Tell Your Saboteur to Take a Hike

The saboteur goes by many names, and most of us have more than one. In fact, most of us have a whole committee of saboteurs—the voices in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, or that we don’t have enough time. Saboteurs like to say things like, “If you can’t sell your book for $50,000 then why bother?” Or, “What in the world made you think you can write? That paragraph sucks!” Yeah, they’re nasty little devils.

Saboteurs are very sophisticated, though. It’s not like you can just take notice and then move right along into a space of creativity, joy, and massive output. No. They generally have the upper hand. We usually believe what they say because they know how to reach into the places in our hearts and minds where we’re most vulnerable. They’re always in attack mode. They like to guilt us, put us down, condescend. The biggest achievement a saboteur can claim is making you feel anxious, stalled out, and empty. Sound familiar?

There are strategies for dealing with saboteurs, though. The first step is noticing them and being aware that these are in fact saboteurs, and that you can tell them to go take a hike. You do not have to put up with their insults and destructive behavior. One really cool thing to do is visualize your saboteurs. You know that one who tells you not to worry about writing? You can do it tomorrow. Or hey, why not this weekend? There’s an interesting show on TV tonight. Let’s call this one Patty Procrastinator. She’s a real gem. Super helpful, isn’t she? If we took a moment to visualize her she might be decked out in week-old pajamas. She’d have a bag of chips in one hand and a Supersize soda in the other. She’d be ready to hit the couch and veg out in a serious way. Maybe your own procrastinator looks a little different. Maybe yours is super busy cleaning the house, so much so that she’s convinced you that that’s a way better use of your time than sitting down to that damned computer and trying to punch out a few lines that could always be written tomorrow. And they’d probably be way smarter and better tomorrow anyways!

If you can learn to notice, name, and visualize your saboteurs, you’re well on your way to having a more productive writing practice. There are all sorts of ways to deal with them that are really fun. One of my recurring saboteurs is a real jerk. He’s not nice to me. Makes me feel bad about myself. He’s got a big mouth. I decided to set up a little prison for him on my desk, and if and when he appears I visualize myself putting him in the box and closing the hatch. I can’t hear him when he’s in there and it’s great. I have to admit that he can still get to me sometimes, but this little imprisonment thing has been really effective. Saboteurs do not give up easily, though, so don’t beat yourself up if you are having trouble containing them. They have strategies, and they know us as well as we know ourselves. They know our weaknesses and how to hold us back or down. It takes practice and dedication to get to the place where you have more control than your saboteurs, where you are making active choices not to listen to what they have to say.

One of my preferred books on the saboteur calls the little brats Gremlins rather than saboteurs. Taming Your Gremlin is a fun and short book, with lots of pictures and good strategies for getting out of your own way.

It’s not easy, this taming of your saboteurs, but it’s an important thing to start to incorporate into your day-to-day routine. It’s good for anything you’ve set as a goal, anything that feels big and scary and hard. Keeping your saboteur in check is also good for your health. They really can make you anxious, sad, and angry. And they’re really nothing but self-defeating behaviors with loud mouths and ugly little faces.

Working to name your saboteurs can be hard, but it can also be the most freeing thing you can do for yourself. So give it a go. Write down your top five saboteurs and give them names. Try to visualize what they look like, what they might say, what they’re doing, and where you might send them off to when they reappear. It can be a fun exercise, and next time they show up you’ll know exactly what to do with them, and then you can continue on with the important tasks at hand.

Until next month.


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