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I’m sitting at my desk about to start my writing process when I feel a familiar tension in the back of my neck and shoulders. It’s as if someone is digging their nails into my upper trapezius; long, red, false finger nails. My ideas and energy feel trapped, stale and stuck in my neck. I’m aware of the furrow in-between my eyebrows, my breathing becomes shallow. My face feels like it’s collapsing into itself and everything within me feels dry. I am like a rock face which has been scraped away so that all that is left is a chalky white finish. All the while a voice within runs a tape of messages: “Really, you’re going to write that? I don’t know what to do. I’ve been working on this project so long and its self indulgent drivel. Who’s going to read this? You don’t know what your doing. Everything is flat. You’re a disaster. Why bother? ” And on and on it goes. 

I’ve come to know this voice and energy well after a process of bringing focused attention to it. It is my Saboteur. I call her Mean Charlene.

According to Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, Saboteurs are “a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against your best interest. They are universal... because they are connected to the functions of the brain that are focused on survival.” At some point in our existence the Saboteur served us, but now it clings to an outdated belief system which impedes us with moving toward what we want in our lives, and expressing our gifts. According to Chamine, only 20% of individuals and teams reach their potential due to the fact that Saboteurs are controlling their thought processes - often times without the individual’s awareness.

In Co-Active Coaching we bring awareness to the existence of the Saboteur - it is a crucial step in moving clients toward their goals and living their most meaningful life. Self-sabotage arises when we are in the process of making real changes in our lives.  

The challenge when dealing with Saboteurs is that for many of us it is difficult to identify and separate the Saboteur voice from a voice which is serving us - what Chamine calls the “Sage” voice. The habit of being critical of ourselves is so ingrained that we don’t realize how destructive this voice is to our well-being.

A place to start bringing awareness to our Saboteurs is by simply noticing when they are present, and noticing the messages they want to repeat. For example, the master Saboteur, the voice of the Judge, wants to find fault with ourselves as well as others, and situations. It is hyper-critical. It shows up as the voice of “tough love” and is afraid that if you don’t listen to it and its harsh advice, you will become lazy and unambitious. Nothing and no one is good enough for the Judge Saboteur.

As a first step in shining the light on this voice, notice how quickly it wants to come in to quash your ideas and inspirations. What happens to your mood, your posture and overall energy when this happens? What is the mood of others around you? Are there negative emotions arising out of this thought process? 

Often times the Saboteur energy is confused, dull; as if a cloud has come over your body and thinking. Language can be an indicator that the Saboteur has taken over - phrases such as “ I can’t do that” or “it will never happen” or “ I need to figure this out before I move forward” are all clues to the Saboteur’s lurking presence.

In the case of my Saboteur, Mean Charlene, I take a few breaths and acknowledge that the Saboteur is present. I try to accept her and then I give her a voice by free writing all of her complaints for a short time in my journal. I move my body, shift my geography, let the tears flow and keep breathing as this energy moves through me. Sometimes I use humour with Mean Charlene and tell her to go for a coffee - Saboteurs aren’t big fans of exposure or humour. Often what I find is lurking beneath the Saboteur rant is vulnerability and fear. Softening is a big part of moving through the Saboteur energy for me. By identifying the Saboteur and leaning into that energy, I’m more easily able to uncover the underlying feelings which require my compassion. This is an ongoing, step by step process, and with intention, breath and awareness the Saboteur begins to loosen its hold.

 Shirzad Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence is a invaluable resource in learning more about Saboteur awareness.