Mental fitness is your capacity to handle life’s challenges with a positive mindset rather than getting stressed or upset. As we grow up with hardwired (negative) thought patterns, it is often a challenge to develop that more positive mindset.

Through the years, I have practiced many things to help me get to a better place, shift from a negative feeling to a more positive and growing mindset. Yoga, sports, meditation, journaling, to name a few. My breakthrough came when I learned about the concept of the saboteur. 

Saboteurs are the negative thought habits and patterns that live deep in your unconscious and derail your performance and happiness. Recently I have deepened my learning about these saboteurs through the positive intelligence programme. I’d like to share one insight here.

There is one saboteur we all have in common: the judge saboteur. It plays a ‘larger role’ than the inner critic who is focused on our own being and doing. The Judge is a universal saboteur and finds different ways to justify its raison d’être. 

It judges you: ‘I told you you wouldn’t make it! What a loser! When will you learn?.’

It judges others: ‘It’s their fault the project failed – they don’t have what it takes.’

It judges circumstances: ‘When I’ll have another job, I’ll be happy’.

A very sophisticated character that judge is! I knew my judge, who I call ‘Crusher’, judging me, basically my inner critic. However I was unaware of it judging others and circumstances. That was an eye opener for me. 

And just last week I had an incident which demonstrated the judge judging others. Across from our house, several building works are going on. All these workers park in front of our house, on our side of the street, asking us to move our cars, which I can live with – even at 7 am! What really bothers me, is when they spill sand and put building material in front of our front gate. I feel my value of respect being crushed. 

When this was the case again last week, I called the project leader asking to keep an eye on making sure nothing blocks our entrance. She went into denial (huh, just look please?), started arguing to then say: “Everyone is whining today!“

Wow, that was the Judge speaking! From my calm state of mind, I observed her giving her power to the judge finding fault with me and others. Fascinating! (15 minutes after our ‘talk’, she came to clean everything up).

Additionally, the judge has accomplice saboteurs which I won’t get into here but they all have one common intention: keeping you away from playing your bigger and better game.

The question is not whether you have that voice inside you – research done with more than half a million people shows that everyone knows that voice. Men and women alike, whatever the background, profession, position, including CEOs. So don’t try to talk yourself out of that!

The key is how much power you allow it to have. You can allow it to generate endless streams of stress. Or not. The choice is yours.

I’ve heard clients saying “But that little voice pushes me forward. I shouldn’t be content or happy of having achieved a milestone, because I might stop there.”

Or, “If I don’t feel bad about mistakes that I make, I won’t learn from them and will probably just repeat them.”

Those are exactly the lies with which the judge saboteur justifies itself. ‘Without me pushing you, you will get lazy and complacent.’ or ‘Without me judging others, you will lose your objectivity and not protect your self-interest.’ 

The choice you have is how long you listen to that voice causing much of your anxiety, distress and suffering. 

Compare it with having your hand on a hot stove. When you touch the hot stove, you take your hand off as soon as possible to protect yourself. You don’t keep it any longer to double-check whether it really burns! Your instinct takes over and pulls your hand away.

That’s the aim with creating awareness of our saboteurs: realise you are taken in by your saboteur, experiencing the anxiety and distress it generates, and get away as soon as possible. It’s a muscle to develop.

So what do you do to bust the Saboteur lies that cause your stress? Here are 3 specific steps you can take: 

  1. Whatever thought is causing your stress, label it as a Saboteur lie so it loses its credibility and power over you.

Let’s say you’re about to give an important presentation to the whole Senior Management and you’re feeling nervous.

Your Judge Saboteur might say: “I think I will mess this up”.

Now you could listen to that as if it is a reality or say: “Oh, my Judge Saboteur insists I will mess this up.”

Feel the difference? 

2. Then, shift your attention to a physical sensation for at least 10 seconds.

My favourite one is to focus closely on a few breaths, feeling the movement of my stomach. You can also rub two fingers with such focus that you can feel the ridges on each finger. These movements have been proven to quieten the regions of the brain that fuel your Saboteurs.

3. When the Saboteur thought comes back, and it will, repeat this process with patience. If you get upset at it, you will only be fueling it.

You could even give your Saboteur a humorous name such as “Grim Reaper” or “Smart Aleck” to poke a little fun at and further discredit it.

The more you practice this, the quicker you get out of the grip of your saboteur. My invitation to you is to practice this and observe the effect it has on you. I have been practicing this as well as other strategies for a few months now in a conscious and rigorous way and I am happy to share I feel lighter, don’t get wrapped up in my or other people’s saboteurs as easily and certainly not for long. 

Start observing your judge today – don’t wait! 

#leadershipcoaching #careercoaching #mentalfitness