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Imposter Syndrome & Emotion Cocktails: Mechanics and Antidotes

Picture this: a Zoom room filled with brilliant minds and big hearts, coming together to launch a dynamic initiative. Forefront, Powered by 100Coaches. Marshall Goldsmith is at the helm. I’m invited to speak briefly and words tumble out. I hope they sound good. Can’t really tell, I’m blinded by beauty and light. I listen, learn, love the event, and afterwards, Imposter Syndrome hooks its compelling, curious claws into me.

Gratitude for the reminder of Imposter Syndrome’s wily and seductive ways. Gratitude because:

• Within discomfort, there’s juicy information about what I value, fear, and desire.

• Landing in situations that trigger Imposter Syndrome is a sign of leveling up.

• Navigating it deepens the compassion required to coach clients who experience it.

• There’s opportunity to explore its mechanics and antidotes.

The intensity of Imposter Syndrome comes from a combination of emotions—or an emotion cocktail. With any discomfort, we create emotion cocktails with unique neurocircuitry based on our inimitable set of developmental experiences (or…”life”). Thoughts generate emotions, and emotions generate thoughts via a bidirectional neuropeptide. The result is a flurry of neuro-psycho-biological events that result in uncomfortable thought loops and sensations, siphoning energy and distracting us from mission and purpose.

Antidoting can start by practicing somatic awareness and “emotional granularity”—or identifying precise emotional states based on sensations. Coined by neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, it’s a skill that helps regulate emotions and minimize wasted energy. I discover that my emotion cocktail features fear, shame, embarrassment, and narratives such as “I will be kicked out” and “Once they discover the truth about me, game over!” My sensations include a tingly feeling up and down my shins; a warping elliptical movement of energy through my thighs; a dime-sized density in my sternum; a buzz behind my ears.

As an executive coach, this data is gold. When willing to feel discomfort and identify ingredients, illumination and awareness occur--and with that comes choice.

We slow down our experience, understand our narratives, and strategize to break the patterns/feedback loops that keep our “monkey mind” chaotically entertained with dubiously useful thoughts and stories.

And here's a delectable paradox that contains a magic trick: when we stop resisting the discomfort of our cocktails and give permission for uncomfortable feelings to get as jumbo as they want to get --so they are #seenfeltheard responsibly, by us and for us, without pathologizing ourselves--they immediately start to dissipate.

The hardest skills within this magic trick are giving ourselves permission to feel and remembering to do it when we are flooded--or poisoned--by the cocktail. But it is possible. To remember we are allowed to feel. The full range, depth, texture, and enlivening surprises of our preposterous cocktails.

Don't take my word for it. Try it. See if it works for you. Sit still, somewhere you feel safe, and grant yourself permission.

Some other antidotes for Imposter Syndrome include: reflection and up-leveling awareness through journaling; engaging in a physical activity to activate whole-brained thinking--not just the left brain, which enjoys self torture; conversations with a trusted friend, therapist, or coach; trust. Trust that we have landed there for a reason--that the people who invited us have keen perception. That they are insightful and wise, and have most likely not inaccurately assessed us or made a colossal blunder.

Lastly, perspective. Look at Imposter Syndrome as a trick of the ego--a distraction that keeps us focused on ourselves instead of our purpose. A funny little energy thief with some crafty tricks up their sleeve, whose seduction efforts are actually quite amusing.


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