Case Study: Can Coaching Help You Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

Achieving Goals, Confidence, Leadership Coaching, Life Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness, Reducing Stress, Self Awareness
08/22/22 - Cait Swamy
woman smiling looking away from computer

The names and circumstances behind this case study have been altered to maintain client confidentiality. 

Can working with a coach help boost your confidence? What is your success rate in improving the confidence level of your clients? What are some examples of transformational stories that you’ve had in working with clients who struggle with Imposter Syndrome? 

​​I get asked these types of questions all the time when meeting with prospective clients. 

So today, I want to share with you all a case study in just how life coaching can help to boost your confidence and overcome imposter syndrome

Before I dive in, I think it’s important to understand the distinction between Confidence and Imposter Syndrome.

Confidence is something that we are all born with. It’s a muscle that we can strengthen and weaken over time. In essence, confidence is having faith in yourself. Confidence is a result of how we’ve been brought up and what we’ve been taught about the world. Our confidence is a result of our experiences and the people who have influenced us along our journey. Because of this, confidence is a feeling that is individualized, and it can mean a lot of different things to different people. Confidence is not static. Our confidence can increase and decrease over time, and some days we will feel more confident than others. 

Imposter syndrome is defined as doubting your accomplishments, skills, or talents, and feeling like you don’t deserve to be where you are. This idea of being an imposter comes directly from the inner dialogue of our inner critic. Ultimately, imposter syndrome is fear. The inner critic tries to keep us safe from fear, but it can prevent us from taking the necessary steps to living a fulfilled life. In order to get to where we want to go, we must address this inner dialogue and befriend our inner critic by acknowledging them as our inner imposter. Through doing so, we build the muscle of confidence and learn to get out of our way. 

There are many reasons people want to boost their confidence and overcome imposter syndrome. From advancing in your career to having the courage to go on a date, being more confident in yourself will not only open up multiple opportunities, but it will also help you get more out of life. By being able to combat imposter syndrome, you’ll be able to step out of self-doubt and live the life you deserve. 

Bottom line: Building your confidence can be life changing.

The truth is, no one will build confidence through talking about their insecurities alone, but that is a critical part of how coaching can help boost your confidence and combat your imposter syndrome. Now I realize that so many people run (or want to run) away from tough conversations. Coaching requires a level of vulnerability and openness in order to be effective. This work is not a quick fix, one size fits all approach. 

“Can working with a coach help boost your confidence?” 

“What is your success rate in improving the confidence level of your clients?” 

“What are some examples of transformational stories that you’ve had in working with clients who struggle with Imposter Syndrome?

These are all great questions, so let’s dive into it using a real life client success story. 

Meet Claudia. Claudia has been a professor for 15 years. She’s been an expert in her field, but she’s noticed that now when she stands in front of her classroom she trips over her words, can’t think on her feet, and shakes uncontrollably. This has been going on for 4 years now. Claudia feels like an imposter, like she doesn’t have any of the answers or expertise, despite over a decade of experience and receiving countless accolades for her research. She has an unwavering fear that she will be found out, that she’d somehow tricked her colleagues and her students that she was capable, and that anything she said would demonstrate that she is a fraud and an imposter. 

Many of us can connect with Claudia’s story. In fact, research indicates that 70% of humans experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. My first step with Claudia was to truly understand what is happening, and helping Claudia understand her triggers and beliefs that are unintentionally hindering her performance. 

When do you feel the imposter syndrome coming in? 

What happens in your body when you feel it? 

When can you remember first experiencing this sensation? 

Through a series of inquiries, Claudia realized that this sensation first stemmed from an experience where a professor, who she perceived was a lot smarter than her, challenged her in the classroom. She froze. She was “found out.” Finally, someone had validated the insecurities that were deep within her. From that moment forward, she felt paralyzed. That experience had embedded a belief that she wasn’t a skilled professor, and she certainly didn’t know what she was talking about. 

Now, I’m not going to get into too many details here, but here’s where I get into deep work with my clients: understanding limiting beliefs. A limiting belief is defined as a state of mind, belief, or conviction that you think is true that limits you in some way. It could be something about you, how you interact with other people, or the world as a whole. Over time, these beliefs negatively impact us. They keep us from making positive decisions, taking on new opportunities, and most importantly, they inhibit us from reaching our full potential. You can learn more about limiting beliefs and confidence here. 

Claudia recognized that that experience had created a belief that was limiting her and hindering her well-being. It meant a great deal to be able to overcome this limiting belief to step into her confidence and combat her imposter syndrome. Instead of dwelling on the past, coaching seeks to focus on the client’s present and how they want to move forward and be in the future, and that’s exactly what we did next. 

What makes you a great professor? 

What are all the things that are right with you, Claudia? 

So often, we can name all of our weaknesses, but when we are asked to name our strengths, we feel stuck. In order to build confidence, we have to understand our strengths. We are trained from a young age to focus on what is wrong with us, rather than what is right with us. This conditioning weakens our confidence muscles and reinforces imposter syndrome. The truth is that people have several times more potential when they focus on their strengths rather than focusing on their shortcomings (Rath).

Claudia, like many of my clients, was stuck here. So I encouraged her to complete a quick exercise: Reflected Best Self. The Reflected Best Self Exercise is an exercise aimed at helping my clients struggling with confidence to understand and leverage their strengths. Through this exercise, my clients will get feedback on when and how they function at their best from those who know them best. Through gathering this data, my clients understand deeper their character, their demeanor, and all they bring to the world. This tool can be life-changing information for someone with Imposter syndrome because likely their limiting beliefs have been reinforced (i.e., Claudia’s experience), and they don’t believe in what they have to offer. 

Through this exercise, Claudia realized her strength was in her writing. It was clear her colleagues saw her as a subject matter expert, but now it was about coming up with coping strategies and tools at the moment when her Imposter syndrome was getting out of hand. 

The most important thing to understand about coaching is that you often have the answers within you, and a good coach will be able to draw out that information. To start seeing results from coaching, I think it’s important to understand that I am a firm believer that clients need an actionable toolbox to help them get to where they want to be, and they need a coach who will support them, challenge them, and hold them accountable along the way. Clients need a toolbox that they can draw upon in the real world to build their confidence muscles and overcome their imposter syndrome at the moment. 

What do you think you could try that would help you overcome your imposter syndrome in these moments?

What have you tried in the past? 

By baselining where Claudia was today, she was able to recognize that affirmations and mindfulness were tools at her disposal that were free, but she had neglected to tap into them recently. She also recognized that when she was able to tell herself she was confident, it helped alleviate the performance anxiety. 

Here’s where the coaching toolbox comes in. As a coach, I knew the efficacy of distanced self-talk and a dedicated mindfulness routine, but it was about taking her existing tools and maximizing them to their full potential. 

Claudia, Have you ever heard of the concept of Distanced Self-Talk?

Distanced self- talk is essentially referring to yourself by your name. If you think about it, we often refer to ourselves from the point of view of “I.” “I am not a good professor,” or “I don’t know enough.” Would you ever address a friend like that? When we are being hypercritical about ourselves, it’s often because we are tapping into our inner critic. Our inner coach would never speak to us that way. In fact, research has found that our brain associates names with thinking about other people. When we address ourselves from our own names, it switches our perspective, distancing ourselves from the problem, and therefore we are able to switch the narrative. 

What would you need to tell Claudia in those moments where you feel your Imposter Syndrome creeping in? 

“Claudia, you are a phenomenal writer. When you prepare, which you always do, you are quick witted and able to think on your feet. You are capable of doing this. You’ve got this. Claudia, you are the expert!” 

Great. Now what happened next? 

Claudia went to her next class, and minutes before her session, she pulled out this tool in her toolbox. What was incredible about this case is the awareness that Claudia derived from practicing this tool. Not only did the shaking subside, she came to a magnificent conclusion on her own: “When we are confronted with a difficult situation, we can view it as a fear (fight or flight) or find a way to view it as a challenge. Through addressing myself by name, I was more able to step out of the fight or flight mode and treat myself with empathy and see my strengths.” 

To this day, Claudia is working with us in maintaining the confidence muscles she has built and working through combating her imposter syndrome. We’ve done a lot more work around mindfulness, she’s been able to extend these lessons to her daughters, and her life has and never will be the same. 

Now, Claudia’s story is one of many success stories Ama La Vida Coaching has seen through the hundreds of clients the organization has served. Long story short, coaching has the power to change lives, and our success rate is measured through transformational stories like Claudia’s and through our testimonials. 
If you’re reading this, you’re likely curious about what to do next. If you are an existing client, our team of coaches are well-versed in this area, and if you are a prospective client, please schedule time with us here. It’s our mission to help our clients “love their lives.” Stepping out of your shadow to build your confidence and quit your imposter syndrome is one of the many ways we, as coaches, help our clients love their lives.

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