Befriending Your Inner Saboteur

One of my favorite questions to ask professionals in my coaching practice is, "What do you do to self-sabotage?"   Regardless of a person's title or years of experience, I generally hear 3 common themes:

  1. "I don't set boundaries"  
  2. "I am indecisive when problems arise"
  3. "I avoid confrontation"

Once a behavior is identified, I ask three Why's.  Common answers to why people don't act when they know they probably should include:

  • It could create interpersonal or team conflict
  • The employee/boss may not like me anymore
  • I may be seen as uncooperative
  • It may tarnish my reputation
  • I may get fired
  • I may be wrong

What do you notice about these Whys?  They are rooted in fear, full of assumptions, and ego-based.  Most of us default to the status quo and prefer to keep things the same even if the situation is less than ideal rather than act and initiate some sort of change.  However, change is often needed to inspire a better outcome, and even if we do nothing, change is inevitable anyway.  And as my good friend Carmine always says, "Bad situations have a way of self-correcting..."  (and Carmine is never wrong!)  

So if things will eventually change anyway, why fear it?  Life is dynamic and nothing stays the same for long.

If we get into the Jungian psychology of this, we learn that our inner Saboteur is actually there to protect us rather than harm us.  When our inner Saboteur is working in the positive, it is highlighting the fear we have about changing our lives for the better.  It is simply making us aware that fear is a normal emotion when it comes to change.  However, when our inner Saboteur is working in the negative, it leads us to self-destructive behaviors or causes us to undermine others.   

Here is where we have choice.  We can admit we have the ability to self-sabotage and feel bad about it, or we can view our inner Saboteur neutrally without judgement.  In fact, we can use our inner Saboteur to our advantage by having a brief conversation with it.

If we pause and ask our inner Saboteur why we aren't setting boundaries or avoiding confrontation, then ask what we are afraid of, it may give us the higher level perspective we need to take that step forward.  We can likely rationalize why each fear stems from a low-to-no risk possible scenario.  More than likely, you will not lose your job, any potential conflict will resolve and people will still like you.  

So give it a try.  Ask yourself, 1) What do I do to self sabotage? 2) Why Why Why and 3) What am I afraid of?  When the answers come to you and you feel more at ease stepping outside of your comfort zone, you'll know your inner Saboteur has become a powerful ally working for you, not against you.

In the process, you will become a more conscious leader.  And, you've made a new friend. :-)