Quite a lot of us, quite a bit of the time, feel like we have an internal “Saboteur” – a voice of negativity and self-doubt that kicks in just after we’ve had a brilliant idea.
One part of our brain is going, “WOW! I LOVE this idea! Can’t wait to get going!!!” Then another part of our brain says, “You can’t do that. You’re not smart/courageous/athletic/experienced enough”.
And too often that snide little voice stops us in our tracks. “Oh, yeah, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all – I’m not really up to it.”
And how does that make you feel?
When it happens to me, I feel deflated, like a punctured balloon. I can almost hear the enthusiasm rushing out of me until I’m reduced to a little shrivelled heap on the ground. Not a good feeling.
But guess what? Neuroscientists have figured out what that sabotaging voice is, and the good news is that it is not YOU!
When we have a great idea for our future, at first we know a good thing when we see it. We’re excited and optimistic.
But (neuroscientists reckon) the brain doesn’t particularly like thinking about the future. To the brain, tomorrow looks uncertain and risky and so the brain reacts as if it is a physical threat. To quote Neuroscience for Leadership (Swart et al), “The ambiguity inherent in decisions about the future can lead to ‘safe’ decisions, or, more worryingly, delay them. Creativity is constrained by fear of uncertainty.”
The five survival emotions (fear, anger, disgust, shame and sadness) involve the release of the chronic stress hormone, cortisol. They are likely to be represented in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that is functioning largely below the conscious level, and are all escape/avoidance/survival emotions, and can produce complex and unpredictable reactions.
The renowned sports psychologist, Prof Steve Peters, calls this phenomenon the Chimp, and suggests in his book The Chimp Paradox that it tends to think in black-and-white extremes, and that it can be paranoid and often catastrophizes future outcomes.
Put another way, the Saboteur is really just an automated response from our brain, which has the good intention of trying to protect our safety, but it does so by attempting to stop us from trying anything new.
But if we carry on doing what we’ve always done, we will (probably) get the results we’ve always got.
So if we want a new result, we NEED to try something new!
The key is awareness. Recognise the Saboteur for what it is. Thank it for trying to protect you, but reassure it that we live in an era where serious physical threats are few and far between.
And move on.
Follow your passion. Follow your dreams. Don’t let anything (least of all that pesky Saboteur) stand in your way!
I’d love to get your comments. Has the Saboteur ever stopped you? Have you managed to conquer the Saboteur? How?
[Image: looks harmless enough, doesn’t he? But could really mess with your dreams! Image source: onekind.org]