Who’s Your Saboteur?

By Danea Horn, CPC

It was lilac with black and white checked accents, the perfect ‘80s accessory for any 10-year-old. My first bike, and I could barely keep it steady while I took that first ride. I had never experienced the traditional means of learning to ride a bike: get up, fall, Strawberry Shortcake band-aid, do it all over again. I tried to learn at a time when I had already developed that little voice that whispered to me, “If you fall, it will hurt.” The result was that I was too scared to even try. The first wobbly ride was my last.

Ahh…that little voice, the one that brings up your fears, the one who is convinced that your boss, your friend and your love is mad at you, the one who judges your appearance, judges your diet, judges your performance at work, the one who will not be quiet for two seconds about anything. Do you know this voice?

Meet your saboteur. The inner critic who is scared, judgmental and trying very hard to get you to conform. It uses words like “should,” “can’t,” and “mistake.” It becomes easily envious, easily upset and ever so easily embarrassed.

The surprising thing is that your saboteur really has good intentions. Just as my saboteur did not want me to fall off of my new bike, your saboteur has its own perceived best interest. That could include wanting everyone to like you, never wanting to make a mistake, and absolutely never ever wanting to be hurt.

The issue is that if your saboteur is always trying to prevent you from falling down and scrapping your knee, you are less likely to attempt the ride. The behaviors that result from letting this voice run wild can sabotage our success in the workplace, in relationships and in health.

Fortunately, there is a way to work with your saboteur, and the first step is to figure out who it is that you’re dealing with. After years of listening to my saboteur regale me with fears of rejection and pain that prevented me from pursuing my dream, I finally discovered that my saboteur is a giant bullfrog.

Yes that’s right…a giant bullfrog. Each time I would contemplate pursuing my passions, I would become very tired and find myself sitting in front of the TV watching an episode of Friends (that I had already seen three times.) I was a bump on a log just like a bullfrog. Her name is Marg (Margie for affection.)

What form does your saboteur take? Is it an animal? A human? What color hair does she have? Is she tall? Short? What does her voice sound like? Is she whiny or firm? Bossy or passive-aggressive? What are her most common phrases? Get really creative and as descriptive as possible. You may even want to find a picture or stuffed animal to represent your saboteur.

Once you clearly know who it is that is talking to you, find out what her positive intent is. What are her fears? What does she believe about you? About life? You can do this all in your imagination or write it out in a journal with one color ink for you and a different one for your saboteur.

At this point, you have a few options:

  1. You could negotiate a compromise with your saboteur. Find some way to keep her feeling safe while you step out of your comfort zone. For instance, promising to always wear your helmet, elbow pads and knee pads when riding.
  2. You could send your saboteur on an all-expense paid make-believe vacation where she can sip fruity drinks with umbrellas on a tropical island while you pursue your goals. If she temporarily shows up to point out that you’re about to make a fool of yourself, gently remind her that she is on vacation and you can barely hear her voice above the crashing waves.
  3. You can question the validity of her statements. Is what she says true? Most likely the answer is “no,” and you are free to go off and experiment with life yourself.

Giving your saboteur a persona diminishes the weight of her opinion and allows you to speak up with your own. You can develop internal communication skills that build your confidence and your ability to create the results you desire.

It took more than 17 years for me to get back on a bike. I was still cautious and still wobbly, and Margie would have much preferred I take a nap. However, this time, I was determined and took Margie on a bike ride. She did not have much to say afterward.

After some pouting, tantrums and a good old talking to, Margie stepped aside and guest blogger Danea Horn performed a career 180 to follow her purpose and passion. As a Certified Professional Life Coach and Speaker she helps people reduce stress and navigate change. To learn more about self-talk and sending your saboteur on permanent vacation, visit Danea online at www.apositivestatement.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Heather Duzan says

    Fabulous piece Danea…You captured the essence of saboteur beautifully. Mine is at the moment resting comfortably in the sun dreaming about love and laughter. Pray she stays there.

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