Your mind is your best friend. But it is also your worst enemy. Invisible “Saboteurs” in your mind are constantly undermining your ability to be more successful and happier. They have names, including the Judge, Controller, Stickler, Victim, Avoider and Pleaser.
When I lecture on the topic at Stanford University, 95% of the participating executives conclude that one or more of these Saboteurs cause “significant harm” to them meeting their full potential. What about you and the people on your team? What new possibilities would open up if you could expose and eliminate your mental enemies? The numbers are compelling. Professionals ranging from leaders to salespeople who have successfully reduced the power of their Saboteurs perform 30% to 35% better on average. Even more importantly, they report being far happier and less stressed.
Your Saboteurs were initially your buddies to help you survive physically and emotionally. Even with the best of parenting, children begin to form one or two Saboteurs to help them cope. By adulthood, these characters become invisible and an automatic mental habit for interpreting and reacting to life. I was 27 when I discovered, through tough feedback delivered to me in a Stanford MBA class, that I had a nasty Judge Saboteur. I was shocked, but that discovery changed my life.
There are three key strategies to rid yourself of your Saboteur’s destructive power over you:
- Expose your Saboteurs. There are 10 types, of which most people are primarily undermined by a couple. I liken this to creating a mug shot of the criminal so you can instantly recognize it as the enemy and protect yourself. It will otherwise continue to operate with impunity, masquerading as your friend. For example, the Judge Saboteur convinces you that unless it constantly beats you up over your mistakes and shortcomings, you won’t amount to anything. The Controller convinces you that unless you control people’s actions, you won’t get the desired outcome. The Victim convinces you that the best way to get affection and attention is by playing the victim. These are all costly but self-fulfilling lies. You need to expose your Saboteur’s underlying belief system, assumptions and costly consequence so it loses its safe harbor inside your head.
- Intercept Your Saboteurs. Once you create the mug shot of your top Saboteurs, you might be surprised by how often they show up in your head. Many of the CEOs I have coached have gone overnight from “What do you mean? I have no Saboteurs!” to “I can’t believe how persistent this bugger is in my head!” Once you intercept your Saboteur, you don’t want to “fight” it. Getting upset at any Saboteur would only further activate the Judge Saboteur. The trick is to simply label the thought as a Saboteur thought so you can let it go. Notice the difference between saying “I don’t think I can make it” and “My Judge says I can’t make it.” The shift is instantaneous.
- Shift your awareness to your body. Once you have intercepted and labeled a Saboteur thought and let it go, shift your attention for at least 10 seconds (about three breaths) to a physical sensation. For example, feel the weight of your body on your feet or seat, feel your next few breaths, or hear the ambient sounds that you have been tuning out.
Of course one 10-second shift won’t do the trick. Your Saboteurs are very insistent and will keep coming back. For example, we all know the voice that just won’t shut up at 3 a.m., warning us about the dire consequences of failing at the morning meeting. Or the one that reminds us for the thousandth time how badly we screwed up. Each time the Saboteur thought comes back, repeat this simple 10-second step.
Here’s the really great news: The brain regions you will be building up with each 10-second rep specialize in complex problem-solving, empathic communication, creativity and clear-headed action, in addition to feelings of deep peace and equanimity. This explains the research data pointing to dramatic improvements not only in performance but also levels of happiness and greatly reduced stress. Expect to see significant results, often described as life-changing.
Shirzad Chamine is the best-selling author of “Positive Intelligence” and is chairman and former CEO of Coaches Training Institute. You can do a free 5-minute online assessment to figure out your Saboteurs at his website, PositiveIntelligence.com.