We all have voices in our head. Sometimes they sound like us. Sometimes they sound like our mother, teacher, spouse, boss or just a whiny, sarcastic troll that tells us we can’t do much right. Occasionally, they say, “Good job” or “You can do it” but most of the time, they’re not that helpful.

These voices have various names. Inner-Critic, Limiting Beliefs. Reivich and Shatte in their book, Resilience, call these voices “ticker-tape beliefs” as they continually run in the background to the point that we don’t even notice them, yet they shape our perception of reality. In Co-Active Coaching, (Kimsey-House) these voices are called “saboteurs” since in their quest to maintain the status-quo in our lives, they sabotage or prevent us from moving forward and getting what we truly want in life.

We all have saboteurs. The trick is to become aware of them, name them and take away their power. Saboteurs basically tell us in their own special way that we “are not enough.” We’re not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, athletic enough, good enough to try for what would fulfill us. Or we’re “too much.” Too fat, too lazy, too average, too lacking. Supposedly, these voices are protecting us from getting hurt by trying for something we obviously can’t have or don’t deserve.

It’s much easier to recognize someone else’s saboteurs than our own as our own saboteurs hide in plain sight, much like the old cartoon where one fish says to another, “How’s the water?” and the other fish answers “What water?” Here are some ways to identify and defuse your saboteur.

Personify Your Saboteur

Sometimes it’s easier to recognize when your saboteur is speaking instead of you by giving your saboteur a name and persona. I’ve named one of my saboteurs “Edith” after Edith Bunker in the old sitcom from the 70’s All in the Family. Edith would natter on about nothing in a whiny voice until her husband, Archie, would finally yell, “Stifle.” Edith was very well-meaning but her non-stop chatter would get annoying. When I find my inner-voice interfering with forward movement, I internally yell, “Stifle,” and picture Edith with some duct tape across her mouth.

By personifying my inner critic and naming her Edith, it’s easier for me to recognize that Edith and I are not the same person and I can choose who gets to speak and get listened to.

Disarm Your Saboteur

Your saboteur is basically afraid – afraid of change.  There probably is a shred of truth in what the saboteur is saying. Acknowledge that truth but don’t let it kill the whole idea. “Yes you’re right, Edith, that change would require going back to school and that would take a lot of time and I am busy. But this move aligns with my values of love of learning and curiosity. How can I keep from becoming over-booked and sick and still go back to school?”

Saboteurs are the ultimate “frenemies.” They’ve been around forever and are deeply familiar and maintain that they only want the best for us, yet with friends like them we don’t need enemies.