Playing Whack-a-Mole With Your Saboteur

Meet Mrs. D.

She’s always telling me that I suck. That I can’t do anything right. I’m a social flunky. I’m a failure. I should just give up and watch Netflix all day.

I spend a lot of time with Mrs. D. In fact, it feels like she’s always around.

Why would I choose to hang out with Mrs. D?

Because she lives in my head. She’s my saboteur.

I named my saboteur after my 6th grade art teacher. After a drawing assignment, three students had forgotten to put their name on their work. She held up mine in front of the class and said, “if this were mine, I wouldn’t admit it either.”

Yeah, she was a real piece of work.

Your saboteur lives in your head and tells you you’re not smart enough, thin enough, accomplished enough. She tells you that you shouldn’t go after that new job, learn to play that new sport, start that business. She tells you not to take risks. She judges you and everyone else harshly and unrelentingly.

Your saboteur tries really hard to override your Sage. The powerful, creative, fearless being who lives at your center.

What’s your saboteur’s name?

If you allow her, your saboteur will rule your life. She’ll make all the decisions.

If that’s not what you want (and I’m guessing it’s not), here are three ways of dealing with your saboteur.


Your Saboteur lives in your Survivor Brain, which includes the brain stem, limbic system and parts of your left brain. Its focus is on surviving. The emotions it uses include anxiety, anger, disappointment, shame, guilt, regret and blame. The stress hormone cortisol is your Survivor Brain’s favorite gift to you, which results in tunnel vision.

Your Sage lives in your Positive Intelligence Brain, which includes the middle prefrontal cortex, insular cortex and parts of the right brain. Its focus is on thriving. The emotions it uses include curiosity, empathy, joy, creativity, peace and calm. Endorphins are your Positive Intelligence Brain’s favorite gift to you, which results in peaceful feelings and better performance.

Check out Stanford lecturer Shirzad Chamine’s TED Talk and his website to learn more about Survivor Brain and Positive Intelligence.


It’s difficult to banish your Saboteur forever, but you can get rid of her for a while. Send her off to pick up your dry cleaning (in Japan), tell her to go upstairs and scrub the bathroom floor (with a toothbrush), ask her to transcribe The English Patient.

I know it sounds a little crazy, but it works. “You know Mrs. D. I respect you. You keep me safe when a tiger is about to eat me. But there aren’t any tigers here right now and I need some alone time. Why don’t you go look for the largest piece of rice in that 10 lb bag of rice over there while I work on this project. XOXO”


Grab your wooden mallet and every time your Saboteur pokes her head up, wack her with the mallet! Give her a big wack and then move on. Before you know it, that Saboteur will stop poking her head up as often.

(Thanks, Alanea Kowalski, for suggesting this technique)

Your saboteur is unique. Your relationship with your saboteur will be unique. (i.e. whether you send it on an errand, whack it on the head or come to an agreement that it can only speak when you are in life-threatening danger). What's important is that you recognize that you have a saboteur (actually, most of us have many) and don’t let it (them) run the show.

Next week, I’ll talk more about how you tap into your Sage to create a more powerful life and career.

Have a great, saboteur-free, week.

Kirsten Bunch