Is your brain working for you or against you?

I am a podcaster, speaker and author in the area of self-leadership: the intentional act of creating your freedom, your life, your way.

August 17, 2022

I recently wrote about the inner Saboteurs that researchers have identified. I received some questions on that, so I thought this was a good opportunity to go a bit deeper.

What is a Saboteur?

A saboteur is our automatic ways of thinking, feeling and acting and it is learned over the course of our lifetime. What neuroscientists have shown is that the Saboteurs have created well-established neuropathways in our brain, so it makes the likelihood of us having a saboteur response that much more likely. It’s like a slip and slide for our brain!

To put it simply, the saboteur response has become the easiest and fastest response for our brain to take.

This is why in those moments of stress and challenge, we sometimes act in less than optimal ways. We do things (or say things) that in a calmer moment, we may have chosen a different and often more effective response. We may even find ourselves looking back at those moments and thinking, “Wow. Why did that cause that reaction in me?”

The reason is that our Saboteurs were running the show. Not our Sage.

What is our Sage? 

Our Sage is the part of our brain that has great empathy, curiosity, creativity, compassion, and is capable of purpose-driven, calm, clear-headed action.

Two different regions within our brain battling for control.

What the science has shown is that we actually have two very distinct regions of the brain. Each produces very different thoughts and emotions, and therefore, reactions.

The part of the brain where our Saboteurs live is the Limbic system, the Brainstem and parts of the left brain. The part of the brain where our Sage lives is the mid-prefrontal cortex, empathy circuitry and parts of the right brain.

How does that battle for control affects us?

Because the saboteur response has created very entrenched neural pathways, and, therefore, has become the easiest and fastest response for our brain to take, it gives the Saboteurs a distinct advantage: it allows them to ambush us very quickly. Even before our Sage has a chance to get in the game.

What does an ambush look like?

Here are a few examples of a what an ambush can look like:

  • You have an important presentation with a prospect. You run into your VP on your way out the door and he says, “Good luck with the presentation. Remember, we have a lot riding on it.” You get in your car, and you start thinking about how much pressure there is on this presentation and what’s at stake. Then you start remembering some of those past presentations where maybe things didn’t go your way. Or you start thinking about all the things that could go wrong in this meeting. You arrive at the meeting, still committed, but feeling like your confidence took a hit.
  • You are leading your weekly team sales meeting. Everything is going well. And, then one team member said something that, to you, seemed innocuous, but it really seemed to trigger another team member. There is a distinct tension in the room that has taken over the meeting. They’ve both checked out of the meeting, and you are left wondering “what just happened?”
  • Your day is going along and then one of your best salespeople gave her notice. You start thinking about it and what a loss it is. Why does this always happen to you? You think that you hire well, and you invest in getting them up to speed and supporting them. Now you have to spend all that time to find and train someone new. Time that you really don’t have. You wonder if you are doing something wrong as the leader.  Why can’t you find loyal people? What’s wrong with you? The company? The people you are hiring? How are you possibly going to replace them – especially in this environment?

You probably have your own examples, but these are just to illustrate how easy it can happen. And, how the ambush can happen from small events.

In each of these examples, there are things that need your attention. The problem is that once we are being run by our saboteurs, we literally do not have access to our best mental resources.

When the saboteurs are running the show, we don’t have access to the part of our brain where we can access things like creativity, empathy, problem-solving, negotiation skill, curiosity, resilience or calm, clear-headed action.

If you’d like to know for sure how much of the time your Saboteurs are running the show, here’s a link to a free, 5 minute assessment:

Next time, I’ll share how you can begin to intercept your saboteur before it does this damage.

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