Do you have ideas about things you want to create that you can’t seem to make happen? Like a book to write, a blog to start or a business to build?

If so, it may be that self-doubt is holding you back.

Just this morning I’ve worked with two highly intelligent and creative clients who when receiving praise from others couldn’t acknowledge it.

Both of these clients struggle with something called imposter syndrome which is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, nothing you ever accomplish feels good enough. You’re more likely to believe that any success is the result of luck, rather than your effort and abilities.

And it holds you back significantly.

When you consistently doubt yourself you’ll find it hard to take risks and say yes to opportunities which stretch you out of your comfort zone. You’re more likely to procrastinate or continuously work at perfecting your work so that you never put it out into the world.

In the last post I wrote about How to Increase Your Motivation so you can work on your idea. The first factor which increases motivation was expectancy which is about the answer to the question: Are you confident in your ability to create whatever it is you aspire to create?

If you struggle with imposter syndrome or are in the process of recovery, your expectancy will likely be low. You’ll need to address these feelings of self-doubt so that you can increase your productivity and make your ideas happen with far less stress.

But first, you need to develop awareness about your imposter syndrome. It turns out that they’re 5 different types which Valerie Young wrote about in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. (I highly recommend this book if you think imposter syndrome may be holding you back).

Yes, can you believe it, there are different ways you can feel inadequate. As if one wasn’t enough!

You can have a combination or any number of them and there are different ways to increase your confidence associated with the different types.

It’s your view of competence that’s a major contribute which perpetuates your feelings of being an imposter.

As Young says:

The fact that everyone else sees a highly capable individual where you see an inadequate fraud tells me right there that you operate from a competence playbook that bears little resemblance to reality. It doesn’t matter how intelligent or talented or skilled you are right now because I have news for you: You are never going to consistently reach that insanely high bar you’ve set for yourself – ever.

The key challenge for you if you struggle with imposter syndrome is to adjust your thinking about what it takes to be competent and Young suggests that once your view of competence is more realistic you’re instantly able to feel more confident and competent.

5 Types of Imposter Syndome and How to Overcome Them

It turns our that there are different ways that you can think about competence which Young has grouped into the Perfectionist, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, the Expert and the Superwomen/Man/Student.

See which one/s resonate with you. Though you may recognize yourself in several, typically you’ll have one dominant type.

The Perfectionist

The focus for the perfectionist is on how things are done. If you’re a perfectionist you believe that everything needs to be done 100% perfectly 100% of the time. Perfectionism is about having a voice in your head that tells you nothing you do will ever be good enough. Because of this, success is rarely satisfying as you always feel you could have done better.

Perfectionists tend to micromanage others, and have difficulty delegating.

Young distinguishes perfectionism from the healthy drive to excel (more on that in an upcoming post, sign up to receive notifications) as you can seek excellence without demanding perfectionism.

But for perfectionists anything less than perfect results in harsh self-criticism and shame. And because there is such shame in failure, you’re likely to avoid attempting new or difficult things.

I’ll be writing a lot in upcoming posts about ideas and strategies to help you overcome perfectionism as it’s sure a huge challenge.

But for now, here are a few ideas (for more details see her book):

  • Recognize that your perfectionistic thinking is a barrier to your success.
  • Aim for good enough rather than perfect. If you wait for perfect you’ll never act. Far better to decide that something is good enough and then put it out into the world and get feedback, and create an improved version from there.

The Natural Genius

If you’re a natural genius you believe that success should be effortless. You also have set an impossibly high bar for yourself but instead of the measure being flawlessness like the perfectionist, your measure is on ease and speed.

According to Young:

You expect yourself to know without being taught, to excel without effort, and to get it right on the first attempt.

This was something I realized that I struggled with. I expected myself to be good at things instantly and if I struggled I would see that as a sign that I wasn’t capable.

This held me back from writing for many years as I found it hard to express the many ideas that I had in my mind adequately in words. Fortunately I came across the work of Carol Dweck which completely shifted my ability to follow through with ideas until they were complete.

Here are the suggestions from Young to overcome this kind of self-doubt:

  • Recognize that talent has little to do with success – effort trumps ability.
  • Focus on continuous improvement rather than instant success.
  • Recognize that challenges are often opportunities in disguise.
  • Real success takes time.

The Expert

This is another pattern which held me back for a long time. The primary concern for the expert is about how much knowledge and skill you possess – and it never feels enough.

According to Young:

This idea that you need to know a subject backward and forward keeps you from speaking up or offering an opinion for fear of being wrong. And because you accept the false notion that you need to know everything there possibly is to know before you consider yourself remotely competent, you may not even attempt things you’re perfectly capable of doing.

This is often one that comes up for my clients (and was definitely the case for me). There is always another course or class to take, a book to read, a degree that they need to do before they feel competent, which means that it can take months or something even years longer to achieve a goal than necessary.

And that elusive feeling never comes.

One of the key shifts for me has been to reframe how I learn. Instead of learning only through absorbing theory, I now challenge myself to learn through doing. And I’ve arguably learnt more, more quickly from starting before I feel ready and developing skills as I go.

Here are Young’s suggestions:

  • There are many paths to expertise.
  • Competence means respecting your limitations.
  • You don’t need to know everything, you just need to be smart enough to find someone who does (love that!).
  • Even when you don’t know you can still project confidence. She isn’t saying pretend to know something when you don’t but quotes Mark Twain who was able to confidently say, “I was gratified to be able to know the answer promptly. I said, “I don’t know.’”

The Rugged Individualist

For the rugged individualist true competence means solo, unaided achievement, with the belief that you shouldn’t need help. The misguided thinking is that if you were really competent then you could do everything myself.

But this is inaccurate, as according to Young:

Competence doesn’t meaning knowing how to do everything yourself. Instead, competence means knowing how to identify the resources needed to get the job done.

Key reframes for this type:

  • To get the job done you need to identify resources required and then know how to ask for what you need.
  • Competent people know how to ask for what they need (from the right people).
  • Your work does not have to be groundbreaking to be good.
  • It’s ok to build on the work of competent other people.

The Superwoman/Man/Student

Finally, the view of competence here is the ability to juggle multiple roles masterfully. She goes on the say that this type is largely a cultural creation where “having it all” becomes “doing it all”.

She says:

The major reframe for Superwoman/Man is that competence is not a function of how many things you can do. In fact, rather than make you feel better about yourself and your level of competence, your constant striving to be everything to everybody can make you feel more inadequate. Plus there’s a good chance that sooner or later you’ll hit a wall in the form of illness or exhaustion, and possibly resentment.

Her suggestions for change involve learning:

  • It’s ok to say no.
  • Delegating frees you and gives others the chance to participate.
  • When you slow down and cut out unnecessary tasks, you get to focus on activities that really matter.
  • Being Superwoman/Man sends an unhealthy message to your daughter and sons (big wake up for me).


Did you resonate with any of these five? You may be likely me or a client who recently said: “Oh my hat, I identify with 4 out of the 5!” Let me know in the comments below.

Let’s commit to working towards a version of self-esteem which Carol Dweck refers to as wholehearted self esteem:

Self-esteem is how you feel when you are striving wholeheartedly for worthwhile things; it’s how you experience yourself when you are using your abilities to the fullest in service of what you deeply value.