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Procrastination and Imposter Syndrome

Our self-critic drives us to overprepare or procrastinate – so what can we do about it?

I know what I have to do. I DO want to do it. But writing a book has dialled up my ability to procrastinate to unexperienced levels and I’m confident that it is linked to Imposter Syndrome.

So, the story goes…

I was approached by a publisher a year ago about writing a book about my work, how I do it and a guide for readers to develop techniques and self-awareness to be their best selves at work.

I worked with the publisher to create a template of how the format of the book would flow and the content to be covered in the wordcount.

There was nothing in the template that wasn’t familiar to me … what I know, do, have been successful in utilising, what clients have found to be transformational. Writing about it would be easy; wouldn’t it?

Nearly a year later I have only written a few pages. The publisher contacted me at Christmas, gently asking what progress I had made. Not a lot was the answer so I worked with my friend, colleague and copywriter Claire as I felt I needed someone to prescribe me different sections of writing that they would then read, carry out a prelim edit and map the pieces of the writing together until it was in a first draft format. Four months later I still haven’t made a start on what she has prescribed.

What I’ve noticed while writing the completed pages to date is that my self-critic says: “This is no good” and “You’re not a writer” as soon as my fingers hit the keyboard. Or “Other people better qualified than you will think this is rubbish,” and “You don’t really know what you’re doing in your job, you’ve just been lucky, and this book will show everyone that truth”.

Interestingly, I don’t think: “I wish I hadn’t started this” or “It’ll be terrible when it’s finished”.

When I look back, my life experience of Imposter Syndrome has a pattern of:

  • When I set myself any goal it always feels (internally) unlikely that I’ll achieve it (my self-critic laughs at me)

  • There is also an internal sense that I don’t deserve to reach my goal either (my self-critic says who do you think you are!)

As I make huge effort to reach the goals I set myself (which I always do and others wonder at them!), there is a constant sense that it is always shrouded in it not being enough and I’ll be found out. My self-critic says: “Well you might have pulled it off this time, but you’ll get found out one day”.

It’s not a loud self-critic but it’s a constant undercurrent that normally I react to by following the over-preparation and effort route in the cycle below. It shows how Imposter Syndrome can drive us to overprepare or procrastinate achievement-related tasks.

SOURCE: Sakulku, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75–97.

Until with the book writing, when I have lurched in procrastination. Even cleaning the bathroom seems a more important and deserving task than opening that file and typing a chapter!

Obviously, Imposter Syndrome wasn’t even ‘named’ as such until I was already an adult in the workplace, and it is only very recent research that links the benefits of self-compassion with improving the resilience of those experiencing from it.

I have personally benefitted significantly from compassionate mind training to ‘quieten my mind’ when I am under pressure and pursuing the over preparation and effort route. I really had got the self-critic ‘licked’ on this course… but, without noticing, it suddenly got me on the run in terms of procrastination!

As I say to clients however, if you can notice an unhelpful behavioural pattern, you can then choose what you want to do about it. What I have noticed is that I have real experience of how to improve this frustrating normality and I am in the process of improving my own Imposter Syndrome limitations and feelings.

Because of this personal experience, my work with Dr Ashleigh McLellan (a compassion focused therapist) and my need to get this book written… we’ve designed a course to help others who are experiencing the exact same issues.

We know you’re out there because during and since Covid nearly every coaching client talks about Imposter Syndrome – or feelings that characterise it - as one of the things they have become more aware of.

During the two days, we will address the fears and feelings behind your self-criticism and learn new techniques for becoming a more compassionate person. We will help you understand and work with your self-critic to develop the most compassionate version of yourself.

Join Hilary McLellan and Dr Ashleigh McLellan to overcome Imposter Syndrome in your career in our unique two-day workshop in London on 13 & 14 September 2022. Book our place on Eventbrite, or get in touch to discuss alternative payment options.

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