4 steps to tackle imposter syndrome as a coach

An anxious-looking woman with furrowed brows and a worried expression, her hands clasped together in front of her. She appears deep in thought, with her eyes looking off into the distance, reflecting a sense of concern or unease
Do you feel plagued by feelings of self-doubt as a coach? Worry that you’re judged as ‘not good enough’ if people don’t sign up after a discovery call? Have the feeling you don’t know what you’re doing before a coaching session despite having done it before? Feel like everyone else is better than you? Fear someone will find out you aren’t as good as they think you are and expose you as a fraud?
If you’re nodding then you may have the feelings of imposter syndrome. It’s a collection of feelings or emotions that stop us living life to its fullest. It is very common, especially when you’re doing something out of your comfort zone like training to become a coach or launching your business. But it cleverly fools us into thinking we are the only one feeling this way.

Here’s the results of a live poll I ran at a conference in London of over 100 women:

  • You believe others are more intelligent than you – 83%
  • You seek external validation, yet don’t fully believe it when it comes – 83%
  • When people praise you, you fear you won’t live up to their expectations – 75%
  • You feel your success is due to luck – 49%
  • You’re afraid others will discover how little you know – 80%
  • When you succeed you have doubts about whether you can do it again – 55%
So it’s a universal feeling that comes up for most people at certain times of their life.
Some of the greatest people of all time have openly shared that they also have these feelings.
Adele the brilliant singer openly shared that she experiences the feelings of imposter syndrome whenever she’s about to perform.
Maya Angelou said:
“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”
So let’s start with – you are not an imposter.
You’re having big feelings because being a brilliant coach means a lot to you.
These are the ways it may show up in your life:
  • You feel like a fraud
  • You always somehow feel not good enough
  • You’re plagued with feelings of self-doubt
  • You feel like things should be easier for you to learn
  • You disregard positive comments by thinking that they are just being ‘nice’
  • You have high expectations of yourself and put things off until they are perfect
  • You feel like you don’t know what you’re doing even though you’ve done it before
  • You procrastinate, feeling like you’ll be ready when you finish the next training course
  • You’re always comparing yourself with others even though they are at a different starting point to you
I have felt imposter syndrome at several times in my life most prominently when I began my coaching journey.
I was surrounded by a group of senior, clever, talented and seemingly ‘natural’ coaches. There was nowhere for me to hide. Comparisonitus was rife!

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My previous roles involved a lot of black and white. Right and wrong. Legal requirements and policies to adhere to. And I was good at it!
With coaching I was lost in the grey. It emerges. You build on the previous response. You ‘dance in the moment’. I felt out of my depth. I wanted to know what was right and wrong. But all of a sudden I had absolutely no idea of the ‘right’ thing to do. All this reflecting. What could have been better? What did I learn? It was all new to me. And all I saw was that I needed to be much, much better.
I put off submitting my audio and assignments for months because I thought I wouldn’t be good enough and might fail. It genuinely felt life or death in my body. Pure survival mode kicked in.

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Of course, I now know why. It was something new. I was starting as a ‘beginner’ for the first time in 20 years. So much reflection and I realised that I couldn’t complete the column ‘what went well?’ but I sure could complete the column ‘what could be better?’. All this being visible, being judged.
It multiplied when I started out in business and had to tell people I know what I was doing and show up on social media. I could not handle it.
Over the years, I have collected several strategies and tips. Below I share what has worked for me and what I’ve worked on with my clients:
4 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Grab a notebook and pen to work through these with an open mind:
1) Uncover the roots of the imposter syndrome
Start from why it’s there and how it shows up in your life.
From my personal and coaching experience, the roots of imposter syndrome often stem from childhood when we’re criticised. We internalise that and feel it defines who we are.
This doesn’t mean we can’t move forward. It means we are stuck at a point of our development path and need to uncover our authentic self so that the path becomes more obvious.
The emotional rather than rational part of the brain usually wins and we end up treating ourselves in a way we would never treat anyone else because ‘we’re not good enough’ and ‘should be better’.
Reflect on the following questions:
  • Why do the needs of others come before you?
  • Why do you let feelings of imposter syndrome symptoms get in the way? (eg what’s in it for you? On some level it’s working for you – eg playing safe in your business).
  • What’s the impact on your personal and professional life?
  • Choose 3 of the ways imposter syndrome shows up in your life to work on – which would have the biggest impact if they were shifted?
2) Know your imposter syndrome script
We need to acknowledge where we are today, where we have got stuck in our development journey, and grow from that point.
During our childhood we are often told things about ourselves which lead us to decide the way that we need to be, but we can hit a point where it no longer serves us.
For example, my parents constantly branded me as shy. “Oh Joanna’s so shy”. I was sick of hearing it! Yet when I’d well outgrown shyness I honestly had no idea! It was part of my identity. It held me back from training, speaking, and showing up in my coaching business.
Finally, the myth was debunked when I had a conversation with 3 friends over a glass of wine one evening. I told them that “I can’t do training because I’m shy”…they laughed out loud and said “Jo – you’re not shy”.
I now train wonderful, clever, talented coaches to build brilliant businesses. I’ve presented at large-scale in-person events and LOVED it. I’ve hosted trainings for 500+ coaches and enjoyed every moment. Things I never thought I could do, yet I finally discovered that it was my actually thing.
All those years this outdated script had robbed from me.
So what is your script robbing you of?
Our brains think between 20,000-60,000 thoughts a day and around 80% of those thoughts are negative. What you think today you’re going to think tomorrow as those negative pathways are entrenched into our brains. It helps to become more aware of your automatic thoughts – know it, acknowledge it and challenge it.
  • What is your inner critic saying to you?
  • Is that a helpful thought?
  • Does it move you to your potential? If not challenge it – is it true or is it an automatic script which you’ve outgrown?
  • What would your wisest friend/family member say if they heard the script you’re telling to yourself?
  • What successes have you had? Take time to enjoy the successes – our brain takes around 60 seconds for a positive thought to imbed.
  • Use affirmations – affirmations work to reprogram your mind, helping you believe that you have already achieved your goal. I am.. (valuable/enough/successful/influencial..). How does it make you feel when you say this? Name the feeling (but keep saying the affirmation several times a day!)
  • Say affirmations out loud and create post-it-note prompts around the house – this helps build new neural pathways and build conscious awareness.
  • Keep a journal – record the automatic thought, acknowledge how it makes you feel, and note the helpful thought your wiser self is going to replace it with.
3) Rewrite your imposter syndrome story
Question your current story and rewrite it
We are not our stories. Take time to clearly understand your story and become aware of your negative thoughts through journaling and reflection.
Your identity plays a huge part in your personal and professional success. If you have the identity of a person who is valuable and worthy of receiving you’ll make different choices than if you believe that no one wants to hear what you have to say.
This is not to say those thoughts won’t come up – they most definitely will! I believe it’s a life’s work as our biology is constantly working to keep us safe.
  • Write your thoughts down for 20 minutes each day for a week and reframe them. Are they true or is it an automatic emotional response?
  • What is the story you want to create – what is your desired vision for the future? Your story is grounded in your script – we use it to stay small and safe. You can break out of survival mode when you have a vision.
  • Work on daily and regular affirmations to replace those limiting beliefs with. Start your affirmation with I AM.. this works by fooling the brain that you’ve already achieved your goal.
  • Use journaling to measure your progress.
4) Reprioritise your authentic self
Build your sense of self and work through the resistance to fulfil your potential
We came into this world with unique abilities which differentiate us from everyone else. Nobody else has had the same experiences, the innate talents, and the various gifts and skills you have acquired. Often these superpowers come so naturally to you, you might not realise they are something special.
This is something I prioritise in my programme, The Business of Coaching. I want every single coach I work with to know what they are brilliant at. If you feel good you take action. And action is what it takes to build a brilliant coaching business.
In the Gallup Strengths Finder Individualisation is one of my top strengths. I cannot help but to see clearly that persons unique qualities and to remind them of them often.
So let’s reflect on yours:
  • What energises you and makes you feel strong? Keep track of how you spend the next couple of days. What are you always doing or thinking about?
  • Reflect upon what you are naturally good at and write it down.
  • Ask 5 people to tell you what they see as your unique abilities.
  • Do a combined reflection and declare it and say it out loud!
  • Create a scrapbook recording all of the achievements you have made and all of the positive things people have said to you
  • Start a nightly gratitude journal – this trains your brain to look for the positive rather than negative thoughts
As you work through the reflections in this article, you’ll learn to identify the thoughts which are holding you back and get clear on how to reframe them. It takes practice but you truly can start to see yourself and the brilliance you bring to the world.
The question is not:
“Who am I to do this work?”
It’s actually:
“Who am I not to?”
This work has helped to change my life, purpose, and business. I truly wish the same for you.
 
Get the love and support you need to make it happen
If you’d like my help to implement this so you make a difference, AND make a living, you can learn more about how I can help you here.

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Hello and welcome! I’m Joanna Lott, and I’m passionate about empowering qualified coaches like you to build brilliant businesses.