Sept 13th, 2023

How to Identify and Overcome “The Saboteurs” that Live Within You

As a resilient leader you know personal growth and success don’t come easy. They require tenacity and perseverance. What you may not realize is that oftentimes roadblocks and challenges you face stem from within you. Your own subconscious beliefs and negative patterns can manifest in thoughts, emotions and behaviors. In the work I do with my coaching clients, we call these “internal adversaries”, the saboteurs. These pesky saboteurs can hinder your progress, preventing you from achieving goals and have detrimental effects in your journey to success. 

What Are Saboteurs?

Saboteurs are like invisible adversaries that dwell within our psyche. They are rooted in irrational and/or subconscious beliefs and fears. These negative mental patterns can take various forms, manifesting through thoughts, emotions and behaviors and decision making. The insidious nature of saboteurs lies in their ability to cast doubt on our abilities, erode our self-confidence and impede our journey to success.

How Saboteurs Work

The impact of saboteurs on your life can be profound. The incessant negative chatter they produce can cultivate stress, anxiety and even depression. 

The Saboteurs can manifest in many ways, including:

  • Self-Doubt: doubt our abilities, our worth or our chances of success.
  • Procrastination: put off tasks or goals, even when we know their importance
  • Abandonment: giving up too soon on goals or desires that are attainable 
  • Negative Emotions: can cause anger, guilt, shame and other negative emotions
  • Self-Sabotage: fall prey to self-sabotaging tendencies, hindering our growth and well-being
  • Stress and Overwhelm: all of these contribute to more and unnecessary stress in our lives

You can see how saboteurs can act as barriers to your accomplishments, desires and ultimately, success. 

Learning to Identify Your Saboteurs

The first step to overcoming your Saboteurs is to identify them. Multiple bodies of work have identified that we all have multiple saboteurs that show up in our daily lives.  In Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, posits that we all have a master saboteur, “The Judge”.

The Judge is the universal Saboteur that afflicts everyone. It’s the one that beats you up repeatedly over mistakes, shortcomings, future risks, wakes you up with worry in the middle of the night, gets you fixated on what is wrong, etc. The judge is your greatest internal enemy that also activates your other top Saboteurs. 

One of the first things we work on in my coaching programs is identifying which saboteurs are the ones that affect you the most. We also look at how these saboteurs impact your interpersonal relationship and your day-to-day. Once we discover your saboteurs it becomes easier to intercept and overcome them. 

In my last article, we learned how mental fitness is increased when new mental muscles are strengthened through the practice and repetition of positive patterns. Working on these practices creates new neural pathways needed for lasting change. But like with any noteworthy and desirable outcome, you have to work it. If you want these new “pathways'' and positive changes to stick, research indicates the need for sustained and targeted practice over a consistent period. Otherwise, studies show that in as little as 4-6 weeks we begin to revert back to old patterns and behaviors. 

In my work with clients, we work on growing three specific mental muscles that help identify, intercept and overcome your pesky saboteurs. 

Once you start developing and strengthening those mental muscles through targeted practice and techniques, the process and journey toward increased mental fitness become easier. You’re able to identify your saboteurs faster so you can intercept them before they cause any long term harm. 

Here are some tips to help you start identifying your saboteurs: 

Mindful Observation:
Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. When you find yourself hesitating, feeling anxious, thinking negatively, wanting to procrastinate or feeling tempted to engage in self-sabotage - PAUSE! Are you able to examine the origin and/or cause? Are these real and/or rational?


Ask yourself whether these thoughts and/or behaviors are constructive or obstructive. Are they helping you or hindering you? Will they help you achieve your goals? Or are they here to hold you back? - Is this one of your pesky saboteurs showing up?  Question the validity of any self-limiting beliefs that arise.

Seek Professional Guidance:

Working with a coach or therapist trained in the Positive Intelligence methodology or other body of work that works with mental fitness can help you identify and understand your Saboteurs and develop strategies for overcoming them.

Overcoming Your Saboteurs

Let’s have a moment of honesty and real talk. Overcoming your saboteurs will take time, effort and a commitment to change. 

This is a process and a method that takes a learning curve as well as practice and dedication. Otherwise it becomes like going to a workshop and getting excited about the changes you want to make, but not following through once the excitement wears off.

The good news is once you get it, it’s a practice you can continue to strengthen and a set of tools that will have an impactful positive ripple in all aspects of your life. And who doesn’t want an easier, calmer and happier existence? 

So how do you begin to overcome these internal adversaries? 

  • Challenge them! - As you learn to identify and notice a saboteur coming to hinder you, pause, ask, challenge.
    - Is this belief, thought, emotion telling me the truth?
    - Is it real, rational, valid?
    - Is it here to help?
    👉 Remind yourself of your strengths, accomplishments, capabilities and the practices that helped you identify them.
  • Practice shifting the balance of power! - This is about replacing the negative with a positive. With my clients, we use short daily practices and simple yet powerful techniques to achieve this. This is how you develop and strengthen the three key mental muscles that will give you lasting success on your journey.
  • Create your own saboteur management system! - Understand that this is a life-long adventure and these internal adversaries won’t just disappear, you’ll just learn to beat them much quicker and easier as your mental muscles get stronger and stronger. You get to develop a systematic approach to weakening their influence on you.
  • Befriend and adopt positive practices! - Gratitude, meditation, movement, healthy nutrition, adequate sleep, journaling, surrounding yourself with positive people. Though these can seem obvious and mundane, they can provide clarity, vitality and a gateway to overcoming the saboteurs that live within you.
  • Invest in your mental fitness development! - When you commit to getting fit, you invest in a personal trainer, nutritionist and/or gym membership. Why wouldn’t you treat your mental fitness with the same respect? Though you can achieve this state of optimism, clear thinking and optimal decision making on your own, the road is a lot easier and faster with the help of a trained coach. 

By acknowledging and learning to deal with these negative mental patterns, you take the first steps towards liberation.

Once you arm yourself with mindfulness, self-reflection and the support of professionals, you can unravel the grip that saboteurs can have on your life and career.

In the delicate dance between pursuing our desires, achieving our goals and jumping through the obstacles in the dancefloor of life, recognizing and overcoming our internal saboteurs is a fundamental step to finishing the dance with triumph and grace.

Curious how I can help you in this journey? It all starts here! 

Connect with me to continue this conversation and learn how I can help.

About the author

I’m an executive and leadership Certified Coach, CEO Development Strategist and above all I’m your biggest champion. If you are committed to becoming the confident, innovative, compassionate leader of the future, my mission is to help you every step of the way there.