“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau wrote this nearly 150 years ago. Sadly, the only thing we need to change about this statement so many years later is to include women in it.
Most people still live and die with their greatest songs still unsung. Only 20% of us reach our true potential. The question is why. And my answer: sabotage. To be more specific, self-sabotage.
Imagine going on a long and steep hike with the goal of reaching the summit. You then load up your backpack with huge heavy rocks, throw one on your own toes every once in a while so your foot never stops throbbing, and intentionally give yourself false directions that cause you to get off track frequently. As crazy as it sounds, this is exactly what most of us do on our journey of life, every day, thanks to our Saboteurs.
There are 10 kinds of Saboteurs. Each person suffers primarily from a couple of them. Let’s assume that your highest potential is to reach the summit, and see how each of these Saboteurs would get in the way.
The Judge compels you to constantly find fault with yourself, others, or your conditions and circumstances. Most of the huge rocks in your backpack are made up of the anxiety, stress, anger, disappointment, shame, guilt and the unforgiven that the Judge produces. Its lie to you is that by being hard on you it is pushing you to reach your potential. The truth is that you don’t need this negative pushing and would go much farther without the heaviness of the rocks in our backpack or the throbbing foot that the constant badgering of the Judge produces.
The Judge is the master Saboteur, the only one that everyone suffers from. The question for you is which of the other nine Saboteurs is your Judge’s top “accomplice” Saboteur.
The Stickler is the need for perfection, order, and organization taken too far. It makes you and others around you anxious and uptight. On this journey, it forces you to waste way too much energy on taking perfect steps, even when perfect steps are not required. Yes, if you are crossing a perilously narrow ridge, you should ensure perfect steps. But elsewhere, the Stickler is wasting your energy and slowing your progress.
The Pleaser compels you to gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, and flattering others constantly. On this journey, it has you lose sight of your own needs by letting everyone go ahead of you and wasting enormous time trying to gain everyone’s approval and goodwill. It gets you to sacrifice your own progress and then feel resentful about it.
The Hyper-Achieve makes you dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. It keeps you focused mainly on external success rather than on internal criteria for happiness. With the Hyper-Achiever, you might get to the summit, but two things would be wrong. First, you experience little peace or joy, smell few roses, and enjoy few intimate relationships with others on the path. Second, it only allows you a brief celebration on the summit before having you feel empty, needing to prove your worthiness all over again. It might get you to your success potential but have you completely miss out on the happiness potential.
The Victim wants you to feel emotional and temperamental as a way of gaining attention and affection. It results in an extreme focus on internal feelings, particularly painful or melancholy ones. On your path, it has you waste enormous energy and get frequently exhausted in the process. It will also alienate your fellow travelers as they get fed up with your dynamics. They won’t be there for you when you need them to give you a hand.
The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions and regard emotions as unworthy of your time and attention. This, combined with a touch of intellectual arrogance, keeps your relationships with others superficial and potentially strained. Not a good recipe for going the distance when you need others.
The Hyper-Vigilant makes you feel intense and continuous anxiety about all the dangers surrounding you and what could go wrong. This means you would be scared of finding a mountain lion beyond every corner, or a snake on every tree. This extreme vigilance wears you down and slows you enormously.
The Restless is constantly in search of greater excitement in the next activity through perpetual busyness. It doesn’t allow you to feel much peace or contentment with your current activity. In its impatience, it causes you to take numerous detours from your main path, in search of greater excitement.
The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to your own will. By overdoing this, it causes resentment in others on your path, and also prevents them from developing themselves, as they are often forced to follow your way. This means that you are on your own, and your blind spots and weaknesses might not be adequately covered by others around you when you need them.
The Avoider focuses on the positive and pleasant in an extreme way. It avoids difficult and unpleasant tasks, leading you to procrastination and conflict avoidance. If the direct path presents an obstacle, you might waste enormous time finding a way around it, rather than overcoming it. You might even just sit on the path by the obstacle and waste time in inaction.
There is an 80% chance that you have far greater potential for both success and happiness than you are achieving. A key first step is to identify your top internal Saboteurs. It is hard to fight an enemy unless you identify it as an enemy and no longer allow it to hide or pretend it is your friend.
For a detailed assessment and strategies against your Saboteurs, take the Saboteur assessment on PositiveIntelligence.com or read chapters 3 and 4 in Positive Intelligence.