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How to Conquer the Inner Saboteur

In the quiet moments of reflection, many of us have faced the daunting question, "What could I have achieved if only I hadn't held myself back?" This internal adversary, the 'saboteur' within us, often whispers tales of doubt and fear, influencing our personal and professional lives more than we might admit. It's a familiar narrative for many, especially women entrepreneurs who juggle myriad roles—business leaders, caregivers, visionaries, and more. This blog dives deep into the concept of the saboteur, shedding light on how it manifests and subtly undermines our aspirations.

I recall a poignant moment from a small gathering of writers I hosted, which beautifully encapsulates the essence of our struggle with the saboteur. Among the attendees was a man in his late 60s, a retired teacher with a treasure trove of journals and poems, all unpublished. He had driven for two hours just to be there. His story about growing up in the sixties wasn't just a recollection of past times; it was a testament to the dreams deferred by his inner saboteur, which he was now, finally, ready to challenge. As we listened to his passionate recount, it was clear: the power to transcend the limitations set by our own doubts is not just a youthful prerogative but a lifelong quest.

As we explore this concept, we will unravel personal anecdotes, identify the characteristics of self-sabotaging behaviors, and equip you with strategies to not just confront, but conquer your inner saboteur. This journey is about reclaiming the narrative of your life and steering it with intention and courage, regardless of the stage you find yourself in.

Recognizing the Saboteur

Identifying the saboteur within ourselves often requires a deep and honest reflection on our patterns of thought and behavior. This internal adversary is not always apparent because it disguises itself as protective instincts or pragmatic reasoning. However, its subtle influence can steer us away from our aspirations and into the comfort zones of mediocrity and unfulfilled potential.

The saboteur manifests in various forms—procrastination, self-doubt, perfectionism, or even the constant undermining of one’s abilities. For example, consider the entrepreneur who delays launching a new product, waiting for a 'perfect' moment that never comes, or the writer who consistently doubts the value of her words, editing her manuscripts endlessly. These behaviors, while seemingly benign, are potent tools of self-sabotage that prevent us from reaching our full potential.

To recognize these behaviors in ourselves, we can start by monitoring our internal dialogues. What are the common themes that recur in our thoughts? Are they filled with doubt and criticism, or do they empower and encourage us? Another sign to look out for is our reaction to opportunities. Do we find ourselves hesitating or backing away from challenges that we are capable of overcoming?

Moreover, self-sabotaging behaviors often surge during periods of stress or change. This can be seen in individuals who, when facing significant life decisions, suddenly engage in destructive behaviors or make choices that contradict their long-term goals. Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards confronting and controlling the saboteur within.

Understanding the root causes of these behaviors is crucial. Often, they stem from past experiences, fears of failure or rejection, or even deep-seated beliefs instilled during childhood. By identifying these underlying reasons, we can begin to address and dismantle the saboteur’s influence in our lives.

As we explore these internal conflicts, it's essential to approach ourselves with compassion and understanding. Recognizing and challenging the saboteur is not about self-reproach but about empowering oneself to rewrite the narratives that have held us back. By acknowledging these aspects of our personality, we pave the way for personal growth and a true pursuit of our goals.

Lauren Forbes Will Lead a Look Into Your Life Discussion during the Upgrade-A-Thon Expo.

Personal Stories and Realizations

Throughout my coaching career, I've encountered numerous individuals who, upon reflection, realized that they had been their own biggest obstacle. These personal stories not only illuminate the common struggle against the saboteur but also inspire us with their revelations and triumphs.

One particularly moving story involves a retired teacher in his late 60s, who attended one of the small writing workshops I held. He drove for two hours just to share his experiences and the writings he had accumulated over the years. This man had spent decades teaching others, nurturing dreams and potential in his students while his own journals and poems gathered dust. His narrative about life in the sixties not only painted a vivid picture of the era but also highlighted the dreams he had deferred due to the subtle whispers of his inner saboteur—telling him it was never the right time or he wasn’t good enough.

As he spoke, the room was enveloped in a palpable sense of respect and inspiration. His story is a powerful testament to the idea that it is never too late to confront and conquer our inner doubts. The attendees, including myself, left that meeting with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper understanding of how pervasive and limiting the saboteur can be.

Another realization came from a session with a young entrepreneur who had just started her own business. Despite her success, she confessed to feeling like an imposter, fearing that sooner or later, people would discover she was not as competent as they thought. This imposter syndrome is a classic manifestation of the saboteur at work, undermining self-confidence and magnifying fears.

Through these stories and countless others, it becomes evident that the saboteur does not discriminate by age or success level. Instead, it often grows alongside our achievements, always ready to question our worth and capabilities. Recognizing these narratives in others helps us confront our own internal adversaries, understand them, and ultimately, disarm them.

These personal stories and the realizations that come from them form the bedrock of our journey to overcome the saboteur. They remind us that while the saboteur is a universal experience, it is also an individual battle that plays out uniquely in each of our lives. By sharing these stories, we not only find common ground but also gather strength and strategies to write new chapters in our lives, free from the chains of self-doubt and fear.

The Impact of Life Events on Goals

Life is unpredictable, and often, our well-laid plans are disrupted by unexpected events—be it personal loss, health issues, economic downturns, or global crises. These events can significantly impact our personal and professional goals, sometimes causing us to reassess or even abandon our dreams temporarily or permanently.

Understanding how these life events affect our goals is crucial for any individual, but it becomes particularly poignant for women entrepreneurs who might already be balancing multiple roles. The resilience and adaptability required to navigate these challenges are immense, but they also present an opportunity for growth and realignment.

Consider the story of a woman entrepreneur who had built a successful consultancy business over five years. When her partner fell ill, she faced the tough decision of stepping back from her thriving enterprise to provide care. This life event didn't just alter her professional trajectory; it fundamentally changed her personal goals and priorities. During this period, her business had to operate at a reduced capacity, which initially seemed like a setback. However, this challenging time also allowed her to refine her business model, focus on high-value clients, and improve operational efficiencies.

This anecdote illustrates that while life's unpredictable nature can disrupt our plans, it also teaches us the critical skills of resilience and adaptability. These skills are invaluable, enabling us to bounce back from setbacks with a clearer understanding of our priorities and a renewed focus on what truly matters.

Moreover, such life events can sometimes reveal hidden strengths or open up new avenues we hadn’t considered. They force us to innovate, to find new ways of achieving our goals, and sometimes even set us on a completely new path that might be more fulfilling than the original plan.

Balancing the immediate needs brought on by life events with long-term professional goals is a tightrope walk. It requires a deep understanding of one’s own capacities and resources. It might mean setting more flexible timelines, getting additional support, or temporarily scaling back to accommodate the new realities.

For women entrepreneurs, acknowledging that life events can and will affect their goals is not a sign of defeat but a step towards empowerment. It allows for the development of a flexible and responsive approach to goal-setting and business management, which is essential in a world where change is the only constant.

Embracing these changes and the lessons they bring can ultimately strengthen our resolve and enhance our capacity to achieve our dreams, no matter the obstacles. Thus, while life events might redirect us, they also equip us with the resilience needed to pursue our goals with vigor and adaptability.

Balancing Personal and Professional Life

In the journey of confronting and mastering the saboteur within, women entrepreneurs often face the unique challenge of balancing personal and professional life. This balancing act is not just about managing time but also about navigating the emotional and mental load that comes with fulfilling diverse roles—business owner, partner, parent, caregiver, and individual with personal aspirations and needs.

The challenge often lies in the societal expectations and self-imposed standards women set for themselves. The pressure to excel in every aspect of life can lead to a scenario where personal needs and desires are consistently placed on the back burner. This neglect can fuel the saboteur, allowing it to thrive on feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and burnout.

To truly challenge the saboteur, it is essential to recognize that personal well-being and professional success are not mutually exclusive—they are interdependent. A well-rounded, fulfilled individual is more likely to be successful and resilient in their professional endeavors. Here are some insights into achieving this balance:

1.    Prioritizing Self-Care: Just as an archer sharpens their arrows, entrepreneurs need to nurture their primary tool—themselves. This means setting aside time for physical health, mental well-being, and hobbies or activities that rejuvenate the spirit. Self-care is not a luxury; it's a fundamental aspect of high performance.

2.    Setting Boundaries: Effective boundaries prevent work responsibilities from spilling over into personal time and vice versa. This might mean having clear work hours, learning to say no, or delegating tasks that do not necessarily require your personal touch. Boundaries help manage not just time but also the mental load, allowing for better focus and efficiency.

3.    Taking Center Stage: Finally, it’s important for women to take center stage in their own lives. This means actively shaping their life narrative, making deliberate choices, and not shying away from pursuing personal goals and dreams, no matter how ambitious or unconventional.

By addressing these aspects, women entrepreneurs can create a space where their professional success is not at the expense of personal happiness and fulfillment. Balancing these spheres is not just about achieving equality in time spent but about achieving a synergy that fuels both personal satisfaction and professional achievement, thus effectively silencing the saboteur.

Strategies to Overcome the Saboteur

Confronting and ultimately overcoming the saboteur requires a blend of practical strategies, mindset shifts, and sometimes, a complete overhaul of habitual responses. Here are some actionable steps and exercises that can help any entrepreneur, particularly women, to reclaim control from their inner saboteurs:

1.    Awareness and Acknowledgment: Begin by recognizing when the saboteur is active. This could manifest as negative self-talk, anxiety about a new opportunity, or procrastination on important tasks.

2.    Reframe Negative Thoughts: Practice cognitive restructuring by challenging and replacing negative thoughts. For example, change "I can’t handle this project" to "I have handled similar challenges before, and I can learn what I need to succeed here as well." This reframing can shift your perspective from one of self-doubt to one of self-efficacy.

3.    Set Small, Achievable Goals: Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable goals.

4.    Develop a Growth Mindset: Embrace challenges as opportunities to learn rather than as threats to your competence or identity.

5.    Visualization Techniques:Imagine yourself successfully completing a task or overcoming a specific self-sabotaging behavior. Mental rehearsals can enhance your real-world performance by preparing you psychologically for the task ahead.

6.    Mindfulness and Meditation: Incorporate mindfulness exercises or meditation into your daily routine to enhance your emotional regulation and reduce impulsivity, which the saboteur often exploits. These practices foster a state of mind that is more reflective and less reactive.

7.    Establish Accountability Systems: Share your goals and how you plan to achieve them with a trusted friend, mentor, or coach. Accountability can significantly enhance your commitment and help keep the saboteur at bay, especially during moments of doubt.

8.    Celebrate Progress: Regularly acknowledge and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. This not only boosts your morale but also reinforces the pleasure of pursuing your goals, making it harder for the saboteur to convince you that the effort isn't worth it.

9.    Journaling for Reflection: Keep a journal to reflect on your daily experiences and feelings. Writing down your successes and setbacks with the saboteur can provide insights into patterns of behavior and thought that need adjustment.

Inspiration and Motivation

Drawing inspiration from those around us and from our own past experiences can be incredibly empowering. Remember the retired teacher in his late 60s, who after years of putting his own dreams on hold, finally took the steps to share his story with the world. His journey teaches us that no matter the stage of life we are in, our dreams do not have expiry dates. This anecdote is not just a reminder of what can be accomplished despite age but also a call to action to not let self-doubt dictate the courses of our lives.

Moreover, consider the resilience and adaptability shown by countless women who balance the demands of professional aspirations with personal responsibilities. Their stories are testament to the strength and capability inherent in each of us. These narratives provide not only a blueprint for managing challenges but also a source of motivation to continue pushing forward, no matter the complexity of the obstacles we face.

To every woman entrepreneur reading this: you are capable of remarkable things. Your journey may be fraught with challenges, but each obstacle is surmountable. Your dreams are valid and achievable, irrespective of your current circumstances or past setbacks. Embrace the idea that setbacks are not endpoints but rather stepping stones to greater successes.

Let these stories and experiences serve as a beacon, guiding you through the darker times and reminding you of the light that awaits.


As we reflect on the insights shared in this blog, it becomes evident that confronting our inner saboteur is not just about battling a hidden adversary, but about embracing our true potential and steering our lives with intention and courage. The journey involves recognizing the subtle ways in which self-doubt and procrastination manifest, sharing and learning from personal stories of resilience, adapting to life's unpredictable challenges, and maintaining a balance that respects both our personal well-being and professional ambitions.

For every woman entrepreneur out there, remember that your journey is unique, but you are not alone in your struggles.

Use setbacks as learning experiences and stepping stones towards greater achievements. And most importantly, take center stage in your life, making deliberate choices that align with your deepest values and aspirations.

In doing so, you will not only overcome the barriers set by your inner saboteur, but also move closer to realizing your fullest potential. Remember, the best time to start is now, and the best person to do it is you. Challenge your saboteur, embrace your potential, and transform your dreams

Dr. Allana Da Graca

President, Turning On The Lights Global Institute


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