Most of us internally hear an ongoing stream of messages that we hear (sometimes unconsciously) that direct our lives. This voice can be a composite of things you tell yourself, and the messages you have heard throughout your life from parents, teachers, caretakers, friends, etc. The messages can either be positive or negative, and if you listen to and believe them, they can direct your life.
My client, Tony, looked exhausted. He had been sick several times over the last year and was now recovering from the flu. “I’ve always been a healthy person,” he said. “It’s frustrating being sick and it’s impacting my business. I’ve had to cancel appointments and feel my business may fail as a result.”
Tony normally pushed himself. His workload was easily enough for two people. It’s no wonder his body revolted occasionally and got sick. How else could it force Tony to get some rest?
“How many appointments would be ideal during the month and how many are you handling right now?” I asked.
“Fifty appointments per month would be good and I am doing about 70 per month now.” He said. “I just don’t feel like I work hard enough. I could do more and don’t want to let anyone down. What if I limit myself to 50 appointments per month and lose clients? My business might fail.”
I introduced the concept of the Saboteur – the voice inside your head that constantly gives you negative messages. If you aren’t listening, the messages get louder and more panicked. “Don’t try something new. You will fail and look like a fool.”
Once I pointed out the Saboteur’s voice, Tony and I took one of the statements he had taken as truth and began to question the validity of it. “Are you working hard enough?”
“I’m working hard enough to be worn out and sick most of the time.” he said. “Maybe I’m working too hard.”
“Describe to me what your Saboteur looks like. Who gives you these negative messages?”
“I imagine an old, mean woman who points her finger at me. The messages come from a place of concern, but they quickly turn into criticisms and warnings. If I waiver, her voice gets louder and more insistent. Sometimes she is talking so loudly that I can hardly hear anything else.”
“Are these messages valid for you right now?”
“No. I am working hard – probably too hard – and it’s making me physically sick.”
“I’m going to act like your Saboteur and I want you to talk directly to me,” I explained. I stood up and put a mean, grumpy look on my face and pointed my finger at Tony. I said, “You don’t work hard enough and don’t deserve the clients you have.”
He laughed at my personification of his Saboteur, but then he got serious and mad. “Quit telling me what to do. I am sick because I always push myself. You have unrealistic expectations. Shut up and go away.” There was so much power behind what he said, as though it had needed to be said for a long time.
He said it felt great to finally stand up for himself. His homework was to write a paragraph describing his Saboteur, notice any time she sends him messages and write what he’d like to say back to her. He also agreed to acknowledge the Saboteur messages he receives and determine how he would face each one. His idea was to post a STOP sign on his desk. Each time he looked at it, he would remember the power he has to stop his Saboteur from running his life.
Coaching Challenge: Write a paragraph describing your Saboteur. When you hear your Saboteur’s voice, listen and write down the messages you receive. Determine the intent of the messages and verify their veracity. How do they impact your life and drive your decisions? By simply being aware of this voice, you gain power over the messages and have a conscious choice to accept or deny their intent.