision, but are they just as likely to have those underlying feelings of doubt and that self-sabotage going on?

Clare Josa:

The general population, the research we’re just about to publish, 62% of people are experiencing imposter syndrome daily or regularly to a level that’s affecting their wellbeing and their performance.

For entrepreneurs, freelancers, solopreneurs, it’s actually a shocking 82%.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, my goodness.

Clare Josa:

So we are much more likely.

And the reason for this is because imposter syndrome isn’t a mindset issue. You can’t positive-think your way out of it. You can’t affirmation your way out of it.

It’s about who we think we are, it’s an identity level issue.

And when we’re out there, and we’re running our own business, particularly if we are the figurehead, everything feels personal.

Whereas in a corporation, for example, I don’t want to belittle it, but it’s you, it’s your job, but the team also takes some of that load of expectations.

But when you are running your own business, it’s you.

And so if deep inside you are judging yourself at that level, and you’re worried about how others might be judging you as well and you’re scared you’ll be found out, then it’s not a surprise that we hold back on sharing our ideas.

We don’t come and join people like you for an interview.

We discount our prices without being asked. We don’t take the actions that we know would grow the business because if we grew the business, then we are more visible, and that whole cascade of self-talk means that we hold back.

Is it self-doubt or imposter syndrome? Here are the questions you need to ask yourself to find out

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, I suppose that’s an interesting place for our listeners to start then.

What kind of questions can they be asking themselves after listening to this podcast to ascertain whether they have either the beginnings or a more entrenched form of imposter syndrome?

Because they might be thinking, “Oh, some of this might resonate, some of it might not.”

So how do you find out if this is something that affects you?

Clare Josa:

Firstly, it’s really important in our position when we’re running a business, to understand the difference between imposter syndrome and self-doubt.

Self-doubt is normal, natural, healthy. You stretch your comfort zone, you start a new product line, you do a bit of PR, whatever, you get a new big contract. You’re going to sit there and go, “Oh, can I do this?”

And that might take a moment, it might take a week or a month, but that, “Can I do it?”, that’s about self-doubt.

That’s the kind of thing where a bit of mentoring, a bit of a pep talk can really shift it, it’s mindset-level work.

If what’s going through your head though is not, “Can I do this,” but, “Who am I to do that,” that is a warning sign it’s actually imposter syndrome, and that mindset level stuff, cognitive stuff is not going to be enough.

If you find yourself giving yourself reasons for why you’re not taking action that secretly your heart knows is actually going to unlock the next level for your business, then one of the things you can do is ask yourself really objectively, “Is this really true, this excuse I’m giving myself, the reason for not taking action, or is it just imposter syndrome speaking?”

And let that answer bubble up.

So this can be really useful at the moment to think, is it really true that I don’t have enough time? Is it really true that that particular opportunity isn’t a good fit? Or is it just the fear of my imposter syndrome that’s making the decision for me?

And that can help you, at that moment, to make a different decision.

Strategies you can try to tackle your imposter syndrome

Bex Burn-Callander:

And that’s really interesting that you said you can’t mindset-alter, you can’t use affirmations to get yourself out of that very negative thought process.

I mean, obviously you are a specialist, people can come and talk to you, but just to start that work on your own, is there anything that you can do, without talking to a therapist, but actually is there a structure or a strategy you can begin to try and reverse that?

Clare Josa:

There absolutely is, and things like mindset work, it will always help, but it’s like sticking on a plaster.

So it’s the coping strategies. And the problem with mindset-level work is that the primal part of your brain that’s responsible for keeping us safe, for spotting dangers, risks, threats, that’s already self-sabotaging by the time the mindset part of your brain notices it’s already doing it.

So you’re constantly playing this catch up.

When I work with people on this and what I teach in things like Ditching Imposter Syndrome, in the book, or in the Imposter Syndrome Hacks app, our techniques are ones you can use at that moment to press pause because we don’t always have time for navel-gazing.

Sometimes you will literally be about to step up on stage or to present at a networking event and at that moment, you need to find the courage.

But I also teach techniques that allow you to go below the surface. This is my inner engineer, it’s that root-cause-level work, so rather than dealing with the symptoms, we are dealing with the causes.

When you clear those out, you don’t need the coping strategies anymore.

And those are stored both in the thinking mind but also in the body, because one of the things that we found is imposter syndrome is often linked to trauma.

And by trauma I don’t mean that you have to have lived in a war zone. Something like having a micromanaging bully boss, or working in a toxic team, or having a series of negative experiences that mean you don’t feel safe being who you are, are really good predictors for who will experience imposter syndrome.

So by going and dealing with the emotions below the surface that were driving those, you don’t have to go to therapy, but it allows you to healthfully release the triggers that were leading to the imposter syndrome.

And there are techniques that I can teach that will work just in that moment.

But I always encourage people, if your heart is calling you, it’s time to do that deeper work and actually go and look at what are the buttons that are waiting to be pressed, that mean when somebody sends me an email with that tone, I potentially overreact, or I hold back, or I get defensive.

Finding the root cause

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really interesting, because I wondered if there was a root cause and if some people, when they really unpack their feelings or their triggers as you call them, whether there’s something that happened when they’re at universities or a tutor might have made a throwaway comment, and it stuck with them.

It’s funny how these things can lodge in your brain, but whether you actually have to go back and you have to almost find the root cause, or whether you just have to accept.

Clare Josa:

You were spot-on, Bex, one of the problems that I see is people looking for that root cause event.

For example, I’m about to publish my 10th book, which I kind of can’t believe, I’ve not published a book in five years, and it’s called Coaching Imposter Syndrome.

So it’s actually for coaches, consultants, line managers for when imposter syndrome gatecrashes your client conversations.

And I’ve also published two novels inside those 10 self-help books, and I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 45. And I didn’t think I was a real author because I hadn’t published a story.

And it went back to a throwaway comment from my lovely English teacher when I was 15. I’d done what I thought was one of my best GCSE English essays ever, and she gave me a B and wrote “contrived”.

And I was a bit of a Hermione Granger so a B for me was a real stomach punch, but it was the word “contrived”.

And the embarrassment that I had to go and look it up, I didn’t even know what it meant.

Bex Burn-Callander:

What a burn.

Clare Josa:

I know, I know, exactly. Isn’t it brilliant?

And it was back at the time in Dallas, those of a certain age, Bobby Ewing had just appeared back in the show and Sue Ellen had just dreamed of him dying for the previous two seasons.

So that’s what she meant is contrived there.

But I picked up that belief that I couldn’t write a story.

And for years I never told my kids a made-up story. And then I did some of my work on myself and I went to a creative writing course and within four days I’d drafted two novels and within four months, One of them was in print.

But the teacher didn’t cause that, “Who am I to write a novel,” she just pressed the button.

And when we look for that root cause event, we often find the wrong thing because often it’s much younger.

And her word “contrived”, if I’d felt comfortable in my own skin and confident in my ability as a writer, she could have written that and I’d have gone, “Yeah, fair cop,” and it wouldn’t have bothered me.

The fact is, I had that button there for her to press.

So what I do when I work with people or when they consume my work in whatever form, is it stop looking in the rearview mirror, we don’t need to find the root cause event.

What we’re dealing with instead is the emotion and the sensation in the body that it creates, because then you clear every single event in the daisy chain, and you don’t need to know the content.

Because often the content is actually quite painful, and this isn’t therapy.

And for the vast majority of people, we don’t need to go into the content to clear imposter syndrome.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I think that would be a relief for a lot of people who maybe baulk at the idea of therapy but still would like to do some positive work on their reactions to situations and their confidence.

And I totally hear what you’re saying, that sometimes if you try and apportion blame to the actors in your life, you almost give away your own power to resolve that issue or to, I don’t know, improve your own spirit or your ability to deal with things.

Because it always comes back to, “Oh, well that person broke me, and until they can take that away there’s nothing I can do about it.”

It’s kind of more of a victim mentality. So I love that that’s not part of your work on this.

Clare Josa:

Exactly. It’s actually the opposite.

When I reverse-engineered what I’d done back in 2001, I created a five-step process, and step four is actually reclaiming your personal power.

So it is the opposite of giving that power away.

And as you say, if we look for that root-cause event, then we can end up with a badge of honour of, “Oh well, I’ve got imposter syndrome because this horrible thing was said to me,” and that can actually keep us stuck.

Does imposter syndrome affect men or women more?

Bex Burn-Callander:

Absolutely. And I know that you’ve done your own research on this, but when I’ve looked at previous studies, there seems to be a bit of a skew towards more women experiencing imposter syndrome.

I don’t know if that’s what you found when you’ve just done your own research, but does it affect women more than men or are women just more likely to own up to it?

Clare Josa:

Would you like something hot off the press that nobody else has been told yet?

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yes, please.

Clare Josa:

We’ve known for a few years that actually it affects men and women at very similar rates.

If you look at the stats and the confidence intervals it’s pretty much the same, but they respond to it differently.

Men are much more likely to push on down the fear and push on through.

Women are much more likely to hold back and have an emotional response and play small.

And neither is ideal because for men it leads to anxiety, it can lead to drug abuse, it can lead to mental health issues.

For women, it’s one of the core drivers in the gender pay gap.

So it is pretty similar actually on the levels at which they experience it, they just self-sabotage differently.

What we’ve just found in the 2024 imposter syndrome research study though is that for women with carer responsibilities, that 62% is actually 82% experiencing imposter syndrome daily and regularly.

So it’s significantly higher than the general population.

And what we found is this is because, since the pandemic, it’s juggling those caring responsibilities with what modern work now looks like, with hybrid working, with return-to-office mandates, but you’ve got reduced childcare because all the childminders went bust over lockdown.

You’ve got fewer trains because the train companies cut back their services, so it’s harder for you to be able to juggle.

Unfortunately, what’s still falling too often on women is that mental load of running the household, whether it’s with children or older relatives, and running the business or your career.

And this is making imposter syndrome significantly worse for that particular portion of the population.

How outside stresses contribute to imposter syndrome

Bex Burn-Callander:

So you can actually say that outside stresses do make up quite a lot of the catalyst for imposter syndrome. It’s not all from inside, it is affected by the amount that’s being loaded onto you, the amount of tasks, the amount of responsibility, there is a correlation.

Clare Josa:

It is, and it’s brain space. And one of the things we’ve found through our research over the years is we’ve got a model that we call the Three Pillars of Imposter Syndrome, because it’s not just inside.

And everybody’s out there trying to say, “Well, you’ve got to fix yourself so that you can be tougher and more resilient in this really challenging world that we’re now living in.”

So the three pillars are the culture, the environment, and the habits.

The culture, for example, an organisation’s culture, or it might be a national culture, family culture, faith-based culture.

The environment is what does that mean on a practical level. And then the habits are the bit inside us that we can control.

So you can take somebody with raging imposter syndrome from one company to another and imposter syndrome disappears, or you can move them, and it suddenly appears because the culture and the environment will affect it.

There’s also that direct link between our chronic stress levels and anxiety and imposter syndrome. The more stressed you are, the more anxious you are, the less resilient you are to imposter syndrome, and the more unlikely it is that your coping strategies will work.

So you have to then do that deeper work to make yourself immune, to remove the button that my English teacher was able to press when I was 15, and so many people since.

Is imposter syndrome a lifelong struggle, or can it be conquered?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I made a slightly flyaway comment at the beginning of our call saying, “Let’s conquer imposter syndrome, let’s banish it for good,” but can you banish it for good.

Like an addiction, you are never cured, you have to keep fighting, keep slaying that dragon, and the dragon will keep growing new heads.

Do you have to just keep going and keep defeating it over and over again? Is it a lifelong struggle?

Clare Josa:

If what you’re doing is following the advice that’s on Google, you are going to be in that lifetime cycle.

If you do the deeper root cause work, it literally goes.

So what you find is you’ve cleared out the stuff that meant you were vulnerable to imposter syndrome.

In my case, for example, if I’m asked to do something that’s a real comfort zone stretch, what happens is it slightly shifts our view of who we need to be, and the view of who we think we are hasn’t quite caught up yet.

So all that happens for me now is I’ll feel a bit of a flinch, that’s one of the warning signs.

Your body always knows when imposter syndrome is coming.

That’s my, “Okay, I don’t see myself as that version of me yet. Fine, what do I need to let go of to become that version of me? Great, done. No drama.”

So I’m still learning and growing, but it’s without the drama, without the pain, without the fear, without the catastrophising.

And this is really what you get when you’ve deeply cleared it out.

Whereas if I was running imposter syndrome, I might have to grit my teeth, push on through, probably it’s somebody else to reply to the invitations and emails so I don’t self-sabotage, yet all of that’s gone.

So yes, I still learn and stretch and grow, but you can be completely free from this.

And this is what my students and so many of my readers, listeners, and clients have found, is it’s suddenly a non-issue, but it doesn’t make you arrogant.

A lot of people think, “I need imposter syndrome to be humble.”

It doesn’t make you arrogant, it doesn’t lose you friends, it just means you’re comfortable in your own skin.

And you get to be who you really are without the masks and the armour, and that becomes contagious. It gives other people permission to do the same too.

Quitting Dyson to pursue coaching

Bex Burn-Callander:

When you came back from your sabbatical, and you’d figured out how to deal with your own imposter syndrome, obviously you went back to a very high-flying role, but then you still decided to step away to create your coaching business, to create this project.

So was that because your experience of imposter syndrome was such a massive impact in your life that you just had to focus on that afterwards, or did you feel like, I don’t know, the imposter syndrome was sort of soured mechanical engineering and that part of your life.

Why make such a big leap?

Clare Josa:

I absolutely loved my work at Dyson. And Monday morning, first thing, it would be me, James, and the chief engineer, we’d go through the designs from the previous week.

I was the voice of the customer, and we would get to decide which ones had another week’s grace to be experimented with. So it was a really exciting job for me as an engineer.

But I was studying psychology, I’d become an NLP trainer, so neurolinguistic programming. I was doing all sorts of therapy work in the background because I realised, I actually wanted to make a bigger difference.

Back in my engineering days on the shop floor, my nickname was Smiler because every morning I would set myself a mission.

As I walked from the desk to the coffee, “How many people can I make smile.”

And I had this realisation that actually that was why I was here. There’s only so much difference I could make by making bits of shiny coloured plastic that clean carpets extremely well.

Life conspires to give you the kick up the backside sometimes.

And so I wanted to do my NLP trainers training. It was a two-month-long course, I couldn’t get a sabbatical to do it.

So in that moment of inspiration and insanity, I quit my job. I quit my job to go on a training course, and I’ve never looked back.

And then those first few executive coaching clients I had, they all had this same thing that I’d had all those years ago, and all I had to give them, despite my toolkit, was sticking plasters and coping strategies.

And it set me on a mission to be able to decode what I’d done so that I could teach them to do the same too.

Techniques to reset your stress response

Bex Burn-Callander:

And what is, because I know this is basically your secret sauce, but can you give me one of the deep dive style analytical tools, like a sneak peek for our listeners, something that they could try?

Yeah, could you just give us a little hint?

Clare Josa:

Of course, of course. So one of the things that you’ll find is raging if imposter syndrome strikes, because it comes and goes in the course of a day or a month, is your inner critic will probably be going crazy.

One of the most potent things that you can do right there and right then, you can’t argue yourself out of negative self-talk.

If you start trying to have a row with that voice inside going, “But I am good enough, and I can do this,” it’s going to trigger something called the backfire effect, where it’s going to dig its heels in and say, “Right, I’m on a mission now to share with you the three million bits of evidence that prove you’re not good enough.”

So what you can do in that moment is you can calm the self-talk. The mind, the body, and the emotions are all linked.

So when we think a negative thought, it fires off biochemical reactions in the body, that then create our experience of emotion that fire off more thoughts, which is how we end up in that cycle.

So right there and then, what you can do is you can take your right hand and place it over your diaphragm. So that’s between the rib cage and the belly button. Yah, go for it, Bex.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I’m doing it. I’m doing it.

Clare Josa:

Yay. And it works best if you’ve practised this before you need it so that your body’s used to it.

And then you can take three deep sighing breaths.

So if anybody is listening to this, and they’re operating machinery or driving, please don’t do this right now. But if you’re safe, it can help potentially to close your eyes, and you breathe in through your nose, and you breathe out with a sigh.

And you do it twice more, Bex, I’ll let you do that in your own time, and it’s just helping you to settle and land. And you can feel that relaxation response in the body.

And then, if it’s safe and comfortable with eyes softly closed, you can spend about a minute just letting your whole awareness rest on the movement of your hand as you breathe in and you breathe out.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I mean, this would be relaxing for anything really though, wouldn’t it? This would be a great way to just force yourself to stop a few times a day and just have a little reset.

But I can imagine, if your feelings are overloaded, and you are in flux, and you are just in a complete pickle, that would be a really good way to take it down a notch and just think, “Right. Is it really that big a deal,” as well?

Clare Josa:

Exactly. Because when I said about earlier, is this really true or is it just imposter syndrome speaking, it’s like in the UK, with our gearstick cars, stick shifts in the States, we have to go through neutral to change gear.

When I was learning to drive when I was 17, that’s something I found a really difficult concept, and it gets really expensive on repairs if you try to shift gear without going through neutral.

And it’s the same for the brain. What this technique does is twofold.

Firstly, it’s resetting the stress response. So that whole fight, flight, freeze, amygdala stress response that makes the inner critic do this, calms.

It’s putting us back in neutral, which gives you back part two, which is the hand over the diaphragm area is actually a power place.

If we look at ancient yoga and meditation, that’s actually one of the energy centres for reclaiming our personal power and also for feeling safe.

So those two combined mean that you reset the stress response, the thoughts will slow down, the thoughts will calm down, they will quieten, and that gives you a gap to then choose a different thought, to choose a different action.

And it’s the kind of thing, without the sighing because it’s a bit obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that you can do in the middle of a meeting. It’s the kind of thing you can do on a client call. It’s the kind of thing you can do before sending an email that maybe had been triggering imposter syndrome.

And you’re absolutely right, if you did this five or 10 times a day, instead of getting to the end of the day and your stress levels are super high, you get to the end of the day, and you’re actually pretty okay.

So you’re also with that technique, it sounds so simple, but you’re also helping to remove the body’s unconscious addiction to adrenaline.

Because the self-talk gives us an adrenaline and cortisol hit, the stress hormones, those are addictive.

And what you’ll find sometimes is if you’re feeling a bit tired, the body will actually say, “Well, I need a cortisol hit,” and it’ll fire off a load of what I call mind-story drama, to give you that adrenaline and cortisol hit to give you the energy to keep going through the day.

So it’s an incredibly simple technique, but potentially really powerful in the moment and to start the preventative work.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really great advice. Because I was realising as you were talking that there have been times when I think I have had, I guess, imposter syndrome? I suppose I’d have to really unpack it a bit, but I definitely get moments where I’m like, “Oh god, is this something that I can do?”

And my response, I realised, is that I imagine a big red button, and I’m not going to swear because who knows who’s listening, but it says “F it” on it, and I just bang that button.

So when I feel that kind of panic rising, somehow you just diffuse it by banging the button, like, “Who cares? If it all explodes, never mind, just let it go.”

Just send the email.

Just say, “That’s my deadline or my rate,” and just let it go into the world.

But that is not necessarily the calmest and considered response to impulses.

So I think your way is probably a much-improved way of dealing with it.

Clare Josa:

The thing is as well, when you do this however many times a day, it means that when that email comes through, or it needs to be sent, you’re no longer doing it from up here, you’re already back down there.

And it means that the tone we’re using is different, because we can all misread tones in emails, but we can also pretty accurately guess what they are.

And if somebody’s super stressed, and they’ve sent it back with a bang, then it just escalates conflict.

So this way you don’t have to go through that whole stress hormone stuff, and you just get to be a bit more in flow.

How to carve out time to write a book while running a business

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yeah, no, that’s great.

And you’ve mentioned, Clare, that you have written a whole bunch of books. Is it five or is it six now? How many books is it?

Clare Josa:

It’s 10.

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s 10 books.

Clare Josa:

10.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Wow. Okay.

So I kind of want to know, and on behalf of our listeners as well, many of whom are building businesses but also potentially would love to be authors, they have books in them, how on earth have you balanced growing your business, managing your clients, doing all your research, and putting in all the hours that it takes to create 10 of these manuscripts that are then bestsellers?

How did you do that?

Clare Josa:

The first one I actually wrote on maternity leave from my youngest son, because my brain was just atrophying, and I needed to teach, I need to create, it’s just hardwired in me.

And so that, I would have him in the baby kind of carrier thing on my front and I would just type. And that just had to be written.

What I do now, say for example for Coaching Imposter Syndrome, which is about to come out, I always treat myself to a day with Post-it notes, brightly coloured Sharpies, and index cards, and I will brain dump everything about a topic onto those.

And then my inner engineer has lots of caffeine and I arrange them on my living room floor into a journey.

And I have to be really strict.

So before I start to write a book, I know what the promise is, and that’s almost always going to be the tag line.

So for Coaching Imposter Syndrome, it’s how to handle it if imposter syndrome gatecrashes your coaching conversations. Because that really is the energy, it’s like, “Oh gosh, this colleague or client’s got imposter syndrome, what do I do now?”

And then I go through that massive pile of Post-its and index cards and I have to be really ruthless, does this help somebody to move towards that goal or is it going to distract them, because what to leave out is actually harder.

Then I just create a flow.

When I was studying engineering, I studied it in Germany for a couple of years, and they have something out there they call the red thread that had to go through any report or thesis.

So I create the red thread and I focus, at that planning stage, on how do I make this pyjama-ready? Because most people are reading my books at home, 10pm, brain’s only half switched on. I’m not sat by their side to explain things.

So when I’ve got that red thread, then I just break it down into sections, and I look at it each day and I think, “Which one do I feel like writing today?”

And I write the one that makes me curious or excited that day. I’ll do about an hour.

And then I’ll get to a point every few weeks of, “I’m really avoiding writing that bit, what’s going on there?”

And nine times out of 10 it’s because it doesn’t need to be in the book.

So it’s that little and often, but starting, holding back the energy of writing the book to create that red thread journey path for the reader, and being really clear.

Just like a novel, you choose the start point for a novel, you choose the end point.

And it’s the same with a non-fiction book.

Where is that reader right now, where do I want them to get to by the end, and what is the path I want to guide them through in between?

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really interesting, the little and often, because I think a lot of people think, “Right, I just need to take three months off and write it.”

But in fact, you can, by scheduling in the time, instead of pottering around doing something, meetings, whatever, just schedule that one hour and be like, “Right, this is my writing time.”

Clare Josa:

Exactly. And when you’ve got that really clear journey route mapped out, you can just duck in and just do a chapter.

Or you can just duck in that day and think, “I’m not in the mood for wordsmithing. Fine, I will just put more notes into this chapter. What are the key things I want them to learn? What are the quotes I might include? What are the surprises?”

Always include surprises.

And I’ve learned so much about writing non-fiction from writing my novels, is how to have hooks and cliffhangers in a nonfiction book to make people keep reading.

Because I don’t know about you, Bex, but I collect books, not expensive books, I just love buying them. And the majority of them never get read.

So that’s actually our biggest challenge as an author is not to sell the book, but to get the people who’ve bought it to consume it, because it doesn’t change your life just by sitting on the bedside table.

Know who you are serving and who you are not

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I’m curious, Clare, to talk to you a bit about how you took a really amazing idea and approach to helping people and turned it into a business.

Because you can have the most amazing strategies, coaching approaches, you can have all of that, but you have to actually get people to come and see you. You have to get them to find you in the first place.

So how did you turn what you knew would be a game-changing imposter-syndrome-focused toolkit, and how did you then get people to come and buy it?

How did you get people to trust you?

Clare Josa:

It changes so often, and if I look at the last 20 years, what worked when I started is different to even what worked last year.

And I’m already seeing changes, as 2024, as we’re recording this.

So I think one of the keys is you’ve got to stay in your lane. Be informed by what everybody else is saying.

But you talked earlier about some of the really big-name entrepreneurs and what if they’ve had imposter syndrome. What I’ve found through our research is a lot of them have never had it, and that’s why they found it so straightforward to become a big name.

And so that taught me that other people’s advice might not work for me. I know, for example, I have a complete visceral allergy to hustle bro culture, it doesn’t work for me.

It works for others, brilliant, go for it, enjoy it. For me, I’ve got to be in flow.

And what’s really worked for growing the business is knowing exactly who I’m serving and who I’m not. Knowing exactly how I can help them, and actually having four very different products depending on how ready they are to commit.

Whether they can put five minutes in a day, whether they want to blitz imposter syndrome, whether they want to work with others on imposter syndrome. So what are their needs, and then making sure I’m just showing up consistently.

But the market research has really, really helped. There’s nothing that we do that isn’t informed by what our customers are telling us.

And there isn’t a day goes past that we are not asking for input, ideas, questions, feedback, blocks, barriers, and using that, but being really clear.

By knowing who you’re serving and who you are not, it means you know who to listen to because you might have somebody tell you, “That will never work.”

Well, it’ll never work for them, but maybe they’re not your audience.

So it really was about niching, that kind of inch-wide mile deep. And then over the last 10 years, is that getting wider?

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really interesting. I did an interview earlier today and the guy said, “You mustn’t listen to your noisiest customers. You need to listen to your best customers, and it can be very hard to differentiate between the two.”

Clare Josa:

Exactly.

Bex Burn-Callander:

So it’s funny that I’m sort of hearing that reinforced now.

And also interesting, because everything that you do, you seem to bring that mechanical, that engineering approach, where it’s all about the design upfront and planning it out, because then that actually makes the execution so much more straightforward.

It’s interesting that that’s your approach to everything, whether it’s your coaching, your books, growth, helping people, it seems to be that is front-loading that plan and design part. It’s just really fascinating.

Clare Josa:

It is. And it’s really important for me as well because I’m an ideas-generator.

So I can sit there, I’m a nightmare on holiday, I’ll be sitting in a bar with my family, and I’ll have designed three training courses on the back of napkins. Because the ideas just flow.

But also, my family knows that’s when I’m happiest, so actually it helps them have a great holiday too.

And it keeps me quiet for a bit, but it’s then that, okay, so how do we turn this brilliant creative idea into something that’s actually going to work and be reproducible? How can we test it? How can we get the feedback?

And this part of me just wants to dive in and write or create the course, but there’s most of me that knows, it’s almost like stretching a rubber band. That potential energy when you then ping it across the room if you’re sitting in the back of the classroom. Never did that.

Yet, when you build up that potential energy of, “Okay, we’re in the planning stage, in the planning stage, in the planning stage. Execution,” you’ve built up so much energy, but you’ve taken out the fluff and the waste, both for you as a creating team, but also for the client consuming whatever it is you’re creating for them, and your meaning, that they’re going to get much more reliable, reputable results.

How is imposter syndrome unconsciously impacting you and your business?

Bex Burn-Callander:

And we touched on this earlier, Clare, which is, as an entrepreneur, what are you missing out on?

What negative impact is your imposter syndrome having on you and your business that you might be unconscious of?

So I’d like to talk a bit more about that, why with our imposter syndrome.

But then also I’d love to talk about what benefits and what incredible impact you’ve seen. This could be anonymised, but amongst your clients or in the general world, when people have dealt with it, what they’ve been able to go on and do.

So I want to hear both sides.

Clare Josa:

When you’re running your own business with imposter syndrome, particularly if you are the face of the business, so it’s kind of about you rather than something that you are making, then it’s hard because you’re so visible.

And so if a launch flops, I mean, I have that T-shirt, yeah, these things happen.

If a launch flops, it’s really hard not to take it personally and go down that rabbit hole of nobody loves me. So imposter syndrome can do things like that.

It can also mean that you get a client enquiry, and you offer them a discount before they’ve even asked for it. And they might’ve been about to say, “Actually, that’s really affordable.”

Or we have bad boundaries, where we over give and we allow too much scope creep, which we then end up secretly resenting.

Or we take on clients that we know are not a good fit who we’ll hate working with because we are scared that there won’t be anybody else in the pipeline.

There’s something that we’ve got from our research called the 4 P’s of imposter syndrome. So this is another way it affects us as business owners.

They are perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people pleasing.

So if imposter syndrome is sky-high, you can imagine how the four of those are going to impact your business. When you clear imposter syndrome, they kind of disappear.

The only reason I procrastinate now is if I’m exhausted, and that’s just my body saying, “Clare, just step away from the screen,” and I haven’t been listening.

So these are some of the ways it can affect us.

And also, if you are a more extrovert preference person, and you get your energy from other people, if you are then secretly terrified that they’re judging you the way you are internal dialogue is judging yourself, that can be really painful. It can be really difficult to be networking.

If you’ve got an introvert preference it can make it far too easy as a result to become a hermit and not build those relationships and connections because of that deep-seated fear of rejection and not belonging.

So we had an example last week.

I train people up to Master Coach level in these techniques in the certification programmes.

One of our master coaches had worked with somebody who was not getting results, and she’s a sales consultant rather than a formal coach.

And what she found is in just four sessions with this client who hadn’t been getting the results, she’d been doing what she was told by this consultant, but it wasn’t working.

Within four sessions, this woman had gone from struggling to sleep every single night to winning a sales award, because what had been happening is she’d been holding back on the energy with which she was taking those actions.

So it was almost paying lip service in order to please the consultant, rather than full in and loving it, because she was terrified but didn’t have the words to articulate it.

Not everybody knows what imposter syndrome is, and most of them think it’s incurable.

So that kind of thing is really common.

And also, when you clear imposter syndrome, you then only work with the people who, as you just described, are your best clients.

And people who were a bad fit, where it’s just not going to work between you, you lovingly pass them on to somebody that would be a good fit.

So actually you enjoy your business more, you have more energy. You will find that you almost magnetise opportunities to get your word out there, and you get that satisfaction.

Most of us are doing what we’re doing because we want to make a difference. It doesn’t matter whether we’re selling a service or a product, we want to make a difference in people’s lives.

And when you do that from a place of excitement and flow rather than fear and forcing, that is a very different business.

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Want to know more about Clare Josa or Soultutitive?

You can find out more about Clare on her LinkedIn or website.

For more on Soultutitive, check out their website.

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