I just finished running a private retreat on Positive Intelligence for a group of highly accomplished CEOs in a gorgeous setting overlooking Lake Tahoe. What was striking with this group and many other high-achievers was how persistence their Saboteurs were in claiming that they were needed for their high achievements. The common question was “I have achieved so much of my success through listening to my Judge or being a Controller, a Stickler, etc. That’s what it takes to generate results. Why would I give that up?”
A Saboteur does its greatest damage if it convinces you that it’s your friend and you accept it into your trusted inner circle. Each Saboteur has some very reasonable-sounding justifications for its actions—it tells you how it is your friend and why it is good for you—but these justifications are nothing but well-masked lies. For example, the Judge, Controller, Hyper-Achiever, and Stickler would convince you that without them you would turn into a lazy, unambitious, or complacent couch potato. It is not a lie that they have indeed pushed you and others to succeed and accomplish. The lie is that your greatest success would come through them. Let’s expose that lie.
Say you have just made a costly mistake on something important. Your Judge beats you up over it and causes you to feel guilty, angry, or remorseful. Its distressing messages keep hounding you and keep you up at night, worried about what happened and the consequences. It scares you into working really hard to make sure the mistake doesn’t happen again. Next time around, you will have real anxiety about not screwing up. You might do better, but you will have paid a high emotional toll along the way. Moreover, your high distress actually makes you more likely to make other mistakes while anxiously focusing on not repeating your original error.
Your Saboteurs’ counterpart, your Sage, offers a very different approach. First, it will empathize with you and reassure you that, even though you made a mistake, you are still a wonderful person. It tells you to have compassion for yourself—we are all fallible human beings. It tells you that everything, even your mistakes, can be turned into gifts and opportunities by the way you react to them. Now, because you are feeling better and not beaten up, you are less defensive and more likely to take a good look at your mistake and explore what really happened and where you went wrong. The Sage might then have you come up with creative solutions for how you could do better next time and prevent even bigger mistakes.
With the Sage perspective, you are more likely to be creative because your PQ Brain regions are activated. These regions are far more creative than the Survivor Brain, where the Saboteurs lives. At the end of this process of empathizing with yourself, exploring what happened, and coming up with creative solutions, you will be more energized to take decisive action and do better the next time. You won’t have wasted an ounce of vitality and energy beating yourself up and suffering through the negative drama. Both your Saboteurs and your Sage may lead you to success, but they do so by taking very different paths. The Saboteurs push you into action and success through anger, regret, fear, guilt, anxiety, shame, obligation, etc. But the Sage pulls you into action through compassion, curiosity, creativity, the joy of self-expression, a desire to contribute and create meaning, and the excitement of action. Would you rather be pushed or pulled? Only the Sage lets you achieve success without sacrificing happiness and peace of mind.