Denise Jacobs – Banishing your inner critic

Denise Jacobs – Banishing your inner critic

My guest in this episode is speaker, author and creativity evangelist, Founder + CEO of The Creative Dose, Denise Jacobs. Denise has spoken in 23 countries around the world, is a TEDx speaker, a LinkedIn Learning course creator, and is the author of Banish Your Inner Critic, the premier handbook on silencing fears to unleash creativity. She is currently working on her next book to help leaders and high-achievers overcome impostor syndrome.

We talk about the inner critic and imposter syndrome and how to tackle both of them to boost your creative life.
Denise on Twitter
Denise on LinkedIn
Denise on Facebook
Denise on Instagram
Amplify U Denise’s Rosenfeld Workshop - Master Creative Collaboration and Communication

Subscribe to Power of Ten


N.B. This transcript is mostly done by AI, so there may be a few errors. Timestamps are included for accessibility and listening along.

Andy Polaine 00:09

Welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels zooming out from thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation and onto changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine. I’m a service design and innovation consultant, coach, trainer and writer. My guest today is speaker, author and creativity evangelist, Denise Jacobs. Denise has spoken in 23 countries around the world is a TEDx speaker, a LinkedIn learning course creator, and the author of banish your inner critic, the premier handbook on silencing fears to unleash creativity. She’s founder and CEO of the Creative Dose, and is currently working on her next book to help leaders and high achievers overcome imposter syndrome. Denise, welcome to Power of Ten.

Denise Jacobs 00:54

Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Polaine 00:56

It’s great to have you here. Now, I know you as… you know, we’ve met at a few conferences, and I know you as a bundle of energy, someone who’s very kind of energetic and confident on stage. And I also know you are… there’s a kind of quiet and reflective side of you that I’ve experienced also kind of off stage. So who is Denise Jacobs?

Denise Jacobs 01:18

That… the answer is yes. The answer is that I’m all of those things, you know, and it’s actually really funny, because I was thinking about it earlier today. And I was like, I’m like, a cool, awkward, geeky, hip person. You know, like, like, I, and I think, you know, like, everybody, you know, we all kind of contain multiple multitudes, as the essay goes. And I can be this very energetic, you know, positive, upbeat, encouraging, person. And then I also have moments where I don’t want to talk to anybody, and I just want to read a book, and have a cup of tea and a blanket, on my sofa in my bed, and I just want to hide away from the world. And then I don’t think that those things necessarily, you know, that, that they contradict each other. In some ways, I think the reason that I can be this energetic, you know, outward facing person is because I know that I need to take that time and the need to have the downtime and the quiet time and whatnot.

Andy Polaine 02:39

So how did it… How long did it take you to work out, that’s who you were.

Denise Jacobs 02:42

You know, I think you’d… The funny thing is, I think I always knew that, but I think I struggled. And I think also to like having a more public persona, or, you know, more of a public professional front than I did, you know, in, when I was a project manager and stuff like that, I didn’t feel like I needed to explain the fact that, like, I need to go and, you know, be by myself and read a book. But now that I’m a public speaker, and, you know, keynote conferences, and, you know, run workshops and trainings and stuff like that, it’s very interesting to find, to find myself and it’s still one of those things where it’s like, almost every time it happens, I’m surprised, you know, it’s like, Oh, right, I, I actually need this downtime. Like I, there’s part of me that wants to be around everybody and be social and stuff like that.

Denise Jacobs 03:42

But I definitely have got, I think, probably within the last five years, maybe last six years or so have really come to terms with the fact that it’s like, this is an energy expenditure for me. And that afterwards, I need to do things to replenish my energy, like I can’t, I’m not…. When I hear about people being extroverts and how they want they just want to, like, hang out, perpetually, I’m just like, Wow, really, that’s, that’s, yeah, I like there’s I, I definitely would be at a conference. And I’ll be like, so excited to be around people. And then I’ll just get to a point where it’s just like, I like “and scene.” I gotta go.

Andy Polaine 04:28

Particularly with workshops, right? I mean, they, I mean, being on stage is there’s a sort of the adrenaline of the gig, but a workshop is over kind of longer term. And I think you kind of have to be the energy that carries everyone else’s energy through and I remember doing three, two day ones in two different countries, back to back. And at the end of that week, I was just, you know, just a husk on the sofa.

Denise Jacobs 04:50

Rght? I mean, it’s like cuz it’s, it’s a lot and then the other thing is too, is that - and this is one of the things I love about doing like what we do - is that it touches people on such a deep level that they like they want to connect, like, they feel close, like people feel close to you or they feel like, they feel like, like, you’ve got something that will help them or that will, you know, like, almost like, I mean, maybe it sounds funny, but almost like, like healing, you know, like, yeah. And that there’s something, but you know, just like people who are healers and you know, laying on hands and things like that. I mean, it’s like it takes, unless you really learn how to channel the energy it takes energy from Yeah, right. And so yeah, that’s a whole thing.

Andy Polaine 05:43

I mean I think, particularly if you’re talking about the kind of stuff you’re talking about, I mean, it’s probably like, you know, how comedians complain that everyone just expects them to be funny, funny all the time. And actually a lot of comedians, you know, quiet down people outside of it. But I, you know, it would be somehow comforting to walk into the bathroom and Tony Robbins, was there kind of crying.

Denise Jacobs 06:11

Or having like, a down moment? Yeah. I just tired of people. Like, I just want to like, “Can we just like, sit in the corner and talk?” Yeah, but I can handle like the two of us talking. I just can’t handle a large crowd. Tens of thousands of people.

Andy Polaine 06:25

Yeah. So, you know, I asked you, how long did it take you to work out that that’s who you were. The proper question is probably “How long did it take to accept that that’s who you were?”

Denise Jacobs 06:37

And that’s the thing, right? That’s the thing. And honestly, you know, between me, you and everybody else who may be listening to this, it’s still something I struggle with, like I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a coach and I was like, you know, I am ambitious. And I am driven. And I’m also exhausted, right? Like with a pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the current political climate in the US. Like, and I’m exhausted, like, emotionally drained. And, and I said, but there’s all this stuff that I that I want to do, and that I want to accomplish. And he was like, you know, you need to… he was like, what I support you doing what I think is important to do is to figure out how you work not to work the way you think you’re supposed to, not to try to work a nine hour day.

Denise Jacobs 07:38

And it was like, we work for ourselves. We can do whatever we want. Like we can structure our days to work the way and I have another friend, my friend, Claire Kumar consults on this, like, like really looking at what it is, what is it that I need to be the best and most productive that I can do and do my best work. And that might mean that I don’t work until like, I do all my exercise in the morning. And I don’t actually work until 11. It may mean, I work from 11 until three or four and that’s it for the day, I work four hours. And that’s it.

Denise Jacobs 08:18

And it’s… I think, like I personally really struggle with this, the idea of productivity being productive, and what that means and what that looks like. What it looks like, even more so like what other people will be like you did what you, you, you took, you’re taking Friday’s off, like what kind of madness is that? Or you know, because there is this hustle culture, this super toxic hustle culture. And I think it’s really, it personally, except, I’ll say, again, I’ll speak for myself. For me, I’m really trying to reconcile, like, what it means for me to work. Like, what… First of all, what that is, is that I take a nap every day, when I feel tired? Is it, you know, like, what, what, how does that break down? Do I not work on Wednesdays and Fridays? Like, do I work a half a day? Do I, you know, do I have a day, that’s a deep work day, and then other days that are email days, like just trying to figure out all of those things. But, but I feel like one of the “gifts”, quote unquote, of this time, the pandemic at the very least, is that I finally have the space to explore that. Whereas before I never had that. I never had that space.

Andy Polaine 09:46

And you know, it’s interesting, you should say that because I mean, there’s so much in there. I mean, especially the… that kind of productivity culture, you know, it’s a very it’s a very tech industry thing as well, but it’s it’s also it’s kind of everywhere, that not only should you be kind of super productive, making everything out of every hour of the day down to the point of kind of drinking a meal that is a, you know, is basically a smoothie so you can just carry on working and not, you know, waste time eating. And then, you know, talking to someone who’s growing a lot of their own food on at the moment. And then, you know, and taking away the joy of that, but also then not only have you got your job, everyone has to be an entrepreneur. So you’ve got your side hustle going and all that kind of stuff. And I think for people like, like us who work independently, and you work from home. Everyone’s doing that now, right?

Andy Polaine 10:40

So everyone’s suddenly had that experience of what happens when that all kind of blurs into their lives. There’s no commute to kind of buffer and create that space, or even force some space. And I think that it allowed people to kind of reevaluate a lot of things. But space is… well two things. One is, you taught very early on in your book about self compassion as a really important aspect, which probably come back to but before I think you even get to self compassion. I don’t know about you with your coaching, but I find one of the first things I have to do is fight people’s kind of — I’d say addiction, actually, but it’s kind of pushed on them too — to email calendars, back to back meetings or other stuff, just create some space and get help them to kind of set some boundaries, before they can even kind of remember who they are.

Denise Jacobs 11:31

Mm hmm.

Denise Jacobs 11:32

I think that and also, I think one of the things like one of my coaching clients, one of the things we’ve been working with is, and I think some of this is, it’s somewhat related is the operating under what you believe other people’s expectations are of you. And actually figuring out whether those what you perceive as their expectations of you are actually real, right? And, and I think that part of that can definitely be related to time, right? Can definitely be correlated to time, like, how much time it should take you to do something, how much time you’re supposed to be, or you should be spending on, you know, XYZ thing. You know, like, and, and, again, also what it looks like, right? Like this concept of, of optics. The optics of being productive, the optics of working the optics of being effective versus de facto productivity, effectiveness, etc.

Andy Polaine 12:52

Like leaving your jacket hanging on the chair the night you leave, so that when you come in late in the morning, looks like you’ve been there earlier already and you’ve just gone out for a coffee. It’s the classic trick.

Denise Jacobs 13:05

And you know, it’s so funny, I have been out of corporate out of a corporate environment for so long at this point in time that I’m like. That is that is actually a thing. Gosh, I’m so glad that I don’t have to play those reindeer games anymore.

Andy Polaine 13:22

So what was the trigger for you writing Banish the Inner Critic? Presumably you… well not presumably at all, at the beginning you tell the story of kind of you going through it yourself.

Denise Jacobs 13:32

Exactly. And that’s, and that’s what it was. I mean, it was it was so debilitating paralysing, like, like spinning the first two days that I was supposed to be writing my book. And when I say writing, I actually do put air quotes around that. Because when you’re writing a book, you don’t sit down, you just start writing, you have to do research, right? Most of the time, you have to do research, or you have to do a brain dump, or you have to capture stuff, you know, to down and just start writing most of the time, at least my experience is that you don’t. And so I wasn’t even going to be doing like a heavy lifting writing part. I was just going to be doing research on like HTML and CSS. There is nothing there… like that was completely inside of my purview of, of skills and abilities. And yet, I’m freaking out. Right? And, and, and I had a lot of moments of freaking out. And, you know, sometimes they were so debilitating that I that I couldn’t work that I couldn’t focus and couldn’t concentrate. And so then when I when I finished the book, and I had like this amazing flow state, I was like, oh, and so what happened was I was excited about creativity because I thought it was really about creative expression. And I was like, Oh, you’re able to create blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But then when I started doing all this research about creativity, almost everything that I did was like, you know, if you want to unleash your creativity and express yourself creatively, blah, blah, blah. You can’t do that if you’re feeling like it has to be perfect. You can’t do that if you feel like an imposter, you can’t do that.

Denise Jacobs 15:20

And everything that I was reading about creativity, so much of it kept pointing back to what’s in… because and I guess also is like, what blocks creativity? Like how can you remove the blocks for creativity? Well all the blocks were all of these inner critic things. And so I was like, oh, and so I was so interested in creativity, I started doing talks on creativity. And the beginning part was always this, before you get to this great ideation, and, you know, imagination and all this stuff, you have to remove these blocks, you have to silence your inner critic, you have to banish your inner critic. And then I wrote an article for A List Apart. Yeah, back in 2011. And so many people had so much amazing feedback. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the actress Felicia Day?

Andy Polaine 16:20

Well probably, if I saw her,

Denise Jacobs 16:22

Yeah, she’s been in a lot of stuff. She used to do a lot of stuff with… Anyway, she’s great. She has quite a following. And she read the article, and then like, posted about it and said, there’s this great article. And like, I’ve used these techniques myself to like, get up, you know, over like writer’s block and get over creative blocks, and blah, blah. I was like, “Oh, my God, somebody famous read my article and said, it was like, legit!” And so I just, I got this great feedback from it. And I kept talking about it. Every time I talked about people were like, “Oh, my God, it’s like, you’re in my head.” And I was like, well, let me just make a talk, you know, print, keynote presentation, whatever, that’s just on this. And people, like, I mean, I say people lost their minds, but they were like, they were so enthusiastic, like, people come up after me afterwards and be like, Oh, my God, it’s like, you were there during my master’s thesis, my MFA. It was like, you’re standing over my shoulder. And I sat down with I sat down and met this guy, another web person, whose name…. why am I just blanking on his name, and I can remember his face? Anyway, he said to me, “You know, I read your article and I thought to myself, I don’t know Denise, but it seems like she knows me really, really well.” And so it, just it kind of like it just kept… you know, and so I was actually planning to write a book about my kind of creative process process, like the steps that I was going through. But I had such a strong response to the Banishing Your Critic keynote, and all the other things that I was like, well, I’ll write this book first.

Andy Polaine 18:12

It’s interesting, isn’t it when you get that personal, that generalises so well, to kind of everyone and it’s always the stuff when you know, when you write much more from the heart, about your personal experience, and that, you know, interestingly, with talking about some of their, you know, chapter three – so you actually did the kind of headings of the main chapters of your book are phrases that have come from this activity you do at the beginning of your workshop, and everyone writes down their day is fear, their imposter syndrome. Yeah. And then they all get screwed up and thrown in the corner. Is that how it works?

Denise Jacobs 18:47

So they write down the their top fear around creativity on a piece of paper, crumble it up in a ball, and then they throw, it’s like a snowball fight. Right? Throw it across the room, and then whatever one lands closest to you, you pick it up, and you read it. And so it’s totally anonymous. People are writing really what they really genuinely feel. Yeah, and believe in their fears. But it’s like totally safe, because, because it’s totally not…

Andy Polaine 19:17

You don’t know where it’s come from.

Denise Jacobs 19:18

Right, but it’s amazing. What I always thought was amazing. Or, you know, unsurprising, but still, like kind of thrilling when it happens is when people are just like I was like, how many of you are picked up something, but the thing that you that you picked up was basically the same thing that you wrote. Yeah. Yeah. Or I was like, or maybe it wasn’t the exact same thing you wrote, but maybe out of the list of top three fears. is one of them, though.

Andy Polaine 19:48

Yeah. Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. So I went to that kind of chapter three thing because I was talking about you when you write from your heart and when you really write about the things that you’ve experienced - this certainly whenever I wrote about this, I get the biggest response to this too - but it’s also a scary moment. And chapter three is “People think my work is dumb.” And so how do… what are the kind of common things? I don’t know if you want to go through the book or the chapters. But what are the sort of common things that keep coming? You’ve done lots and lots of workshops, you coach people, you’ve written the book, what’s the number one?

Denise Jacobs 20:27

I think one of the things that are is that and I always find that this is really fascinating when I speak at a conference like Adobe Max, or you know conferences that are touted as creativity conferences, like a creativity conference, or this is a conference for creatives. And then I go to that, and I’ve spoken at Adobe Max several times now. And every time like, that is the audience that is the most like, I’m not creative enough. My ideas are not good enough.

Andy Polaine 20:57

So an audience full of designers.

Denise Jacobs 20:59

Yeah. Right. Full of designers and, and other creative and who are like, yeah, I’m not I’m not creative enough, or, or my ideas are dumb, or people are going to judge me. I get a lot of people will find out, I don’t know what I’m doing, especially with leaders, with leaders in it. You know, it’s interesting, I wish that I had kind of better tracked where each kind of snowball that I have, because like, I actually gather up all of this stuff. And I keep this as data, where each has come from, to kind of get an overview of which are the what are the fears that are predominant for that group?

Andy Polaine 21:44

Do you mean in sort of batches? So you know, I have a batch there about imposter syndrome for a lot of leaders?

Denise Jacobs 21:51

Right? Right? Like, yeah, out of the out of this group of leaders, you know, 10% were saying it’s got to be perfect. Or I can’t make mistakes, you know, 25%, like, they’re gonna find out, I don’t know what I’m doing. You know, 40% said, they’re gonna judge me or whatever it is. I wish I had that. I wish I had had it. You know, I had organised it that way. I actually organised it by, by, you know, how many people said things that sounded like, it’s not so and so enough? Like, I don’t know, enough? Or I’m not skilled, enough format, talented, or whatever? So I categorised it that way. Um, but, but yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s really interesting. I feel like those are some of the things I mean, basically, everything, the chapters came from the data, and not vice versa, right? Like that. There is a big pile of people saying, I’m afraid that people are going to laugh at me, or they’re gonna judge me or whatever, there’s a big pile of people a big pile of stuff, where people are like, people are going to find out, I don’t know what I’m talking about, or they’re gonna think I’m a fraud, or is a big pile of I’ve got to do it perfectly.

Andy Polaine 23:08

Yeah. Nothing I do is any good? I’m not good enough.

Denise Jacobs 23:12

I’m not as creative as everyone else.

Andy Polaine 23:15

And I’m not creative. So tell me the difference between those two actually, because you’ve got two chapters. One is I’m not as creative as anyone else. And the other one is, I’m not creative full stop.

Denise Jacobs 23:25

So, so I feel like they’re different. One of them, I, I say is comparison. I call it comparison syndrome. And it’s when you’re comparing yourself to somebody, and it can be anything, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about creative. It could be I’m not as talented as this person. I’m not as you know, innovative as somebody, I’m not as deep a thinker. I mean, you know, it’s whatever it is, you’re not as, as somebody else. The other one, I’m not creative. It’s just like, I just, I just don’t have any creativity at all. Right? It’s not about whether I have a certain level or not, it’s like, it doesn’t exist. And I really I did that one, because I worked with so many, you know, back Back in the day, I was working with so many people who were software engineers and developers and, and more kind of technical analytical folks. And that would be what they would say all the time. Well, I’m just I’m not creative. And I was like, oh, woop skirt, hold on

Andy Polaine 24:31

Because they’re not a visual artist or musician or whatever…

Denise Jacobs 24:34

Because they’re not visual, or a designer or whatever. And I was like, creativity is not about the arts. Creativity is about how you go about you go about solving problems. I was like, and as a developer, you’re solving problems all the time. I was like, I can’t, I can’t think of any other. I mean, there’s barely any other profession where somebody goes, I want you to I want a computer programme that does that, this, this, this, this, this and this. And the person goes, Okay, yeah, I can I can code that for you. Like, what? Like, you have to understand so many things and put so many things together and do so much creative problem solving. And then, like, if you’re working with different systems and different languages and trying to, like get things to connect, and I was like, that takes a huge amount of creativity.

Andy Polaine 25:26

Sometimes people build little kind of emotional and intellectual forts around themselves with that as well about you know, I’m, I’m analytical, I’m kind of objective, or I’m, you know, I live in the real world, whatever it is, you know, I’m more kind of hard nosed than that, then, you know, that artsy fartsy stuff, you know, and they kind of rejected out of hand if you found, I mean, I’m… my experience is, and I would assume that that’s mostly a fear reaction that’s then justified and, you know, as a kind of a little intellectual world that I’m, this is the bit I’m part of, what have you found?

Denise Jacobs 26:02

I definitely think that’s right. And, you know, I actually spend less time thinking about where it comes from. And more of my focus is on showing people how they are creative, like, leading them through exercises, and getting them to the point where they can start to recognise that like, first of all, that they are creative. And second of all, that it’s nothing to be, like, you know, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and there’s nothing wrong with it like to, and to, just to reframe it for them. So that they can see like, Oh, this is this is about problem solving. And I problem solve all the time. As matter of fact, I’m awesome at problem solving. Yes, you are. So that’s usually that’s usually what I focus on. And kind of the, the roots of it and everything. For me, I feel like we could get into that I usually don’t have that much time, though, right? Like, I’m usually trying to get people to like a certain place by the end of the day, or the end of the two days or whatever worked. To get them to, to be able to, you know, have these tools and be able to use these tools that I’m sharing with them.

Andy Polaine 27:15

I mean, what struck me reading through it and kind of listening to you speak as well as how much of that is a you know, we make our own prisons. And then I was just thinking through it, some more. And it’s more like, it’s like, we spend a large proportion - certainly the first half of our lives - building a, an escape room for ourselves. And then we can completely forget, it’s like we have a memory wipe, and yet we’re stuck in our own escape room and have no idea how to get out of it. And it was interesting for me to kind of read through because a lot of what you’re doing is basically how do you reframing is a really big one, actually. But how do you kind of dismantle or find the kind of clues and and find the riddles and solve the riddles of that to kind of get out of your own escape room? Right. So what have you found has been most I mean, you go into this, there’s a lot more we could go into, because you go into the neuroscience of it, a lot of why that stuff, blocks us and, and and the kind of tension between the two, the short version probably be to two parts of your brain are at odds with each other when you’re trying to be creative. And there and the other part is trying to shut it down. But what have you found most effective, you know, there’s the I call them experiments in my coaching, you could talk about these creative doses and their activities, some of them are quite small, some of them become longer term because of multi part, what have you found? How did you come up with those or discover those and what have you found has been most useful? Perhaps you can give a couple of examples?

Denise Jacobs 28:50

Well, some of them some, some of them, not many, but some of them I created myself, some of them I experienced as you know, like as a workshop participant, or whatever myself, and then some of them, you know, I read about and and then tried them and like found out that they were really effective also, you know, got some from other people, other friends of mine who were coaches and trainers and a lot of stuff based in applied improvisation and stuff like that. So there’s, you know, big network of people who use these these tools, but and then some of them are, you know, actual, like, cognitive behavioural therapy, type of exercises and whatnot. And I just, you know, just to kind of take a step back for a moment. One of the reasons that I I really emphasised neuroscience. There are a couple of reasons for it. The first one is that knowing that my audience is… so much of my audience was and is technical people who work in the tech industry, who like science and kind of logic and analysis, I was really very aware that the content of this book could be very easily dismissed, if it was thought of as like a woowoo, airy fairy thing. And then, now that we are talking about racial stuff so much in the world, I also was very, I was very aware of the fact that as a black woman, there’s the potential for my content to be dismissed. Right. And that’s just a actual real thing.

Andy Polaine 31:01


Denise Jacobs 31:02

And, and so, for me, it was really important that I had a basis that not only that my audience could kind of see as foundationally sound, but that also that I felt good about. So that I felt like this is actually based on something this is not like speculation. And for, you know, I wrote half of the book, actually, not knowing why it worked. Yeah, I knew it worked. I didn’t know why. Until I like, kind of discovered the connection between neuroscience mindfulness and self compassion. And once I discovered that, I was like, This is why it works. Not like just take my word for it. But this is, like, scientifically proven.

Andy Polaine 31:57

Yeah, it’s, it’s all of the, the science and the, you know, it’s the most subjective and the most, or not the most objective, I’m gonna guess, you know, neuroscience is strives to be objective as those two worlds coming together actually, it’s nice to It’s nice to see because often they’re kind of pulling out at each other. And yet we you know, the thing we will forget, is obviously we all experience the world so subjectively. And talking of which, so in your talks about being a black woman, I’ve got probably about 70% to 30% female coaches to male coaches. And this was the first thing we actually talked about when we first reconnected right, the inner chatter. The inner critic basically and how, how much the socialised, kind of, role… there was a thing I saw recently, which was the stop telling girls or women they should not have a voice. Be nice and not have a voice. A comment what the quote is now actually, but it’s that thing of be quiet, you know, don’t don’t speak up.

Denise Jacobs 33:06

Don’t be angry.

Andy Polaine 33:07

Yeah. Yeah.

Denise Jacobs 33:08

Like, why shouldn’t I be angry?

Andy Polaine 33:11

So I’m really interested to know. Not really to make, I guess, make a massive thing of it but for me, it’s really evident… and part if it is that idea of this internal and external locus of control. You know, this idea that something’s happened, like, I didn’t get the promotion or whatever it is. Generally, not all men, but men will kind of basically go because the the people who should be promoted me are idiots, whereas women generally internalise the Oh, because I’m not good enough. Is that true? Is that been your experience, too?

Denise Jacobs 33:43

Absolutely. And that like, is like the first thing. The thing that I found really interesting. And I’ve said this to quite a few people is, I found that for some reason or another, the people that I work with and the people who are drawn to me, or who who are drawn to my work… I seem to have, I don’t know, I would say that it’s, it seems to me to be a disproportionate number of men. And white men, I would even say specifically, who are like, “I totally have imposter syndrome. I totally experience all this stuff.” And like “everything that you said, totally spoke to me” and I’m like, oh, this is really fascinating and interesting. I mean, like, in terms of like, you know, the percentage of society of, you know, people in that demographic, who actually have imposter syndrome might be like, actually, statistically small, you know, small as a percentage at, like, the number of folks that I’m dealing with are just like, like I that’s so my world and yeah, like I’m not a black woman or a woman of colour or a person of colour, and I’m deeply mired in this. Um, So I find it it’s… but I also do think that, you know, just from, you know, culturally and everything that like, and I think, I think we talked about this when we, when we reconnected that I saw this a couple of tweets a couple of months back, and I was just like, cool, like, wow, like one of them was like maybe. imposter syndrome. You know, like, when women and people of colour experience imposter syndrome, it’s not because they have imposter syndrome, it’s because they have been systematically told that their work isn’t good enough. And it’s like, Ah, geez, Louise like, what?!

Andy Polaine 35:42

Yeah. I saw that tweet too.

Denise Jacobs 35:44

And, you know, when you start to think about that, it’s just like, you know, that is pretty mind blowing. And it’s like, yeah, and that, and that’s, it’s real.

Andy Polaine 35:55

Well, it’s the difference, again, of, you know, is it coming from internally? Or is it just constantly imposed on you every day?

Denise Jacobs 36:03

And then it becomes internal.

Andy Polaine 36:05

Right, and then it becomes learned helplessness as well, which is I can’t, I can’t change it. I wonder, I find it fascinating that you have the majority of your coaches end up being white men as well, because I’m fascinated why I get more women than men. And I don’t know if it’s because I had assumed it is because.. you know, generalising, that women are kind of more open to doing that kind of inner work. I think at least that’s the kind of inner work that I will kind of do with them rather than men, maybe wanting something more structured, like “What’s the, you know, Tony Robbins kind of 12 step plan,” or whatever it is. But, I don’t know, I wonder if there’s kind of something different going on there. And I wondered if, if you become as you start to become aware of your privilege, and you know, I always say I’m, I’m walking privilege, I’m a middle class, middle aged, white male, privately schooled all of you know, everything…

Denise Jacobs 37:07

And you have a British accent, I mean, come on!

Andy Polaine 37:09

And I have British accent yeah, so I get to be the James Bond villain. And so with that comes a kind of… If you become aware of your privilege, then imposter syndrome really kick in, because all of a sudden, all the things that you thought you had achieved, because you’re so great. Maybe not. I wonder if that’s what’s kind of going on with them, then coming to you?

Denise Jacobs 37:31

You know, I don’t know. But like I said, I personally find it fas…. I, you know, like, I’m just like, well, I’m, you know, what, I’m here to help the people who resonate with my work.

Andy Polaine 37:45

Have you noticed a difference between leaders and other people when you’ve been working with them?

Denise Jacobs 37:50

And leaders? And it like a difference between them and other people in what respect?

Andy Polaine 37:54

Yeah, I guess like, because you’re you, you know, you work with kind of a broad group of people, at least in your workshops that you’re saying. And it’s not just.. I mean, your current book you’re you’re working on is for leaders, but you’ve worked, presumably, you’ve worked with kind of people who are not leaders, as well as kind of this that expression, individual contributors, which I don’t really like very much.

Denise Jacobs 38:17

I like to call them producers like a producer level.

Andy Polaine 38:20

Yes the people actually get stuff done. Yeah. You know, have you seen any sort of patterns between the kinds of things that are coming up for leaders and the kind of people who are coming up when they’re in that producer role?

Denise Jacobs 38:35

You know, honestly, I feel like it’s, it’s so similar. It’s, you know, it’s definitely a lot about, you know, can I do this? Or, you know, how do I, how do I become more effective? I think the leaders and one of the reasons why I wanted to focus on that is, is that, that they are so, so much more susceptible to imposter syndrome. Right, that they’re so much more prone to second guessing themselves and wondering if they’re doing good job, wonder if they’re, like, you know, helping their team, you know, because helping the team members grow and develop,

Andy Polaine 39:23

They’re kind of more exposed right?

Denise Jacobs 39:25

Right, yeah. But they’re more exposed, they’re more exposed and have less support. Right, because as a leader, you’re not supposed to, you’re supposed to “know everything.” So, in some ways, I feel like leaders in some ways, and some are almost more vulnerable to like, they like they question themselves even more. And I also think that’s kind of a really interesting paradox, right? That the more the higher up In kind of power and and, and whatnot that you get the louder your inner critic gets the more inner critical thoughts you may have.

Andy Polaine 40:11

Yeah, and the best ones, though, are ones that really kind of come to accept themselves with all those thoughts. And know they don’t have all the answers, are comfortable with it. Otherwise, they tend to end up inflicting all their complexes over kind of everyone else, as we are seeing going on in the world at the moment.

Denise Jacobs 40:28

Yes indeed.

Andy Polaine 40:29

I want to come back to I want to come back to that question originally asked which asked earlier, which was, we will have our tips and tricks will have kind of things that we lean on quite a lot. So what I’m gonna have a couple of things that I always come back to, I’m really just, I’m nosy. I’d really love to know what your ones are. What have you found has been a kind of effective reframe, or effective in self compassion or some unlocking?

Denise Jacobs 40:56

So one of the ones that I feel like is is a really powerful reframe is the kind of trick that I teach people to realise that they have the choice of choosing one thought over another. And that’s the holding up your hands in front of your face and focusing and then shifting your focus from one hand to another. So like, you know, I tell people to like, focus, really, you know, put all your focus on one hand and look at all of the lines in your hands and the shapes of your fingers and everything. And then imagine that, that that hand is holding all the thoughts that you don’t want to be thinking all the, I’m not good enough, and I don’t know enough, and people are going to find out that I’m a fraud and everything. And then to actually shift your focus slowly, from your first hand, to your second hand and put all of your focus and your attention on this second hand and look at the lines and the shapes and everything. And then imagine that this hand is holding all of the supportive thoughts that you want to be thinking like, I can do it, I can figure it out. If I don’t know, I can ask for help. I’ve got support, whatever it is. And then usually, always, then I say, okay, you’re totally focused on the second hand, is your first hand still there? And people are usually like, yeah, it’s still there. And I was like, Do you care about it? Now that you’ve got all of your attention on your second hand? And they’re like, no.

Denise Jacobs 42:34

And the thing is, is that when you really focus, like you really, really focus, it’s like, the hand is there, but you you can almost can’t even see it except for in your peripheral vision, right? And when people do that, they just like, “yeah”, and I’m like, “yeah, so with the ability to be mindful, with mindfulness and all of this, that we have, you have the same power to shift your your focus from one set of thoughts to another set of thoughts.” When you’re deeply mired in, you know, like, cyclical thinking and rumination and stuff like that. It’s, it’s definitely an effort, but I’m not going to say that it’s the easiest thing to do. But it is definitely one of those things where you just like, oh, but I can, like, you know, like, I mean, I’ve had, you know, certainly in the last, you know, couple of months had times where I was very, very distraught. And even in the midst of being very distraught, there’s a part of my brain that goes, wow, you’re really upset. Right? And, and that part of your brain that says, oh, you’re really upset, or you’re really going through it right now. That means that I’m not the upset part of not solely the upset part, right, that there’s another part of me. And if there’s these two different bits, then maybe there’s a third one there. Maybe there’s a fourth one, maybe there’s fifth one. Right? And I feel like just having that kind of awareness can help you in moments where you think that you know, what just be you’re thinking something, it means that it’s true.

Denise Jacobs 44:21

Another thing that I have discovered recently, just because you’re thinking and I tell this to people all the time, and now it’s like yeah, and I’ve had like experiences in my life. It’s like, okay, I was thinking that and I was totally believing that this this thought was true. But it isn’t, I’m just thinking it but it has basically no bearing on reality unless I actually test it out and I find out I check it out, I find out whether or not it does. So that is a really effective tool. I also heard from just heard feedback from people that are doing the inventory like this. So inventory and what they’re good at and like taking a look at that really, really helps a lot. Like the reframing a lot of the reframing exercises help a tonne. I actually had a woman reach out to me from on Instagram, and she said that she suffers from depression and anxiety. And was was it manic depressive for she was very, but definitely like depression anxiety. And she said that she got my book, and she went through the whole thing with her therapist. And she was like, it made a huge difference. And it was great. Really!

Andy Polaine 45:50

That’s fantastic.

Denise Jacobs 45:50

I did a thing, I did a thing! So and, you know, one of the things that I found in terms of when I when I’ve gotten feedback from people is sometimes it’s really, really small stuff, that it’s not like a big exercise. Sometimes it’s just like a sentence, or, like, one paragraph that people were like, I read that, and it changed everything for me. And I’m like, really, that’s fascinating.

Andy Polaine 46:21

But it’s the same the other way around, right? This this person said this one thing when I was 10 years old, or it’s, you know, I got this bit of feedback, and you know, I got glowing assessment, and there’s this one line and I went off and cried in the toilets, you know, And it’s kind of small… you know, small things can suddenly, just by I’m guessing on the neuroscience of that is, you know, it’s just that last little thing that creates a connection between two little patterns in your brain, and then suddenly, is that Oh. But that’s why reframing is so, so powerful, you know, and we are we are born and learn to catastrophize and be afraid because that keeps us alive, right, but in our lives, in general – and I’m mindful of saying this from again, for a position of privilege – but in general, we’re safe, we’re certainly safer then kind of someone who’s you know, who’s our Stone Age ancestors. Then it sort of over indexes on that fear and catastrophizing side. And it is important to remember that the worst thing that can happen is often not as bad as we feel it, it might be.

Denise Jacobs 47:35


Andy Polaine 47:36

I hope at least it feels like it right at the moment. I think there there’s part of what’s going on, right, just globally, there is a it’s not just the pandemic, it’s also not just what’s going on in the states politically, but kind of, there’s a lot of stuff where it feels like, you know, everyone’s just a bit more strung out. But it’s like a kind of permanent background thing. It’s not just our there was this catastrophic disaster, you know, and then life kind of carried on it’s like this constant sort of prodding, and shredding of nerve endings that I think is making people feel pretty tired, right?

Denise Jacobs 48:13

It’s like, it’s like static, and, you know, like, or, or, like static isn’t necessarily the word that I want. But like, like, this kind of constant, low level of disruptive noise, right? Like, kind of the same way static is worth like, in like, just behind everything all the time. And you’re just like, can you like, there’s something really annoying. That is like, like, unravelling my nerves,

Andy Polaine 48:44

It’s like a fear tinnitus or something isn’t it?

Denise Jacobs 48:49

It totally is. My God.

Andy Polaine 48:52

So, we’re coming up for time. You are, as we talked about, you’re working on a book for leaders as well.

Denise Jacobs 49:03

Yes, but before that book happens, the kind of more pressing thing that’s happening is I am developing an online course for helping to cultivate career competence. So it’s going to be based a lot on the work in banish your inner critic, but like specifically directed towards career competence. And then it will also start to draw upon some of the stuff that I’m going to be talking about in the the high achiever book around imposter syndrome and perfectionism and failure and success, yeah.

Andy Polaine 49:44

Okay, so what people have to look out for that, as you know, the the show’s called Power of Ten, after the Eames’ film of the relative size of things in the universe and zooming in and out and kind of how things affect each other at different scales. So the final question is always what one small thing – either a thing that we feel is overlooked and needs to be redesigned or is overlooked and undervalued – has an outsized effect on the world?

Denise Jacobs 50:11

So I… this is actually based on an experience that I had recently. And I think one of the things that especially now is undervalued is kindness. And I was at, there’s a store here in the US called Trader Joe’s food store – got yummy things – and I was going to Trader Joe’s to shop. And on my way up the path, there were several shopping carts. And there was a woman who worked there who was gathering the shopping carts. And I saw her ahead of me. And so as I was walking by, I gathered a couple of them, and I pushed them up to her to just to help out just to be kind. And she was like, thank you so much. And I was like, Yes, of course. I mean, especially now, we need to be kind to each other because things are going haywire. And I was thinking that, and I went into the store, and I started shopping, and just a few minutes into it, I turned around, and she was standing behind me, she said, and she gave me a bunch of flowers. And she said, thank you so much for that, that was just that was really nice.

Andy Polaine 51:28

Which was also really nice that she did that as well.

Denise Jacobs 51:31

Right, but that the acknowledgement of it, but you know, it’s things like that, where, and then that kind of made my day, you know, like that made me and then that made me feel like I was seen and I was valued. And I was appreciated by me just doing this, this, this one small kind of thing. If you imagine if that happened on a regular basis, you know, like that somebody does an act of kindness. And then somebody does an act of kindness back to that, and how that could perpetuate and scale. Yeah. And I think it’s highly undervalued,

Andy Polaine 52:15

The small random acts of kindness. Rather than random acts of sniping at each other on social media.

Denise Jacobs 52:23

Listen like and you just think, like, don’t you have something better to do with your time?

Andy Polaine 52:30

Talking of social media and talking doing better, better things with your time, where can people find you online?

Denise Jacobs 52:36

Oh, so my website is On Twitter I’m Denise Jacobs, on Instagram. I’m Denise Jacobs. On Facebook my Facebook fan page is Denise Jacobs dotcom all written out. And on LinkedIn, I’m Denise R. Jacobs. So please connect with me on LinkedIn. Check out my courses on LinkedIn Learning, Banish Your Inner Critic, Creative Collaboration and Creativity for All - hacking the creative brain.

Andy Polaine 53:09

WIll your new course be on LinkedIn learning too?

Denise Jacobs 53:12

No my new course the Cultivating Career Confidence is going to be at my new… I’m calling it an online academy. I’m going to be launching it kind of more officially at the beginning of the year, but it’s at Okay, so, or you should be able to actually get to the career competence page just by going to

Andy Polaine 53:44

But otherwise people can find Denise Jacobs wherever Denise Jacobs is online. It’s almost like it’s all that through really carefully.

Denise Jacobs 53:52

I know. Amazing.

Andy Polaine 53:56

Denise, thank you so much for being my guest on Power of Tne.

Denise Jacobs 53:59

So much for having me. It was delightful.

Andy Polaine 54:01

As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve been listening to Power of Ten. My name is Andy Polaine. You can find me at @apolaine on Twitter or Where you can find more episodes and sign up for my newsletter, Doctor’s Note. If you liked the show, please take a moment to give it a rating on iTunes. It really helps others find us and as always get in touch, if you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions for guests. All the links are in the show notes. Thanks for listening and see you next time.