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The Imposter Syndrome is Normal BY Kathryn Mayer

April 14, 2024 3:46 AM | ICF Membership (Administrator)

Amy Cuddy learned to make small tweaks in her behavior: faking it until she became more confident. This faking-it concept is similar to imposter syndrome—also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome —a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, referring to high-achieving individuals who can’t internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. In contrast, Cuddy prefers to name it “imposter experience”; she believes it’s fairly universal.

Recent research has found that both men and women experience the syndrome in equal numbers. Wikipedia lists Sheryl Sandberg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Albert Einstein as having said that they felt like imposters. Valerie Young, the author of the book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, acknowledged that she decided to focus on women because chronic self-doubts hold women back more than men. Whether women are held back more by their own beliefs, by stereotypes, or systematic obstacles, you can use your body to overcome these self-limiting beliefs. Cuddy’s 2012 TED talk describes Power Posing—standing in a Wonder Woman pose for two minutes—before engaging in a challenging activity. Her research demonstrates how holding a simple posture for two minutes increases testosterone and reduces cortisol. The testosterone fires you up while lowering cortisol calms you down. While some recent research challenges the validity and reliability of her work, HeartMath’s studies support the concept that even spending tiny periods of time in a positive emotional state can have lasting impact.

I am one of millions of people around the world who have benefited from the Power Pose. I used the two-minute Wonder Woman pose before giving a keynote speech in front of over a thousand people—going into a stall in the restroom to do it. This simple action simultaneously helped me override my freak-out instinct and energized me. I felt calm and confident even though negative thoughts of “don’t screw this up” danced in my head. Cuddy has received thank you notes from a wide range of people who have used this tool for everything from preparing for a job interview to playing the violin at Carnegie Hall. 

The concept of taking these small risks comes from the well-tested practice of the ancient Japanese technique of kaizen (continuous improvement in small, incremental steps). Japanese corporations have long used the gentle technique of kaizen to achieve their business goals and maintain excellence. Your brain is programmed to resist change. But by taking small steps, you literally rewire your brain so it bypasses the flight-or-fight response and creates new connections so that you can move rapidly towards your goal. For example, when I was starting my new book project, I believed that I needed to write for one hour a day. But after a whole year, I had barely written anything. When I attended a writing workshop to jump-start my book, my instructor suggested that I aim for thirty-minute writing shifts three days a week. This was doable. Another year later, I finished the first draft of the book. Once I started to build in the habit of writing, I found ways to increase it and make it happen regardless of my schedule.

Happily, I am publishing my third book, The Productive Perfectionist:  A Woman’s Guide to Smashing the Shackles of Perfectionism.  If you or your clients struggle with perfectionism, learn more at

KATHRYN MAYER, PCC, coaches high-potentials & C-suite executives and delivers leadership seminars globally, drawing from her background as a top-ranked tennis player and developer of talent in demanding corporate settings including Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, and Citigroup. She's the author of three books: Collaborative Competition™, How to Stay SANE and Successful in the COVID World, and her forthcoming book in spring 2024, The Productive Perfectionist. Kathryn writes a blog for those on the path to overcoming perfectionism.  Learn more about her and upcoming events on her forthcoming book at

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