I once took a Co-Active Coaching class, and one of our exercises related to identifying and defining our inner saboteurs. For the sake of clarity, these saboteurs are defined as invisible inhabitants of our mind that often restrict or limit what we do.

These same saboteurs were helpful to us as children, as they guarded us from physical and emotion harm. However, as we mature, we can make up our own minds and no longer need them. But they are happy to stick around … all the time!

In fact, for many of us, they impact our actions and inactions daily, even to the point where we ask them for guidance and perhaps even approval.

Identify Your Inner Saboteur 

The facilitator instructed us as follows regarding the saboteur exercise:

Take about 15 minutes to define what your saboteur looks like. What is it? Is it an image? Is it a person you know, such as your overbearing aunt or uncle? Does it have a creepy voice? How often do you hear their voice? What does it say? Does it pretend to help you, even though you know the advice is flawed, bad, and even hurtful?” 

At first, I thought the exercise would yield little value. But when the facilitator described it in this manner, it had much more meaning!

In fact, I was flat-out scared to imagine the face of my inner saboteur.

After just a few minutes, the image of my saboteur was revealed to me. It was that of a creepy old man with a small oval face who hovers just behind my right shoulder. When it wants to get my attention, it brushes on my back, and I feel his cold breath on my neck.

In a crackling-whispery voice, it says stuff like this:

  • “You are not ready for that opportunity!”
  • “It’s best to play it safe! You have enough.”
  • “There are other people more qualified than you to do this work.”
  • “They are going to hire someone who went to be a better school.”
  • “You lack the experience that is needed for that opportunity.”
  • “Most people fail when they try that.”
  • “You’re a Latino … you’re not the type of person they want.”
  • “You’re too old to start that type of work.”
  • “When you’re turned down, others will laugh at you – you will be embarrassed.”

Creepy, right?

The second part of the exercise related to what I was going to do with the saboteur when it appeared.

We had the option to take any action, even violence!

In my case, I decided that when the saboteur tries to provide his guidance and advice, I will smash it with my tennis racquet! Yes … more than once! In fact, if my chainsaw is nearby …

Okay … perhaps that is too much!

Overcome Your Setbacks

I wanted to share this exercise with you because it resonated with me.

Take the time to identify and picture what your inner saboteur looks like.

Ask yourself: When does it appear? What does it say to you?

Does it even have a voice? How do you sense it?

What is your first reaction when the saboteur tells you that you are not good enough, and that you should avoid trying because you will invariably fail?

How do you feel when you succumb to the advice from the saboteur?

This means that you have temporarily suffered a setback. However, remember that you have the option to put the saboteur in their place.

HINT: Tennis racquets and chainsaws!