How to silence your inner saboteur

Self-sabotage can steal our joy and derail our relationships and careers. If you're prone to getting in your own way, try these tools.

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I've had two reminders in recent days of my tendency to self-sabotage.

On Friday night, I almost missed a fun night out, dancing and making new friends, because I came close to convincing myself that I was too tired, it was too far to drive in the dark, I'd get there too late, and I didn't want to show up on my own. I love dancing and I'm on a mission to socialise more and meet new people. The evening ticked all my boxes, but I nearly stayed home. Thank goodness my desire to dance won out. I had a great night. 

Then, on Sunday, Facebook showed me a four-year-old photo from a hiking weekend on the Isle of Wight. I remember that weekend well. I'd promised myself I'd do more stuff outdoors - because I loved it and I wanted to meet like-minded people (and maybe a single guy) - so a group hiking adventure seemed ideal. But I almost didn't sign up. 'You'll be the oldest by far,' 'you'll have to share a car with strangers,' 'you won't sleep in the dorms,' 'you'll get home tired, grumpy and unable to work,' went the soundtrack inside my head.

Fortunately, I ignored that voice. And as it turns out, it was wrong. I wasn't the oldest. I slept like a baby in my bunk bed. I saw some stunning scenery, laughed a lot, made new friends and met an interesting man. I was in my element, loving every minute of it, as you can tell from the photo that illustrates this post.

On both occasions, my inner saboteur was playing up, determined to rob me of my joy, to keep me stuck and small and to curb my natural exuberance and enthusiasm for life by listing everything that could go wrong.

My inner saboteur shows up often. For years, she convinced me to end relationships that were good for me and instead led me towards men who couldn't meet my needs, until I managed to silence her and get engaged to a lovely guy.

In my work, she persuaded me for a long time that my writing wasn't good enough and that nobody wanted to read my words, until my desire to write won out and I managed to publish my book. And every time I want to write again or coach or run workshops or retreats, she tries to talk me out of it. 'It's not safe. You'll fail. Who do you think you are? Stay small,' she whispers.

I carry on regardless.

She can turn a good day into a bad day and find fault with everything. She can keep me obsessing for weeks about things I cannot change, draining my vital energy so I've got nothing left.

She's a thief, a scaremongerer, a spoilsport, a critic, a leech and anything but a friend. But I'm not going to let her win.

If you have an inner saboteur you'd like to silence, here are some things that have worked for me:

- Be aware

It's important to become entirely aware that we have an inner saboteur who's out to steal our joy and wreck our happiness. We can get to know her. How does she tend to operate? What are the things she tries to stop us from doing or having? What's her usual list of excuses, for example, tiredness, traffic, the idea that we're not good enough? And who is she? Is it our own voice we hear or is it a parent's voice or someone else from our past? The more we know about her, the easier she is to spot and to tame.

- Plan ahead

By planning ahead, we can outmanoeuvre our inner saboteur. We can make sure we schedule that night out that we know will do us good, that dance class, or hiking weekend, or gym session, or that morning to sit down and write the novel we've been putting off. Better still, we can schedule things with other people, making them harder to pull out of. We can find a running mate or a writing buddy, for example. Once we have something in the diary, we need to be mindful of self-sabotage. It's a good idea to make space around that appointment so we're not tempted to cancel at the last minute or show up late and miss out on all the fun. Planning ahead doesn't mean we're not spontaneous, of course. If we see something that peaks our interest or makes our inner child smile, we can go for it there and then.

- Celebrate wins

It's vital to celebrate our victories over our inner saboteur. When we're teetering on the brink of self-sabotage but manage to push through, it's important to pat ourselves on the back. Maybe we wanted to cancel our date, or do the laundry instead of our writing, or slump in front of the TV with chocolate rather than go to our dance class but we didn't. We acted in our best interests. When this happens, we deserve to celebrate, reward and treat ourselves. High five!

- Make memories

Those 'on this day' reminder posts from Facebook can be annoying but they serve as a memory bank. Seeing the big smile on my face in my Isle of Wight photos brought it all back - the strong pull of my inner saboteur who wanted me to stay home versus the joy I experienced on that weekend. My blog serves as a memory bank too. My posts catalogue all the times I battled my inner saboteur and won, especially this one: Do more of what you love. It reminds me of how I almost talked myself out of a camping weekend - 'you're tired,' 'the weather might be rubbish,' 'the traffic might be bad' - but that I went anyway. On that weekend, I made new friends who introduced me to my now fiancé and paved the way for my move to Dorset. We can find ways to store up memories of all the times we ignored our inner saboteur - we can hang up photos or mementos around the house to remind us it was so worth pushing through.

Our inner saboteur wants to keep us safe and small but life and love involve risk and the magic happens outside our comfort zone, so let's do our best to silence the voice that wants to rob us of joy and let's throw our energy into living.

Upcoming events

For more encouragement, head over to my free Facebook group, Being Real, Becoming Whole, try my blog, From Forty With Love or check out my book.

Join me in London on Saturday April 21 for Love Yourself. Love Your Life. Find Love - an all-day version of my sold-out February evening workshop in partnership with Psychologies magazine and NOW Live Events. We'll be digging deep into self-love and self-worth. We'll be identifying our dreams and taking steps towards them. And we'll be understanding and changing our relationship patterns. Spaces limited. Watch this video for a flavour of my events. 

Join me by the seaside in Dorset on a How to Fall in Love retreat on May 18-21. Two spaces left. Self-love, self-care, letting go, changing patterns, setting boundaries, creating a positive vision for our lives. Beach walks, sisterhood, cake and/or healthy treats.

Katherine Baldwin

Midlife Mentor, Dating & Relationships Coach, Author of 'How to Fall in Love'

I work with women and men who are ready to change their lives or careers and with those who want to find love. I guide people on a journey of inner transformation, similar to the journey I've been on. I know how it feels to be stuck in life and to be reluctantly single, and I know what it takes to change and find love. My book 'How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart' describes how I went from being a single woman, living in London, bored with my work and longing for a more fulfilling life to a woman in love, engaged to be married, living on the Dorset coast and doing work that makes my heart sing. I have been in recovery from an eating disorder, workaholism and dysfunctional relationship patterns for 14 years, during which time I've mentored and coached others on their journey to a healthier, happier life. I have a Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy Skills from the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. In my former life as a news journalist, I reported for Reuters from the Houses of Parliament and travelled with the prime minister. I climbed high but despite my external success, I felt empty inside. Since then, I've turned my life upside down in the best possible way. I work 1-2-1 and in groups, run workshops, courses and seaside retreats. I write for the national media and have appeared on radio and TV, most recently on Woman's Hour. I also speak to business leaders, students and school children about the importance of authenticity and of sharing our internal battles. I'm an advocate of wholehearted living. I do my best to walk the walk.