How to Sabotage Your Inner Saboteurs and Improve Positive Intelligence?



You want to become more assertive, find a different job, learn a new language? What’s stopping you from taking action? Or better yet, who’s stopping you?

Oftentimes, the worst enemy that prevents us from taking action is ourselves. It’s that inner voice or saboteur that lies in some hidden corner of our personality and waits for its moment. And when that moment comes, it emerges from its dormancy to stop us from leaving our comfort zone and moving toward achieving our authentic desires and goals.

In his book ‘Positive Intelligence,' Shirzad Chamine talks about how we have a tendency to let these negative voices inside of our heads run our lives, and what we can do to make our minds act as our friends rather than our enemies.

What is Positive Intelligence?

Positive Intelligence, or Positive Intelligence Quotient (PQ), determines our mental fitness or how much control we have over our mind. In other words, it’s the best indicator of happiness and how well we perform in our own favor.

According to Shirzad, the higher the PQ, the better control we have over our own mind. The goal of PQ is to create a more balanced, calm, and creative mindset. As a result, there will be less mental obstacles and hurdles and more mental resources to focus on reaching our potential.

The framework of Positive Intelligence are the three core muscles of mental fitness: positive mental mode - the Sage, negative mental mode - called Saboteurs, and the PQ brain muscles. 

In this article, we’ll break down these concepts’ meanings, how they work together, and what we can do to improve our positive intelligence.

Meet Your Inner Saboteurs

As young children, scared and vulnerable, we develop our inner Saboteurs as an immature response to events and people we perceive as threatening. As we grow older and more confident, we no longer need them, but we can't get rid of them. Over time, these thinking patterns get entrenched in our neural pathways and become a part of our personality. We accept the voices of our Saboteurs as the voices of our trusted self and continue thinking, feeling, and behaving using their patterns. For this reason, it's tough to spot them and be mindful of them.

Shirzad Chamine talks about the ten most common Saboteurs and their roles:

The Judge: This is a universal Saboteur that we all have - our inner critic, judging and criticizing our every move and thought and causing us great anxiety, shame, guilt, suffering, and disappointment. This is the master Saboteur that activates and governs all the others. 

The Avoider: The Avoider’s role is to escape difficult and unpleasant tasks at any cost, focusing only on what’s pleasant and downplaying the importance of real problems. This Saboteur is causing us to feel upset and anxious about what has been procrastinated, as well as suppressed anger, fear, and resentment. 

The Controller: This is our inner control freak with an eternal mission to take charge of as many things as possible in our life. Because of the Controller, we feel anxious when things don't go as planned. We also grow impatient and insensitive towards other people’s feelings.

The Hyper-Achiever: Bases self-respect and self-worth on how much has been achieved. Since never satisfied, this Saboteur is always striving for more, focusing only on external success and losing touch with deeper emotions and needs. This is the cause of our unbearable workaholic tendencies, making us feel empty and depressed.

The Hyper-Rational: Rationalizes everything, including emotions and relationships. The Hyper-Rational prefers to analyze everything from a distance and run everything by figures and facts, leaving no room for feelings. Feelings and emotions are, by default, irrational, and therefore, useless. Because of this Saboteur, we often feel frustrated when others show emotions and we can come across as arrogant. As a result,  we feel isolated and misunderstood.

The Hyper-Vigilant: Constantly worrying about what could go wrong and can't ever find peace of mind. This Saboteur always doubts everything and everyone, causing us chronic anxiety and never-ending expectation of danger and mishaps.

The Pleaser: This Saboteur doesn't know when to say 'No,' and thinks that only by pleasing, flattering, and helping others, one gains affection and acceptance. The Pleaser is resentful because he has lost sight of his own needs and because he feels others take him for granted. 

The Restless: Rarely content and in peace with the current situation, The Restless is constantly searching for greater excitement. He must keep himself busy at all times. Otherwise, he'll feel like he's missing out. This Saboteur is the source of our restlessness, impatience, and inability to be present in a moment.

The Stickler: Known as the Perfectionist. In constant chase after the unattainable perfection, the Stickler makes life a never-ending agony. He’s organized, punctual, and highly critical of self and others, causing us continuous frustration and disappointment.

The Victim: Suffering from a martyr complex, always focusing on the internal negative and painful feelings. This Saboteur is the 'poor me,’ always complaining and seeking attention and affection through the victim's role. He's the cause of our melancholy, feelings of abandonment, and envy.

To defeat the enemies masked as our friends, we need to first identify them. Take this free assessment to expose your inner Saboteurs.

The Sage Is the Wiser You

According to Shirzad, the Sage is the positive mode of our mind. As the wiser part of us, it doesn't cave in to the Saboteurs' lies and can help us find happiness and realize our potential.

Unlike the Saboteurs who categorize everything as either good or bad, the Sage doesn’t draw such discrepancies and accepts things the way they are. It embraces every challenge and sees potential opportunities and gifts in them.

The five powers of the Sage include:

- Explore with an open mind and genuine curiosity;

- Empathize with both yourself and others and be compassionate and understanding;

- Innovate and think outside-the-box;

- Navigate and find a path that follows your values and true mission;

- Activate and take resolute action free from the interference of the Saboteurs.

The Three Parts of the PQ Brain Muscle

Shirzad claims that we have two primary parts of the brain. One is called the Survivor brain, which refers to the more primitive part where Saboteurs live. On the other hand, we have the PQ brain, referring to the brain's regions housing the Sage's powers. In essence, the Survivor brain helps us survive, and with the PQ brain, we thrive.

The PQ brain muscles have three parts: the middle prefrontal cortex (MPFC), the 'Empathy Circuitry' as Shirzad calls it, and the right brain. All of these three distinctive parts have slightly different roles:

- The MPFC is responsible for several Positive Intelligence tasks, such as soothing fear, gut wisdom, and helping to stay focused in the middle of difficult situations;

- The ‘Empathy Circuitry’ helps with experiencing empathy with others as well as yourself;

- The right brain is responsible for abstract thinking and mood and helps us see the bigger picture and understand non-verbal language.

Once we manage to shift our attention from the mind to the physical sensations, we're activating our PQ brain muscles, and the Sage takes control over the Saboteurs.

How to Improve Positive Intelligence?

We can improve our Positive Intelligence by weakening the Saboteurs, strengthening the Sage powers, and reinforcing and exercising our PQ muscles.

Weaken the Saboteurs by observing them, labeling them, and giving them names. The process is quite similar to mindfulness meditation. We can be aware of the Saboteurs' presence, label and observe the thoughts and feelings that emerge without actively participating in them. If we don't engage in the dialogs sparked by our Saboteurs but only observe them, they will quickly fade away.

To make the observing and labeling more playful and fun, the author recommends giving the Saboteurs suitable names and, in that way, create a more personalized description for them.

For example, my name for my Judge is 'the Executioner,' and my name for my Hyper-Rational is 'Robot'.

- Shirzad Chamine. 

Strengthen the Sage by using various tried and tested techniques of shifting perspectives. One of these is called 'The Three Gifts' technique, where we push ourselves to see the good and positive when trapped in a rough situation. 

Another technique suggested by Shirzad is called ‘The Power Games.’ These should help practice and strengthen the five Sage powers:

  • Building the Empathize power by visualizing a child version of ourselves; to develop compassion for others, we need to start from ourselves;
  • Reinforcing the Explore power by playing the role of Fascinated Anthropologist who’s observing everything without judging or trying to control the situation;
  • Innovating by playing the 'Yes…and…' game. Approach every idea with an open mind and try to appreciate it before coming up with the next one as a response to it;
  • Strengthening the Navigate power by flashing forward and imagining the future-self looking back at the choices we're currently facing. From that vantage point, what would that person wish we had chosen?;
  • Building the Activate power by preempting our Saboteurs. We should try to anticipate their thoughts and reveal the lies behind them.

If you use your Sage to overcome challenges, you will be feeling Sage feelings of curiosity, compassion, creativity, joy, peace, and grounded decisiveness even in the midst of a great crisis.

- Shirzad Chamine. 

Strengthen the PQ muscles with PQ reps. Several simple exercises can strengthen the PQ brain muscles and help soothe anxieties and stay centered and focused. By reinforcing these muscles, we become more innovative and quick-witted when solving any problem we face.

These reps imply shifting our attention to our body and focusing on one of the five senses (sight, sound, smell, feel, taste) for ten seconds or three breaths. Trying to focus attention on a physical sensation for ten seconds requires the activation of the middle prefrontal cortex and the right part of the PQ brain. 

Shirzam also recommends repeating this exercise 100 times a day. It might sound tedious and scary, but there are ways to do this successfully, for example, while eating, walking to the store, brushing teeth, or any other daily routine.

Positive Intelligence and its techniques give us the necessary tools to learn the tricks our mind plays against us and take control over it. It's fascinating to know that we have the power to recognize and distinguish our unconscious and habitual mind patterns, understand where they come from, and transform them for our benefit. 

The POSITIVE THINKER sees the INVISIBLE, feels the INTANGIBLE, and achieves the IMPOSSIBLE.

- Winston Churchill  

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