“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: ‘Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.’ When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, the one I feed the most.'” ~ George Bernard Shaw
We all have a Saboteur lurking in the dark corners of our psyche. It is there, ever-present, regularly offering opinions on how we should be and what we should do. It conjures up compelling images that shrivel our fortitude and distract us from what really matters, what we really want. Indeed, the Saboteur has a mandate—to keep us playing small, hidden away from our dreams, from living to our fullest potential, from being vulnerable, powerful and authentic just as we were when children. Believe it or not, its intention is ultimately good—like a concerned parent it does its best to protect us from getting hurt and standing out too much. It does so by keeping us in the shadows where it thinks we will be safe, away from judgment and failure, tightly held in its dark womb of control. But like a parent who’s controls are too tight, the Saboteur limits our freedom of choice, our joy, and our ability to live our dreams.
3 stages of dream fulfillment and Saboteur influence
There are three general stages to creating new dreams. In my personal journey, and experience working with my coaching clients, it is in the third stage that the Saboteur gets the loudest. Here’s why:
Stage 1: Dreaming – First we dream, we imagine, we conjure up ideas of who we want to be, what we want to have, and where we want to go. While the Saboteur does not like us dreaming up ways to leave its reign and cave of comfort, dreaming is not as threatening to it as the following two stages.
Stage 2: Planning – The dream has been clarified and now we must plan how to implement it. Perhaps we need to do some research, make a few phone calls, or review our budget. The Saboteur now gets a little more miffed because the dream is closing in on reality.
Stage 3: Action – When we move from planning to action the Saboteur speaks the loudest. In dreaming and planning we are not fully committed yet. But the moment we act, we indeed begin to leave the cave of comfort. Walking away from the status quo and towards a level of uncertainty becomes a frightening reality for the Saboteur. We leave its grip; we leave its control. It therefore makes its voice heard. And if we are not careful, if we are not self-aware, we will allow its voice of desperation, its alluring beliefs and images, to sabotage our dreams.
When working with new clients, one of the first things I do is educate them on the Saboteur. Many of my clients are not even aware that they have one; but as they begin to pursue their dreams, they notice how powerful and persuasive their Saboteur is. In particular, they hear it loud and clear during stage three—when they commit to action. Ensuring that my clients do not succumb to their Saboteur’s distorted guidance, and that they grant more power to their dreams than to the fears inside their head, is a key part of my work with them, and an essential part of their dream fulfillment.
8 ways to tame your saboteur
Until you get to know your Saboteur you will be highly susceptible to its attempts to keep you small. In illuminating it and its many cunning strategies, you no longer allow it to run you from the shadows where it loves to reign from; you begin the process of disempowering it and regaining control of your life. Here are eight ways to tame your saboteur:
- Simply notice your Saboteur. In the same way you notice a cloud in the sky, notice your Saboteur. Do not judge it or react to it. Just calmly notice it with curiosity, with a willingness to learn more about it. Simply place your attention on it and you begin to disempower it. Say to it, “I see you!” (perhaps with a smile on your face!) and you loosen its power over you.
- Familiarize yourself with its favorite sayings. Writing down your Saboteur’s favorite sayings, or limiting beliefs, is a powerful way for you to see its strategies more clearly. Common sayings/beliefs that you may relate to are:
- I’m not worthy
- I’m not capable
- I will lose respect
- I will let them down
- I will disappoint them
- I will hurt them
- I should put others first
- Why bother, because…
- I better not fail
- It’s my fault
- I’m too old
- If I put myself out there, I will be judged
- No one wants to listen to me
- Notice under what circumstances your Saboteur speaks the loudest. Your Saboteur will speak the loudest when it deems you most vulnerable or likely to claim your power. For instance, it will caution you when you feel the urge to share your truth, or when you want to say No, or when you want to try something new and unfamiliar. Pay attention to, or even write down these patterns of circumstances so when they do arise in the future and you hear your Saboteur’s admonishments, you can act more easily.
- Be curious about who your Saboteur sounds like. It can be helpful to discover that your Saboteur sounds just like your mother, father or grade one teacher. It says the same things, and even has a similar tone. Realizing this can help you understand that this voice was never yours in the first place; you simply picked it up from them—you internalized their Saboteur, just like they internalized the Saboteur of influential adults in their early years.
- Draw a picture of your Saboteur. Have fun with paint, coloring pencils or crayons creating a visual of what you imagine your Saboteur to look like. You may even want to give it a name. Again, anything you can do to bring it to light—to familiarize yourself with it—is useful in disempowering it and empowering your Self/dreams.
- Question your Saboteur’s beliefs/sayings. After you write down your Saboteur’s beliefs/sayings, beside each statement write down whether it is true or false. Chances are what your Saboteur is saying is false; therefore you would write “False” next to each statement. Then you can write down what is true—a new empowering belief. For example: I will disappoint them. False. What is the truth? They will be perfectly fine; they will be able to handle my decision.
- Have compassion for your Saboteur. While it may be tempting to be angry at your Saboteur, to hold it in judgment, know that what it really needs is compassion. It is doing its best to help you, to protect you, albeit in convoluted and distorted ways. It presumes to know what is best for you so that you don’t get hurt again. Recognizing its intention or purpose will help you to view it with compassion, and stay out of reactivity. If you can stay calm, clear and compassionate, it will be easier for you to make a new empowering choice.
Practice—the 8th way
To tame your Saboteur and empower your Self, practice is the key. When I say practice, I mean making an ongoing commitment to your self-care and personal empowerment; to knowing and aligning with your values; to following the path that gives you the most joy; to creating a compelling vision for your life; to putting yourself first; to courageously speaking your truth; to practicing the seven other ways.
Practicing the seven other ways and living an empowered life is certainly not easy. Your Saboteur is determined, slippery, deceptive and persuasive. It will subtly manipulate you by drawing upon your greatest insecurities and fears; it will twist and turn them, making them incredibly real and relevant, and use them on you without you even knowing it. It will do everything possible to keep you from living from your deepest truth. That is why being vigilant in your ongoing practice, in getting to know your Saboteur, is necessary if you want to live true to your Self.
The good news is that with practice your Saboteur will tame. It will most likely never go away completely, but it will certainly become quieter or less dominant in your mind. That is what happens when you feed your fear less, and honor the voice of your heart, and your dreams and values more. Empowered living is a result of continuously making the choice to strengthen what is authentic and heart-felt within you. Feed your intuition, values and dreams and you empower your Self. Feed your fears and you empower your Saboteur, and the Saboteurs of other people.
Start right now
As you go about your day, pay very close attention to your thoughts. Monitor your mind consciously, deliberately, with the intent to get to know your Saboteur. Every time you hear a limiting thought/belief, write it down. Question it. You may be surprised at how many you list; at how your mother or father still says the same things to you; at how you suddenly remember your grade one teacher preaching the same limiting beliefs. Keep writing, externalizing your Saboteur, and disempowering it in the process. Let it be seen, for in seeing it, you separate yourself from it. You make it over there like that cloud, versus unconsciously in you, as you, with no distinction between who you really are and who you think you should be. Separation from your Saboteur is freedom, for now you make room for your authentic Self to emerge; for a conscious clear choice that is in alignment with your intuition, values and dreams. You let your heart lead instead of your fears. You allow the present moment to speak instead of the past.
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults
Really enjoyed this article. Thank you! Based on the language you were using, you sound(ed) like a CPCC and when I looked you up, lo and behold, you ARE! I am teaching a class in my local area of Dublin, CA on personal growth and confidence and ran across your article. I appreciate you going deep into this topic as it has hindered my own growth recently. I wish you the best! Thanks again!
Thanks Kelly, and all the best in your workshop and coaching!