Have you ever noticed how just as you’re about to exit your comfort zone and put yourself “out there” in order to pursue a dream, a little voice pops into your head telling you exactly why you shouldn’t do what you’re about to do? You know, that warning, rather unkind voice hinting at you not being “enough” in some shape or form?
You’re not smart enough
You’re not capable enough
You’re not pretty enough
You’re not experienced enough
You’re not qualified enough
You’re not strong enough
You’ve not prepared enough
You’re not, you’re not, you’re not…
Say hello to your “saboteur”, the term we use in life coaching to refer to your inner critic. You want to know the crazy thing about our saboteurs? Mean as they can be, they are really just defence mechanisms self created to try and protect you from vulnerability and failure. Have you ever stopped to question where that voice comes from? Is the nagging starting to sound a bit like your mom? Or the tough love like an old boss? Or maybe that mean girl from high school?
Our saboteurs often stem from childhood experiences where we were made to feel less than, creating an “anti-self” to perpetuate that self doubt in situations that require us to be seen. Learning to identify our saboteurs and even give them a name and personality can help you to separate the voice from the self. In so doing, we can learn to catch ourselves – and our saboteur when they appear – allowing us to question the motive behind their interjection and if unfounded, ignore their cries of “not enough”.
It is usually when we are pursuing the things we want the most that we become our most vulnerable, and as such, it is when our inner critic decides to speak up the loudest to protect us from emotional risk. Trying to argue with your inner critic is a losing battle so why not instead respond with acknowledgment for their attempts to help, but then remove them (and their unfounded input) from the situation? The inner critic is a part of you and you don’t want to make enemies with yourself. Quite the opposite, actually – your goal is to have compassion for yourself and your defence mechanisms that are merely trying to protect you, while being courageous in your response to step away from this negative inner dialogue.
Though some may find that having this critical voice serves as a form of self motivation to be and do better, it isn’t a healthy way to create drive. It may help you work harder towards something, but it doesn’t allow you to ever be satisfied or happy. It creates shame and anxiety through fear based thoughts. It can be exhausting and will wear you thin rather than elevate you up and help you shine.
So, what are some tactics you can use to spot and manage a saboteur?
- Name it. As soon as you notice that warning voice of not enough, acknowledge it and give it a name. Where does that voice come from? How long has it been with you? How do you know when it is present?
- Embody it. Give your saboteur a character. What are some of its customs and habits? What might it look like, sound like, move like? What does it usually say to you?
- Talk to it. What’s the motivation behind your saboteur’s warnings? What is it trying to protect you from? Is there any evidence for what it is telling you?
- Acknowledge it. Recognise that your inner critic is just trying to keep you safe, in it’s own, messed up way. Find compassion and gratitude in your response to it, without heeding to its harsh warnings.
- Let it go. Remove your inner critic from the scene. Tell your character that it’s time for it to go away.
Once you bring awareness to your thoughts, you will be able to notice when your inner critic pipes up and challenge its beliefs. Working on these steps to identify and manage your saboteurs will help you to get out of your own way and learn to be able to live with your saboteurs without allowing them to rule your life. Stop waiting for the COWS to come home (Could, Ought, Would, Should) – stop holding yourself back and give yourself the opportunity to thrive!