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That ugly voice in your head

Whenever I embark on something new -- working with a new client, a new freelance project, even trying a new schedule with my baby -- I hear a sneaky, unfriendly voice offering me sixteen different ways my new endeavor will fail.

I recognize the voice; I've been hearing it for as long as I can remember. But it wasn't until I came to coaching that I understood what that voice is. It's my inner gremlin, my personal saboteur, my stuck-maker.

Originally, that voice helped keep me safe. It protected me from real and actual dangers. But as I grew stronger (and potentially wiser), it stuck around and kept treating me like a kid.

Shirzad Chamine, the author of Positive Intelligence, describes that voice this way: “Saboteurs start off as our guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional survival as children. By the time we are adults, we no longer need them, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind. "Our Saboteurs’ patterns of thinking, feeling, and reacting become soft-coded in our brain through neural pathways. When these neural pathways are triggered, we are 'hijacked' by our Saboteurs and feel, think, and act using their patterns.”

I also used to let that voice run the show. Change is risky, maybe it was right. Maybe I would fail. Best not to take the leap.

But once I realized I was acting as a puppet to an imaginary voice in my head, I started to take some different actions, which freed me up immensely. (I'm not 100% rid of my gremlins, and I probably won't ever be. That's not my goal. My goal is to turn down the volume on those voices so I can be more at choice and less in fear.)

Tools for Combatting Your Saboteur(s)

First, recognize the voice. Know when IT is talking and when YOU are talking. Listen for keywords or phrases that indicate you're in the grasp of fear. (For me, it's usually words like "can't," "won't," "fail," "never," "always," and "not good enough.") When you catch your inner talk using those words, take a breath or a break and give it some space.

Thank the voice. It's a little counterintuitive -- thanking the jerk in the corner who keeps telling you you're not good enough. But the more you wrestle and grapple with the saboteur, the stronger, sneakier, and wilier it gets. Instead, if you treat it like your grouchy, opinionated uncle who always has something nasty to say and simply thank it for its opinion and move on, it starts to lose its power.

Name it. Some of my clients have gotten great satisfaction and relief from simply naming the voice and being able to say, "Oh, that's just Mr. Stinky talking. He'll be quiet in a minute."

Understand it better. Shirzad Chamine's site has a Free Saboteur Assessment that helps you identify different categories of saboteurs. Which one is strongest for you, and when does it tend to come out? Who does it remind you of (if anyone)? What have you done in the past to overcome the voice and move on?

Get curious about the message. If your saboteur is saying you'll fail or you'll die or you'll be a loser or alone forever, dig into that. What does it mean to you to fail? Will you actually die? What is your definition of a loser? Is it true (and can you possibly even know) that you'll be alone forever? Understanding how you're triggered by the saboteur's talk allows you to unpack the words and take out some of their power.

Aim to turn down the volume. As I mentioned earlier, trying to eradicate the gremlin is only going to make it angry and combative, and it will use all the tools in its belt to dig in harder. (What you resist persists.) But when aim to quiet the voice instead of eliminating

it, you may find you have more success.

Learn more. There are two really great books (including Positive Intelligence, mentioned above) that allow you to dig into the voice and its power. My all-time favorite (and a charming book) is Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson. It's full of journal prompts, activities, and things you can DO to take back control. The other is Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. She gives you tips and tools on how to question the reality of the messages from the voice in your head.

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