Negative Self Talk That Keeps You Stuck

by Danielle Siegel, PCC, LCSW

When working with clients, one intervention I use almost 100% of the time is helping them to identity their negative self-talk, also known in the coaching world as “saboteurs” or “gremlins.”

What are saboteurs?  Rick Carsen, author of Taming Your Gremlin, sums it up nicely: “Your gremlin is the narrator in your head. He has influenced you since you came into this world, and he accompanies you throughout your entire existence…he tells you who and how you are, and he defines and interprets your every experience. He wants you to accept his interpretations as reality, and his goal, from moment to moment, day to day, is to squelch the natural, vibrant you within.” Its job is to maintain status quo and fight change.

When saboteurs are present, we are more likely to take action from a place of anxiety, disappointment, blame, guilt, hopelessness or habit. Acting from these states limits outcomes, relationships and living to our full potential. If we are able to realize that a saboteur has been triggered and consciously make the decision to not listen to it, we can shift our mind to take action from curiosity, creativity, excitement, resolute action, satisfaction and fulfillment. Here are some steps to help with this process:

  1. Know your saboteurs: Are your saboteurs around judgment (finding fault in self or others), needing to be perfect, pleasing others, being a hyper-achiever, being hyper-rational or being hyper vigilant? Are they about avoiding difficult situations? Do you need to control situations? What do they say to you? Name your saboteurs so you can call them out by name when you are aware they are present.
  2. Be prepared for situations in which they may arise or notice them when they are present: once you know your saboteurs, it’s easier to predict when they will be strongest and notice when they are present. Typical situations which may cause them to arise are when you are going to try something new and out of your comfort zone, when something has not gone well, when you need to do an undesirable task, etc.
  3. Remember that what they are saying is not the truth, but it is their job to make you think it’s the truth: once you notice the saboteur being present, separate the truth from what it is saying.
  4. Distract yourself by doing mini-mindfulness exercises: focus elsewhere for 10 seconds (breath, rub your fingers together and focus on your fingerprints, notice and focus on a specific sound around you, etc.) You will not be able to focus on the saboteur’s words and something else at the same time. The more you practice these exercises throughout the day, the easier it will be to use them to quiet your saboteur.
  5. Employ a different part of your brain by: finding the gifts or opportunities in situations that are “failures” or that turned out differently that you wanted, being curious, having empathy, and taking action.

You saboteurs will never go away 100%, but you have the ability to quiet them when they arise.




For more work on how to quiet those saboteurs, contact Danielle for a complimentary consultation.