Most of us have encountered a nagging little voice inside our head that second guesses our judgements, criticizes our best efforts or worries about things we know we shouldn’t stress about. And that includes author, coach and Stanford lecturer Shirzad Chamine.

Chamine shared his own personal struggle with what he calls his inner “saboteur” with Stanford Re:Think recently, recalling how he was told he came across as highly judgmental during a graduate school exercise. Upset by the harsh feedback, Chamine engaged in much soul-searching, as the Stanford Graduate School of Business newsletter explains:  

Chamine came to think of this judge as what he calls a “Saboteur,” one of several figurative villains that he says can reside in normal human minds. “Your mind is your best friend, but it is also your very worst enemy,” he says… The Saboteurs -; which, besides the Judge, include such instantly recognizable types as the Victim, the Avoider, the Hyper-Achiever, and six others -; undermine you by triggering anger, anxiety, shame, regret, and other negative emotions. “Pretty much all your suffering in life is self-generated by your Saboteurs,” Chamine says.

The story of Chamine’s personal struggle is well worth a read in full and the article also includes some psychological research backing up his ideas about inner saboteurs. But if his efforts to understand and tame his inner critic sounds distressingly familiar and you’re wondering if you might be harboring any of these saboteurs in your own head, then a post by Chamine laying out the full cast of villainous characters on jobs site might be just what you need. It includes this table describing each kind of inner saboteur and the key lie they keep whispering in your ear:





Focus on negative in self, others, or circumstances

Unless I constantly point to what's wrong, nothing will improve


Need to always control and dominate

Controlling always ensures best outcome


Need for order and perfection taken too far  

Perfectionism is always the preferred way  


Avoid difficult or unpleasant tasks and conflicts.  Procrastinate

I am just being positive. No good comes out of dealing with conflict


Constant need for busyness. Rarely at peace with current activity

This is the way to accomplish and experience the most


Constantly helping, pleasing, or rescuing others, hoping to be liked

I do this to help and expect nothing in return


Continuous focus on painful and deflating emotions

This is my best way to attract attention and affection


Over-application of the rational function in dealing with people  

Emotions are useless distractions.  Greatest leader strength is logic


Continuous intense anxiety about dangers and what could go wrong  

Best way to protect self and others is through hyper-vigilance


Narrow focus on achievement to the detriment of relationships, balance and perspective

Greatest success comes from achievement-at-all-cost

Recognize any of these baddies? Most likely one or the other of them sometimes chimes in unhelpfully in your head. So how can you defeat them? The first stage is to recognize and name the negative voices. The second is to consciously argue yourself into a more positive frame of mind. The Stanford article gives a flavor of how to do this using practical exercises, though Chamine’s book no doubt offers much more detail.

Are any of these villains lurking in your head?



Published on: Oct 2, 2013