Your Saboteur

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“You’re going to fail.”

“You’re out of your depth.”

“Don’t take that risk.”

“You’re going to screw this up—just like the last time.”

“You’re not smart enough.”

“You don’t deserve this.”


These are the words of our saboteurs—the voices that rise up out of our subconscious and breed false doubts and fears in our minds.

But not all doubts and fears are bad. Sometimes they cause us to keep our impulses in check and anticipate consequences. Humans survived for eons due to healthy fears that guided us to run from large-toothed creatures and to store enough food for the winter. Healthy fears still serve us today by compelling us to save for retirement or think twice before saying something to a co-worker or superior that we will later regret.

The question is: how do we discern healthy doubts and fears from our saboteur’s lies?



 1.     Name the fear.

The fear that your saboteur speaks into your ear like a devil on your shoulder needs to be recognized and named.

Sometimes our saboteur’s voice is only a whisper we are barely conscious of. It is just enough to keep us from reaching our full potential. So awareness is half the battle. Once we become aware of our saboteurs we can detect them more easily and recognize them for what they are instead of feeling a vague sense of anxiety or paralyzing fear.

Next time you hear the voice of your saboteur listen carefully to exactly what it is telling you to run from. Then turn and face that fear.


2.     Whose voice is it?


When you hear the voice of the saboteur who does it sound like? An old boss? Your fifth grade math teacher? Your father?

More often than not, the voice of your saboteur is that of someone who knowingly or unknowingly said something hurtful to you long ago. It left a deep wound that never really healed. If you can determine who the voice belongs to, it may be possible to determine when the wound was inflicted. That can help you to predict which situations will elicit echoes of that first traumatizing experience and better prepare for them.


3.     Does it generalize?


The voice of the saboteur tends to generalize: “You always…”; “You never…”; “Here you go again…”; “This is just like you….”

Generalizations imply that things never change and the battle is lost even before it has begun. They suggest that despair is your only option. Healthy fears, however, are much more specific.


4.     Have you gotten a second opinion?


One of the best ways to determine if your fears are legitimate or not is to get a second opinion.

A certified and experienced executive coach can help you by offering the perspective of someone removed and unbiased enough to help you see reality clearly. A good coach can either assist you in getting to the bottom of your fears or refer you to another professional specialized in the area that you’re struggling with.

Remember: it takes great courage and resolve to pick a fight with your saboteurs and then send them packing. But you needn’t attempt it all on your own. It brings me great joy as an executive coach to help leaders silence the voices of the saboteurs that have hobbled and held them (and their organizations) back for years.

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