Who’s that sitting on your shoulder? It’s your own personal saboteur

Robbie posted an inspirational video on Facebook recently of US middle-distance runner Heather Kampf (née Doriden) racing the 600m distance in the 2008 Big 10 Indoor Track Championship. With 200m to go, she trips and goes down. The three other runners fly past, but she’s back on her feet in a flash. She’s trailing 50m but with 150m to go, she kicks like fury, picks off the back two, then finishes strong to win.

I was about to file it in my head under ‘Inspiration for Race Day’ (which is a different folder from ‘Inspiration to Get Out of Bed and Train at 4am’). Then I thought, “What made her get back up?” Because she had a choice, right? Kampf didn’t trip: it’s a proper flat-out fall. She could have just cursed her bad luck and walked off the race.

And let’s be honest, we’ve all had moments when we are hurting for any pretext, excuse or reason to slacken the pace or drop the cadence. And all of this took place at the speed of thought. Her brain’s cerebellum crackled to get her back up and running, hard. The neocortex pointed out the direction and the amygdala processed what she felt about it, all in question of milliseconds. Why did she take the decision that she did?

According to Shirzad Chamine, author of the New York Times bestseller Positive Intelligence, it seems Kampf has a handle on her Saboteurs, and a thriving relationship with their counterpart, the Sage.

Saboteurs, as the name suggests, are your enemies. They are the knee-jerk reactions, with their own beliefs and assumptions, which work against you. The Sage is the Good Guy. Your Sage taps into your wisdom, deeper insights and “often untapped mental powers” Chamine says. The Sage and the Saboteurs could be portrayed as the angel and the devil on every cartoon characters’ shoulders, from Homer Simpson to Donald Duck.

Except it is a little lopsided. Because there’s only one Sage and on the other side, there is a capo di tutti capi Saboteur called the Judge and he’s operating a mafia of nine mobster accomplices. We all have them, the question is which ones and how much free rent they are getting in our heads. Let me introduce a few Saboteurs whom you may already be familiar with.

Hyper-achiever. How long does your post-race high last? The next day? Till you get on the plane? People who exhibit this trait are dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation and highly focused on external success. The problem is that peace and happiness is fleeting in brief celebrations of achievement.

Hyper-rational. Garmin Connect is the best friend you never had. The rational mind is where it’s at; feelings are so overrated. This hyper-rational internal enemy focuses on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. Which can be a little intimidating for people who are less analytically intense. Or who don’t really know how the Garmin works.

Controller. Coach is studying psychology and sometimes I wonder if we are the lab rats in his research project called Tour de la Toot. Maybe he is waiting for the Controller to pop up. This Saboteur is described as an “anxiety-based need to take charge and control situations and people’s actions to one’s own will”. Which could make teamwork pretty challenging.

The way to disarm our Saboteurs and achieve our true potential, according to Charmine, is to train more. Not hours on the HT, we need to identify the squatters in our heads and develop the brain muscles to respond. He wants us to do reps. Just add it to that 10 to 20 hour training plan.

You can take the test online and find out what Saboteurs are pulling your strings. I’m a Stickler, an Avoider, and a Pleaser. I’m going to address that last one first, by not offering to write anything else for the T2A website.

by Marcella Moohan