When you face the prospect of change, you may also face internal dialogue about it. You may have at least one internal “voice” that regularly offers you feedback, resists challenges, and reminds you to be “realistic.” That kind of voice has earned names such as the Goblin, Gremlin, Inner Critic, Judge, Boss or Saboteur, among many others. It is something we developed to shield us from pain but that overstayed its original need and became a habit. The basic job of this voice–I call it the Saboteur–is to resist change, and it specializes in totalizing a partial truth in the name of realism.
The Saboteur is not the same as conscience, but often presents itself as if it were. How can you tell the difference? It may be difficult at times, but one clue is that your Saboteur is authoritarian (a voice more like Hitler’s), while your conscience is authoritative (a voice more like Martin Luther King’s). The voice of conscience is usually much more concise and less sarcastic and anxious than the Saboteur that keeps you discontented and ineffective. Saboteurs, unlike consciences, also love to be argued with, and are excellent debaters.
The most fundamental task is to simply be aware of and observe your Saboteur. That awareness allows you to make choices about how to proceed more mindfully, so that you are in charge of your Saboteur rather than the other way around. Regular practice is key–and it builds upon itself cumulatively.
Choice–the possibility for positive change–exists in the Here and Now, not in the Past or Future. Your body and the world outside your body are in the Here and Now, while the inner chatter of your Saboteur thrives in the gap between Now and Then. In that gap, the Saboteur generates recrimination about the Past and anxiety about the Future.
Breathe! Start by noticing (not judging or analyzing) the present moment. Breathing deeply and consciously takes you out of your mind and back into your body, in the Here and Now. The Munchkins advised, “It’s always the best to begin at the beginning”–and that place is Here and Now (not Then) from the perspective of the rest of your life. Consider breathing a way of “going to ground,” your safety key when you are stressed, bored, listless or anxious. The point is to recover awareness, not deep meditation or contemplation. Breathing is not about fixing you.
Notice your habits: After being reground in the present moment, next notice (not analyze or judge) your habits of responding to emotions, people and circumstances. Your Saboteur is often deeply invested in your habits. How much of your life do you want to hand over to habits, flying on autopilot? It’s not good for planes, and it’s even worse for people–unless you cultivate an ability to be mindful in the moment and remain in charge of your habits. But don’t automatically adopt a rule–a promise to adopt a habit–because that’s a common way for the Saboteur to “grow” with your “growth.” Your goal should not be to slay your Saboteur so much as to reclaim your power to choose from it. Some habits may be worth keeping. How would you know? One way to find out is to pay attention to what is life-giving about the habit now, and to or for whom.
Notice your concepts: In addition to the present moment and our habits, next notice (not analyze or judge) your concepts: your attitudes, beliefs and assumptions about yourself, the world and other people. For example, what are your concepts about reality–about how other people, processes and relationships work? Closer to home, what do you think of you? What do you believe others think of you? Who does your Saboteur want you to act as? How do you reveal yourself or your act in your relationships? You may confuse your acting with the natural you.
Learn to notice these concepts and then observe the difference between those concepts and the realities they represent. You decide what’s true and what’s not about what you’ve noticed. Your Saboteur will likely insist that they are necessary for your well being. A hallmark of the Saboteur’s voice is that it insists it is the Speaker of Absolute Truth. Instead, pay attention to what’s truly life-giving now, and to or for whom. Remember this saying, “What we can’t be with runs our lives.”
Play with changing a habit or concept: Play with change for the present moment; don’t focus on forever. Vowing to change a habit or concept forever gives a weapon to your Saboteur and sets you up for Sabotage. You can play with choices that you believe are consistent with your personality and those that are not. Being out of character may help you blow your act and reveal their true value. Which of them have you taken over as your own? Which ones would you like to do away with? Which ones do you want to keep, enjoy and maybe even magnify? Which ones do you want to modulate rather than eliminate or keep? Your first impulse may be simply to invert the habit or concept. If you do that, be aware that your Saboteur is clever enough to be a hybrid engine vehicle, and may still be powering the inverted habit or concept. All of these choices involve awareness–noticing and observing in the present, and playing with choices.
Cultivate gratitude: Gratitude quells anxiety, the lair of your Saboteur. Learn to be mindful of all that you can be grateful for–including things and people you: take for granted, don’t appreciate, don’t understand or even don’t know of.
Personalize your Saboteur: Describe your Saboteur–give it a personality. What does it look and sound like? What does it say? What’s scary about it? What’s funny about it? From your gut rather than your head, come up with a name that captures most of its essence. The name can be silly–in fact, the sillier the name, the more you will be in a position to objectify it.
Embrace the process–and put your Saboteur at your service: Managing your Saboteur is a dynamic process, not a destination. Being in that process is an attitude–appreciate this, and the unalterable fact that your future will always be unknown. Learn to put the best qualities of a Saboteur–discernment, an objective mind, focus, discipline, authority–and an authentic conscience to serve your purposes rather than those of your Saboteur.