We all have one a saboteur, your own worst enemy. You know that nagging voice this whispers in our ear or seems ready to pounce on you and offer “feedback” whenever you try something.
It might say you’re not really good at this. You’re a fake. You’re lousy. Or even, don’t quit your day job.
Many modalities out there, from psychology to anthropology to education, discuss and even debate, the existence of this voice in our heads. That’s not really the point of this episode. For our purposes today, let’s just say that we all have one. And as I said let’s call it a saboteur.
A saboteur’s job, by virtue of its name, is to sabotage us. To ruin things, slow things down, screw things up, so we stay stuck at status quo, never advancing, or even taking risks. It tells us that it’s here to help us, but it really just wants us to stay trapped, and whispers as much as it can to grab our attention and keep us right where we are.
Our saboteur likes to convince us that it’s psychic: It might say If you take that career risk, you’ll end up making a fool of yourself, and they’ll write a shaming article about you in the local newspaper where you grew up! Or if you finally speak up at the next meeting, your saboteur might say you’ll get fired, then end up living under a bridge somewhere. In a cardboard box!
I know i’m making light of what a saboteur might say. More on that in just a bit. But the effects of the saboteur are not light. They can destroy hope, kill innovation, eke away at the belief we have in ourselves and our self-worth. That is not light at all. And unlike what some modalities say out there, saboteurs are NOT our friends, and are NOT helpful feedback providers.
One piece of bad news? Saboteurs don’t go away. We read the books, we listen to the podcasts, and attend classes on leadership development, or self-esteem, and the darned saboteur reads, listens to, and attends the same things, and they don’t even pay for any of it. And a saboteur uses that information against us. “Gee, Bob, you sure blew the third step in the Manager’s development course you took last Monday. What a waste of money!” I like to think of saboteurs like viruses: they mutate and grow, getting stronger than the anti-viral medication we take to try to metaphorically kill them. And just torture us with what they can use against us.
Another piece of bad news: at work, one person’s saboteur invites out those in others, so that it can end up looking like a massacre scene from The Walking Dead. Sometimes, all that is going on in a work environment is a saboteur shout out, from the executive level all the way down to the line managers.
The good news? You can do something about it! I know that mindfulness can feel like all the rage these days, and you might be rolling your eyes when I use the term. Please don’t. Being mindful is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. Take a few deep breaths, after that meeting, or before taking that career risk, and check to see if that voice of your saboteur is yammering away at you: maybe it is saying you’re no good, you’re a fraud, it’s all going to go so badly. You can say to yourself: hey, there’s that voice again going blah blah blah. I notice it. And because I notice it, I can also notice other thoughts I have. Maybe I notice a sense of calm, or at least, a different part of me, separate from the doomsayer, even just a tiny whisper, wondering what would happen if it all goes well.
Another thing you can do, is to just start keeping track of how often the saboteur speaks to you. Keep a piece of paper in your pocket or make a note on your cell phone and each time you hear it make a little hash mark. No need to dive into the content of what it’s saying, and whether or not you agree with it. Just notice it! As in, oh, there it goes again. Doing its job. This might even sound corny to you, but sometimes I say out loud, “okay, sneaky peaky, I hear you, I see you, I know what you’re trying to do.”
Earlier, I mentioned making light of it. Please do! Too many of us disrespect ourselves and our own dreams, but we pull up a chair and listen to EVERYTHING our saboteur says. Don’t do that! Do the opposite. Respect yourself as best you can, even if it is hard, and make light of that sneaky jerk behind the curtain, throwing tomatoes at you.
Want to know something REALLY funny? Saboteurs aren’t creative, or even original. Whenever I listen to mine, really listen, it’s always some version of the same thing: you’re a piece of beetle dung, Jeff, you’re awful, you’re problematic, and it’s all going to go so badly. Look I’ve checked in with the saboteur for decades now, and it’s always the same message. I’ve coached people since 1994, and I’ve heard thousands of saboteurs, all saying the same boring old thing.
I say, why not be a bit more mindful about our saboteur, be aware that it isn’t speaking any substantive truth, and instead, look for more life-affirming, creative, interesting self-talk.
Thanks for joining us today for this week’s “Five-minute Epiphanies How to Mine the Mess for Success: Tips, Snippets and Stories.” For more information check us out at www.stepupleadership.com. Join us next week where Debbie will be talking about team dynamics.