Today is Halloween. Which means ghosts, ghouls, goblins and witches will be out tonight, trolling the streets in search of poor souls and delicious candy. But you know what I find even scarier than the undead rising to come knock on my door?
That's right. Saboteurs. boo.
'What, exactly, is a saboteur?' you may find yourself asking. Don't feel bad. These icky little creatures are sneaky. They do their best to stay hidden--they use clever disguises to pass themselves off as rational, valid thoughts or even as the voice of a trusted friend or colleague. They creep into your thoughts, whisper into your ear-- making you believe every single word they say. But don't be fooled: you cannot trust a saboteur.
Saboteurs go by many names: inner-critic, self-critic, negative self-talk, the committee. Regardless of what you choose to call them, they all serve the same purpose: to hold us back and maintain the status quo. And whether you want to admit it or not (or whether you're able to admit it or not!), we all have saboteurs--those voices in our heads that remind us that we're not good enough, not smart enough, no one likes us, we'll never have what we want, or that we can't do that.
Part of what makes the saboteurs so horrifying is their ability to convince their host (that's you and me) that what they're telling us is true. They stack evidence (real or simply perceived) to persuade us that their message is the absolute truth.
Have you ever wanted to apply for a job but read the requisite qualifications and desired skills and thought, "They'll never hire me. I could never land a job like this," despite the fact that you are qualified? Ever talked yourself out of applying for a job because: "There's no way I'll ever make that much money. I'm not good enough for this job! They'll laugh when they see my resume!" And then later, you saw on LinkedIn who they did hire-- and realized you've got loads more experience?
Any idea what all that doom and gloom was all about? Take a guess. Yup, that my friend, was a saboteur!
So, how do we deal with these nasty saboteurs that want nothing more than to keep us from pursuing our dreams and making big things happen? The good news is that it is possible to fight off these suckers. The not so good news is that it takes time, and lots and lots of practice.
Here are five quick tips in helping you deal with your saboteurs so you can get less tricks and more treats!
1. Recognize a saboteur is present. This one can be hard. Really hard. How do you know when a saboteur is actually present, or when you're just having doubts or second thoughts? You'll have to get in tune with your gut and your heart on this one -- in addition to your brain. If your gut is telling you to go for something, but your brain is giving your signals to hold back, you may be dealing with a saboteur. (Pro tip: go with the gut!)
Learn how different reactions feel in your body. When you've got an inner critic at work, you may be defensive, hesitant or feel the need to justify your actions. You may also find yourself wanting to place blame. Take some time to see where you're feeling things--heart, head or gut. Chances are this will help you identify your saboteurs.
2. Name Those Beasts! Once you're aware a saboteur is in action, name it! This can be as simple as "Not Good Enough" or something as creative as "Ms. Frizzle" [one of my saboteurs]. Naming your saboteurs helps you remember it, and to more easily identify it the next time it pops up. "Oh, hi, Joe!" [and hopefully soon, "Bye, Joe!"]
3. Notice When Yours Show Up. The better you know and understand your saboteurs, the better you can start to outsmart them. If you have a tendency to slip into saboteur mode when trying new things, you can be on guard the first time you experience something, ready for any saboteurs that show up. Being prepared can help you anticipate any negative thoughts saboteurs may try to lob at you.
4. Find Evidence to Counteract Them. If your loudest saboteur tells you that you aren't good enough, make a mental inventory of all the ways you are good enough, damnit. [See "Carrying Around Compliments" for ideas.]
5. Repeat. Most of us have more than one saboteur. And most of us don't vanquish the saboteur on the first try (or ever, completely). Keep up the practice of naming, noticing and counteracting. Before long, those voices will be faint, faint whispers!