How to Stop the Imposter Complex from Keeping You Out of Action — Tanya Geisler
I’ve been sharing how the Imposter Complex wants to keep you alone, isolated, and doubting your capacity. (And by the way, here is why I’m using “Imposter Complex” instead of “Imposter Syndrome.”) Separately felt, they are hard to be with. Compounded, they have the effect of keeping you out of action, which, unsurprisingly, is the Imposter Complex’s third main objective.
Keeping you out of action. Even (especially) the action you want to take. The action that will get you closer to your desires. The action that will prove to you that your tenacity is no joke. The action that will help you break your own status quo. The action that will have you reclaim your agency. The action that will change everything.
Yeah. The Imposter Complex is NOT a fan of change. So it lays down the internal dialogue tracks that are the lies of the Imposter Complex:
This self-doubt must be proof that I’m inadequate (so I won’t take action).
I have nothing useful or original or important to say (so I won’t take action and say the thing).
I’m not ready yet (so I won’t take action until I’m 1000% certain I’m ready).
It’s just a matter of time before this all crumbles beneath me (so I won’t rock the boat and take further action; laying low is my safest bet).
AND when you DO pull something off that is Imposter Complex-defying, it guttersnipes that you’ll never be able to pull that off again, don’t bother.
The One-Hit Wonder gave into the Imposter Complex. That’s what happened there.
The Imposter Complex insists on perfection.
It insists on pristine conditions.
It insists on certainty.
And it insists on zero-risk.
And I know I don’t need to tell YOU, my friends, that perfection, pristine conditions, certainty, and zero risks are not available to us. Never have been.
So, to keep us out of action, it has us doubt our capacity and keeps us alone and isolated.
See how this system works?
And once again, this is going to present in one’s life in a number of different ways, depending on which behavioural trait has its hooks in you you identify with the most. (Not sure? Take the quiz here.)
Each Imposter Complex Behavioural Trait works on keeping you out of Action in its own unique and inimitable way.
leaky boundariesyou may hold back from taking action until you have the assurance that everyone’s on board. (And “they” never really are, are they?)
If you tend to compare, you may be waiting for the space to clear out by others in your field before you can claim the space for yourself. (But of course, you know by now that the space is yours to make, then yours to take.)
If you tend to diminishyou are unlikely to take the action that makes the waves and draws attention to yourself. (This is it’s own special kind of hell. On the surface, you are functioning at a high and enviable level. Which is the problem, right? It’s that envy that you feel directed at you that keeps you from the more that you desire with all that you have. Yes, yes. I know, friend.)
Procrastination with its heady blend of distraction and analysis which collude with perfectionism’s discernment and insistence upon impeccability and unreasonably high expectations that are not commensurate with the job at hand.
No wonder you haven’t jumped in fully.
Facing our fears
So why? Why do we do this? Why do we (allow ourselves to) stay out of action when we can see so very clearly what’s going on?
Not surprisingly, it’s complicated.
And to suggest that not taking action is SIMPLY a choice you aren’t making is reductive and dismisses the complexity of your life. There are power structures at play that can and will either liberate OR limit ideas, actions, and outcomes.
That’s just true.
So our job then MUST be: find out what’s in the way.
Usually? It’s fear.
Now, before you settle in for yet another coach’s “mind over matter” rah-rah speech that is reductive and dismisses the intricacy of fear circuits in the prefrontal cortex, allow me to be clear.
Fear — in spite of clever acronyms like “False Evidence Appearing Real” — IS REAL.
And like someone shared in my Your Impeccable Impact program recently:
“To be fearless isn’t really to overcome fear, it’s to come to know its nature.” — Pema Chodron
So when we feel and ARE stopped in our tracks, I think there is massive value in getting into and under what’s in the way.
Because there IS something in the way.
Else you’d be moving forward, right?
So we must get clear what is here.
To be able to clear it out.
Meet the Critics.
When you are finding yourself blocked, stopped, and not taking action, make a list of every reason you can’t DO it.
Every last reason you’ve heard in your head that has you believe (on ANY level) that you don’t have what it takes to step into your Starring Role — be on the stage, be an authority, write the book, switch gears — say YES.
Then parse through. Sort them into two categories:
Realistic Objections or Inner Critics
Is this a realistic objection? Is there an actual roadblock that is in the way or a person stopping your ascent? A qualification missing for the posted promotion? A gap in your understanding that needs to be filled before you can legitimately proceed?
Or is it an Inner Critic that holds a limiting belief that is singularly focused on keeping you from action?
Here’s how to tell which is which:
Realistic Objections (i.e. “You don’t have business training to start your own business.”)
- Makes definite statements, but has time and space for what’s possible
- Points out limitations that point to actions/solutions
- Planning for a workaround resolves the objection
- Are typically logistical in nature
- Expanded sense of excitement (“what if” energy)
Inner Critic Objection (i.e. “You’re not smart enough to start your own business.”)
- Makes definite statements with little room for nuance
- Not interested in possibility, problem-solving, or action
- Persistent and repetitive
- Aims to shut things down and sabotage your forward motion (hence its other name: “saboteur”)
- Often has a contracted quality of defeat (“why bother” energy)
- May take on the tone of someone in your life who may be an actual critic of your actions (and it knows how well you rise to this kind of criticism)
There is a myriad of ways to deal with Realistic Objections. Every last objection is an invitation for a solution to be engineered. Again, as ever, as always: Simple, not easy.
As for the Inner Critics, well, for us to get past, we need to get UNDER what they are here to tell us. I suggest you listen deep in what I call the Tantrummy Toddler exercise and find the 2% of value that those critical voices are offering you.
And of course, you may be dealing with an ACTUAL critic of your desire to take action; if so, listen up.
For those who are critiquing your action: do you respect, admire, and trust their opinions? Would you trade THIS SPECIFIC aspect of your life with them? Perhaps they are offering you valuable, conscious critique. Your job is to discern what is true and valuable TO YOU. But NOT defer to those set-points of people-pleasing and leaky boundaries. As you do with the Inner Critic, see what gold is available to you and proceed from there, trusting in YOUR capacity. (See why this work is so foundational?)
I want to be stunningly clear again:
I’m not talking about bullies in your life.
Or the ones who try to teach you to play smaller so they can play bigger.
The ones who tell you that you don’t belong in the lab.
The ones who will step on you to rise above.
At ‘best’, those are mean people who suck. At worst, they are perpetrators of harassment who need to be called in and called out. Gather your people to help with that. That’s what HR is for. That’s what mentors are for. That’s what your cast is for.
But once we know what we are dealing with, then we can deal with it.
And deal with it, we must.
Our job IS to take action.
Our purpose depends on it.
And, friends? There is no way around this truth.
Action creates confidence. Not the other way around.
To paraphrase Pema:
unshakeably confident isn’t really to overcome the Imposter Complex, it’s to come to know its nature.
Just like fear, the Imposter Complex has a job. We can’t cut it out from ourselves. But we can choose better.
The Imposter Complex wants to keep you out of Action. Don’t let it… (with care).
Simple. Not easy.
And one final note. When you finally DO the thing that matters so very deeply to you? Once you’ve gathered your cast and bolstered your authority and TAKEN the action? I beg of you: DO not berate yourself for how long it took. Because, it doesn’t matter what took you so long.
You’re here now.
And that’s everything.
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