It’s one thing to understand the basic Saboteur formula:

possibility –> go unconscious –> habit –> no responsibility

It’s quite another to know how to recognize it in your own situation. Let’s look at an example to hopefully illustrate how to start to apply this information.

When I ask people to give an example of what they are struggling with, they often describe a day that goes something like Mary’s:

A Typical Day in Mary’s Week

“I began the day feeling enthusiastic. I had a promising prospective client to follow up and a wide open day to get a lot done. Then some stuff began to pop up in the morning that I needed to take care of. One thing led to another and, before I knew it, I had way too much to do and I hadn’t even begun the things I was planning to do that day.

I was feeling overwhelmed and unable to focus at this point, so I went for a walk to clear my head. When I got back I felt a little better, but now I was feeling time pressure. I thought about following up with my prospect, but that would have been better to do in the morning. Also I started to feel like I wasn’t really prepared enough to talk to them, and that made me feel like, ‘now I have even more to do and not enough time to do it.’

I finally gave up and decided to clean the house because at least that would be productive. I have no idea what happened or how, and I’m starting to think I shouldn’t have left my day job.”

Mary went from feeling excited about a potential client to unprepared. At the beginning of the day she was going to get a lot done; at the end she was overwhelmed and falling behind. Well done, Saboteur!

Do you recognize the four elements of the formula?


In this case the possibility is fairly straightforward. There was the chance to get a new client, and a lot of unstructured time in which to be productive. Many times, however, people are not even aware that this occurred.

If so, try working backward. Look at the breakdown (overloaded, distracted, confused, etc.), and then examine the period leading up to it. See if you notice a thought, an occurrence, a moment of inspiration, an impulse, or something that the Saboteur felt needed to be nipped in the bud.


This one is usually hard to recognize at first, and sometimes just needs to be assumed for a while. What you’re looking to do is identify the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that are used to create the state of unconsciousness.

In Mary’s example it starts with the “stuff popping up.” Notice how vague the description gets (“one thing led to another”). The more specific you get with the details, the more you can uncover. Here, for instance, you would find that the first thing she did was check e-mail. Sounds reasonable, right?

But you know how e-mail works – you can get lost in there! The underlying intention of checking e-mail was to open herself up to a flood of distractions and new obligations. The Saboteur will get you to allow, perceive or create the preconditions for unconsciousness and then sit back and let nature take its course.

In Mary’s case her Saboteur knows that the feeling (real or imagined) of “way too much to do” combined with “time pressure” is a reliable way to send her into overwhelm, where she has no hope of remaining conscious.

Similarly, the impulse to go for a walk to clear her head, a seemingly harmless and reasonable choice, is actually going to make things worse. Her Saboteur is going to use it to feed the mounting sense of time getting away from her. There is nothing wrong with e-mail or a good walk, but in this case both are excellent disguises for what will turn out to be counterproductive choices.


Mary’s Saboteur knows that when she feels overwhelmed she will habitually become unclear about how to recover and what next steps would be most productive for her business. She will be susceptible to avoidance (going for a walk, cleaning), which will feed her sense of not enough time, continuing the vicious circle.

In addition she will be susceptible to negative beliefs (“I’m not good enough”, “It’s better to call in the morning,” “I’m not prepared”). Notice Mary didn’t feel under-prepared until she pressured herself into unconsciousness.

Some of these details may be accurate or valid, but the real question is: what do you do with them? Maybe it’s true that it would have been better to make the important call in the morning, but that thought wasn’t accessed until late in the day when she could use it against herself. And is it better to make the call at a less perfect time than to never make it at all?


Sure, Mary can tell she’s doing something wrong. The key, though, is that she will begin the next day with no idea what she could do differently, or that it’s really even possible.

Next time we’ll look at what Mary can DO with this information to deal with the Saboteur and create a different day.

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