Saboteurs! Are you listening to negative voices that prevent you achieving your dreams??

Do you have an inner voice that tells you are not good enough?  Or declares you will not get a better job, or lose that weight you so desperately want to shift? Maybe that voice says you’re not intelligent or talented enough?

Perhaps you have an inner voice that says you just need to go on one more course before you’re ready to get that promotion, write that book or start that business? These inner voices have many names - saboteurs, gremlins, the committee, inner critics, demons.

The Winter Soldier
(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney Studios)


Whatever name you give them, you'll probably face these voices many times, each and every day. From getting out of bed on time, to eating healthy meals and working out, to getting your filing done, your saboteurs have a lot to say about what you do and think and what you don’t do and think.

So, if you are finding these saboteur voices are particularly loud, especially post-pandemic lockdowns, here are some things to think about to help you manage your saboteurs more effectively:

Recognise the voice and the feeling of your saboteurs


(Photo by Zade Rosenthal/Walt Disney Studios)

When that negative voice starts talking, how does it make you feel?

Low? Lousy? Depressed? Negative? Does it make you feel like giving up and not bothering? Are you focused on the problem or the solution? Do you feel particularly creative or inspired?

When the saboteurs have their grip, you feel heavy, low and uninspired. It’s not a great place to be. It also makes your body feel lethargic and you may experience tension in you stomach, chest, shoulders, neck or other places. You might be confused, conflicted and find you are second-guessing yourself.  Worst of all, you don’t have clarity and you feel stuck.

The Joker

(Photo Ryan Fujitani)

The saboteurs use words like “can’t” such as “You can’t do that!”, “should” like “You really should do it this way!”, “shouldn’t” for example “I shouldn’t make that phone call…”, “would” such as “I would do it this way rather than that way”, “wouldn’t” for example “I wouldn’t do that”, “ought to” like “I ought to do what he wants”, “don’t” such as “Don’t do it like that!”

Saboteurs hold you back and stop you moving forward. When there is any growth, your saboteurs are there to stop you taking risks. The bigger the risk, the louder and sharper the voice, the heavier the feelings. The voice and feelings are designed to get you to take notice, shrink back and stay well inside your comfort zone.


(Photo by Warner Bros.)

What are the embodied resources to counter your saboteurs?

Like any superhero movie, there is the hero and the villain. In fact, you cannot have one without the other. They are the yin and the yang, opposing forces that keep things dynamic and flowing. If your saboteurs are the villains in your tale, who are your heroes?

The heroes to counter-balance and hold in check your saboteurs are the positive voices and feelings that make you feel empowered. While the embodiment of the saboteurs is usually contracted, small and reduced, the embodiment of your inner heroes is expanded, large and takes up space.  When you were a kid and pretended to be Batman or Spiderman, Xena Warrior Princess or Electra, you felt invincible. You could achieve anything… and often did.

Captain America

(Photo: Jay Maidment/Marvel)

Simply envisioning yourself as this character (putting your big boy/girl pants on) can be enough to feel more confident and do something you wouldn’t ordinarily feel willing to do. If TV and movie characters don’t work for you, why not try a mentor, sports personality or a person in history you respect and emulate the qualities you admire in them. You are not trying to be them. You are embodying the qualities they possess that bring you confidence and an opposing voice to the saboteurs.

If that doesn’t work, stand and move like them. When I feel the grip of one of my saboteurs, one of my strategies is to go for a fast and determined walk, which breaks the lethargy and gives me more energy, focus and determination for the task ahead. I call it my “fire walk” as it gets me all fired up and I stop listening to the limiting voice of my saboteur.

Wonder Woman

(Photo Warner Bros. Pictures)

What is the 2% truth?

What is the truth behind what the saboteur is saying? Saboteurs will take the smallest grain of truth and blow it out of all proportion. When you can see the core of the truth, you can dismiss the rest and you can deal with the truth of the situation more effectively.

For example, I don’t like calling people. My saboteur tells me that they are busy, or they do not want to talk to me and that I am wasting my time. Then, when I call and they do not answer of brush me off, my saboteur then says “I told you so” and tells me not to bother and makes up stuff like “they don’t like me” or “they are not interested in the work I’m doing” or that my work is pointless and useless. And even worse, that I am pointless and useless.


(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

See how insidious these saboteurs can be? Maybe you relate to this direction and momentum of thought? When I can look at it clearly, I can see that being rejected or ignored are possibilities when I call, and that has nothing to do with me. The rest is make-believe. Sometimes it’s easier to stop that train of thought than others. The key is to catch it early as your thoughts have less momentum.  With greater saboteur awareness, the sooner you can head it off and with greater ease.


(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

What do your saboteurs look like?

Rather than a disembodied voice, it can be easier to work with your saboteur when it has a face, body, clothes, habits, character and personality. Create a stereotype of your saboteurs. Have fun creating a caricature that gives you a more manageable perspective on your saboteur. One of mine is The Drill Sargent, like the one from Full Metal Jacket. He shouts and rants and raves at me, saying that I’ll amount to nothing and give in. Another is The Sex God.  I’m sure you can imagine what negative and undermining things he says to me!  But, when those voices have a comedy caricature, like a cartoon, it makes it easier to dismiss them and even send them somewhere so that I am apart from their negative influence.

Iron Man

(Photo © Marvel and © Walt Disney Pictures)

Saboteurs are trying to help

As frustrating as they are, saboteurs are actually created to keep you safe.  Though you may want to change and do things differently, your saboteur is designed to stop you failing, being humiliated, getting hurt and taking risks.  The truth is, change involves risk and failure is possible. So, learning to manage your saboteurs for the sake of change, growth and evolution is important.

It seems our habit is to fight our saboteurs. We push against them, refuse to accept them, tense up and rant and rave in the face of them. And all that does is make them come on stronger. It’s human nature to push against what pushes against us. So, rather than steamrollering him, try thanking him. That’s right - it’s not a typo! Thank your saboteurs for trying to help and explain that while you understand they are trying to keep you safe, you no longer want to act and live like this, so it’s time to change. I was amazed how well this worked the first time I used it. Faced with lots of negative talk about growing my business, I continually thank my saboteurs for their input and respectfully say that I choose a different way that I believe will get me the results I want.


(Photo 20th Century Fox)

Because of their helpful nature, I’m not sure we ever stop the saboteurs’ voices. Perhaps they become easier to manage. And remember, the bigger the risk you take, the louder the voice they have. In a way, we don’t want them to stop - as they tell you that you are on the right track!!

Another useful tip given to me by my coach was the more saboteurs you have and the louder they speak, the bigger the dreams you have and the more capable you are of creating them.

Black Panther

(Photo by © Marvel and © Walt Disney Pictures)

Over to You

So, there are five strategies to manage your saboteurs. Use one, use all, use them in different scenarios. Work with what works best for you. Do you recognise the voices of your saboteurs? Are there more than one? How do they sound different? Have you noticed how you stand and move differently when you are lacking confidence and in the grip of a saboteur, compared to when you are feeling like a superhero? Can you see the truth in what the saboteur is saying and separate it from the lies? Will you face that 2% of truth and let it teach you what your next moves need to be? Does it help to personify your saboteurs? What becomes possible when your saboteurs are no longer holding you back?

Pass it on

Saboteurs are active all the time, not just at new years when resolutions are at the fore front of your mind. Whenever change is afoot, saboteurs are there to hold you back and keep you safe. They are there to stop change. So, if you know someone who is struggling with making changes, perhaps their saboteurs have got a hold of them. Maybe this blog could give them some insight that could make all the difference. Why not send it their way?

** inspired by personal life events, clients’ conversations and Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson **

David Brown - Potentiality Coaching

+44 (0) 7980 204946