Our Everyday Life Saboteurs

….what they are, where they hide, what they do, and how to train them.

These are the little troublemakers that constantly frustrate our efforts to change our habits, get on with a project, or achieve a goal or an intention. They use subtle, creative and varied methods to get in our way, bring down our best laid out plans and gobble up our good resolutions. But here are ways to deal with them!

“saboteur: inner resistance that we must overcome every time we want to change our lives”

Have you ever started a sports routine and ended up back on the sofa after a few days or weeks of effort to stick to the schedule? Started a diet and then treated yourself to a huge restaurant meal to celebrate having shed a few pounds? Decided on a set of New Year’s resolutions, carried them out maybe a month or two, only to forget them all by March of the same year? Delayed making important decisions about your career, relationship or moving house?

For most of us, the sabotage happens repeatedly in specific areas of our lives. Our saboteurs have a personal profile, and they are very active in matters of health, action and decision making.

Here are some of the areas they love to work in:

• nutritional choices
• exercise
• time planning
• completing projects
• learning new subjects
• keeping a tidy home,
• making important decisions
• being in contact with others
• having the courage of your convictions and standing up for them
• engaging in cultural activities
• taking stock and time for contemplation

and generally…any situation that calls for us to use our will power or confront danger!

Saboteurs have a whole bagful of tricks and tactics. They operate without our even noticing, so we don’t realise that we are unconsciously delaying or forgetting to do things.

One tell-tale of sabotage is when you find yourself coming up with all kinds of excuses to talk yourself out of doing something, the favourite formula being…. “yes, but….” If you listen to your inner dialog, you may hear some of these excuses and tactics that undermine your commitment to act: “it can’t be done” or “it’s too difficult” or “I can’t do that”–or the all time favourite–“I just don’t have the time”.

Another common sabotage tactic is using the call of moral duty and false consideration for others to absolve ourselves from responsibility to act: “people don’t do that sort of things”; “what will they think?”, “I can’t do that to her”.

The next tactic is using conditional tense when formulating a resolution, because there’s no danger of immediate action in sight! That’s when we use the words “should”: “I really should get going” or “I can’t do it yet, first I have to…..”

Of course, that’s not the whole bag of tricks! There many other tactics, such as:

• Playing things down––“It’s not really that important”
• Not taking responsibility––“that’s not my job”, “it has nothing to do with me.”
• Playing things safe––“what if it doesn’t turn out the way I expect?”
• Taking it easy––“Let’s call for a pizza instead of cooking” or “I guess I’ll drive rather than bike this time.”
• Watering your goal down ––“I’ll give it a try…”
• Formulating your goals too vaguely in a non quantifiable way––“I want more money, less stress.”
• Setting up herculean plans by taking on too much or not planning at all––“I don’t know where to begin!”
• Using diversion tactics–– “I’m not in the mood now.”
• Making exceptions––“Having that creamy cake just once won’t hurt my diet.”
• Abandoning your goal––“It’s not worth it, it takes too much effort.
• Sideways glancing––“If he doesn’t need to do it, I don’t either.”
• Playing the victim––“I can’t help it!”…and finally
• Playing the loser––“What’s the point, I can’t seem to do anything right!”

Reading this list, which saboteurs do you recognise as your own favourite tricks when you are faced with decisions and need to act on or stick to a commitment?

Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with our saboteurs and tame them. We can train them, but first we need understand a few things about them. We can’t run away from them or drive them away. We can’t keep them locked up forever, with the firm iron of self-discipline. But we also can’t give up all resistance and let them take over either. Ultimately, we need learn to live with them and tame them to become our best friends.

Our saboteurs are part of our personality structure, and the more pressure we apply to getting rid of them, the more resistance we will meet and the more we’ll have to deal with them. Battling against a part of your personality is battling against yourself. But while we all have certain saboteurs, they are not the whole of who we are. We may need to allow them their place––but not let them rule.

Steps we can take are to make these internal saboteurs our friends are:

• Letting them win from time to time
• Reviewing the way you choose your language, changing “ I have to go to work” to “I am going to work” or instead of saying “I don’t have the time” practice saying “ I don’t want to do that” or “I’d rather do something else”
• Learning ways to self motivate that are neither applying the stick nor giving a carrot. Yes, it is possible to move away from pressure and reward; try using cost and benefit analysis instead!
• Matching an action’s challenges to your current ability to meet them by setting the bar not too high nor too low
• Deciding on it, planning it and then doing it, in a measurable, realistic way
• Practicing with small tasks and then moving on to bigger tasks progressively, to anchor new behaviours and habits

If you want to know more about how to identify your saboteurs, befriend and rally them to your causes, a course of CBT or NLP coaching can be very helpful; these techniques will foster changes in your saboteurs and help you anchor new useful habits for the very long term.

Why not contact me for an obligation-free 30- to 45-minute assessment?

Author: Pascale Aline

Psychotherapist & Performance Coach, I specialize working with tools for self enhancement, growth, productivity and healing (Biofeedback, EMDR, Mindfulness training)

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