Bruce is the name I've given my Impostor Syndrome. More accurately, my Impostor Syndrome named himself by popping into my mind one day as I was procrastinating on work I knew had to be done.
Bruce is an interesting character and has been following me around my entire life warning me of potential failure, missteps and impending doom if anyone 'finds out' who I really am. But here's the kicker. Bruce thinks he's doing me a favor because by playing small, I'm staying safe.
Our brains like predictability and routine. Changing our routines is hard work for our brains. So is venturing into the unknown.
One reason our brains resist change is the amount of information our brains process, upwards of 11 million pieces of information daily. The estimate for conscious processing is about 40 pieces per second* so our brains are wired to put as much as possible into our subconscious to avoid being overloaded all of the time. According to a study done by the University of California-San Diego, under Roger Bohn, the total computing power is estimated at 34 gigabytes daily; enough to overload a laptop in a week.
Knowing this, it makes perfect sense that our brains want to make things easier to process, but it sets up an internal fight within us and this can create enough resistance to make us procrastinate on a change we want to make. And as I mentioned above, it sends us messages to make us doubt our abilities as a way to avoid having to make changes -- hence, the birth of Bruce the Impostor.
Any time we're attempting to rewire old neuropathways (aka, make a change), we're prone to hit resistance. It's work for our brains to change so it puts up a fight to maintain status quo.
Everything that you need to do to build a life of success, wealth and prosperity, is easy. It’s just a little bit easier not to. – Weldon Long
So what should we do? How do we overcome this resistance to move forward when we're getting signals that we aren't good enough, or what we do won't matter? It might require rewiring some old neuropathways or disabling some that have been carved in our brains for decades.
Let's start with the definition of impostor syndrome by the publication Psychology Today.
People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees. ~Psychology Today
Does this sound like you? If you struggle with perfectionism, people-pleasing, and self-efficacy challenges you are likely to suffer from impostor syndrome. In reality, most of us have encountered some levels of impostor syndrome in our lives and have developed different mechanisms to deal with it.
For me, Bruce shows up in very sneaky ways. I imagine he's in a lab somewhere cooking up new ways to cause me to doubt my abilities. One of his favorite methods results in procrastination. Take this blog for instance. For nearly a year I've had this on my list of things to write about. When I talk about Bruce with other people, they love that I've named my Impostor Syndrome and relate to what I'm going through. And still, I've been putting this off for so long because I've been convinced that I'll have nothing new to say, or I'm not qualified to talk about this....etc, etc. See how easy it is for this voice to take over?
One thing I've adopted as a way to overcome this is a method developed by Brian Tracy called 'Eat That Frog'. He wrote a book by the same title. The premise is this. If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, nothing else in your day will be as bad. So, if you do the hardest thing at the beginning of your day, you know that nothing will be as challenging, and you can go about the rest of your day in peace. Putting things off and avoiding things takes a lot of energy out of your day because one part of your brain is still committed to fighting for what it knows is best for you. Meanwhile, the other part of your brain (the one controlled by Bruce and fears) is working very hard to suppress your efforts to do something risky. In the end, you waste a lot of energy and cognitive function sitting in this place of not-doing. (No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog!).
I'll continue to write about my encounters with Bruce because I think a lot of us deal with this from time to time, especially when it comes to things that are important but aren't emergencies. We pay attention to emergencies. Have you ever put off a project until the last minute and finished it just in time for the deadline. That's an example of waiting for an emergency to make the project stimulating enough to overcome procrastination.
If you're feeling like Bruce is interfering with your ability to accomplish what you want to do, set up some time for us to talk. The first call is always on me, and we can check in and see what's getting in the way!
Until next time, I hope you find your way past Bruce to greater productivity and possibilities.
*For more on conscious versus unconscious brain processing power, check out Timothy Wilson's excellent book, Strangers to Ourselves.