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‘Squashing’ Saboteurs

In our latest podcast episode we discuss the various ways we can undermine ourselves at work, hold ourselves back, or find ways to avoid doing something we think may be beyond us. We look at those challenging moments when the demons inside our heads hold sway. How do we deal with this, and what techniques can we use to overcome the ‘self-saboteur’ laying dormant in all of us? How do we silence the inner critic and find the confidence to know that we are better than that? Read on to find out…

Inner self-beliefs

Here at noodle, we’ve recently reached the end of a long project where we have worked with managers on a number of different levels. Reflecting on the various stages of this project has given us the opportunity to learn from the many people we have worked with. How becoming part of the management structure affected their ability to do their jobs, and how even just being in a more influential position also sometimes made them approach their work differently.

One of the things we were looking at was centred around people’s inner self-beliefs, particularly that inner critic tells us, “You can’t do that”, or “You’ve been given this project to do, but you’re not really up to it”. Or simply, “You’re rubbish”. That little voice inside our heads can sometimes be really loud. And it can be quite exhausting, having that inner debate in your mind and trying to silence the voice, without letting anyone on the outside see what is going on in there. After all, you have a certain level of responsibility. You don’t want colleagues, and those working with you, to witness the raging battle going on in your mind.

But that voice must be silenced. Otherwise, how will you be able to get on with your work and do what you have to do without being completely distracted? The inner critic wears a few different guises. If we can identify them, then we can start to be able to deal with them…

Fear of failure

We’ve all been there. Sometimes the fear of failure can prevent us from attempting to do something in the first place. Even if it is something we have successfully done in the past. That little voice starts talking again and we are frozen into inaction. And then we start making excuses to avoid doing it, such as “Well, it’s not my job anyway”, or “so-and-so could do it better than me”.

If you let the fear control you, you might pass the project onto somebody else, thereby sidestepping any difficulties it may cause you. But in doing so, you could miss out on some great opportunities, not the least the opportunity to challenge yourself and push past your limits.

But you might find that you have no choice, that despite the inner critic, you have to do the job anyway. As a result of standing up and facing the fear, you silence the critic and prove to yourself that you can do that job after all. And then you will wonder what you were so worried about in the first place.

But does the fear of failure become greater as you progress through your career, take on more responsibilities and have, potentially, more to lose? Does it, in fact, sometimes manifest as something else?


Have you ever had that grumpy feeling, that thought which says, “I shouldn’t be asked to do this, it’s not my job!”? Or, “Why have they dropped this on me, this is so-and-so’s job, not mine. It’s not fair!”? Because sometimes it’s easier to be resentful than to face the fear that comes with the knowledge that this is a difficult challenge which will take all of your skills to overcome.

Fear of success

Fear of success? Really? Absolutely. For instance, the belief that you are not ready for a promotion, even though the quality of your work says that you are. Or the belief that your promotion will somehow change you, so that you’ll no longer be able to be friends with, or relate to, your former colleagues. Or perhaps you are afraid that you might have to put in more hours, for little or no extra reward. Maybe you’re even a little afraid that you’re not ‘serious’ enough for that big promotion, and that people are secretly laughing at you behind your back.

Fear of delegating

You may have a lot of work on your desk. You need to delegate some of it. But if you are unsure of your own ability to do the work, how can you pass it on to others on a lower level? Or maybe it’s the opposite – you believe in your own ability to do the work, but you are unsure about anybody else’s. And the work piles up because you don’t trust the ability of your team…

Fear of change

This is something we have encountered a few times. It can happen when somebody who was a specialist, an expert in their field, is promoted to a position which gives them a broader range of responsibilities. And now they find themselves thinking, “I used to be an expert, people would come to me for advice, now I’m in charge and I don’t know what I’m doing”. But just because you are an expert in one particular field doesn’t mean that you can’t successfully run a team as well.

The perfectionist

You’re good at what you do. And you know it. But you don’t want anyone to know how hard you have to work to maintain that level of quality. You’re happy to present a finely-crafted, finished piece of work, but you don’t want anyone to see your ‘scribbles in the margins’. But how can you ever successfully work as part of a team if you only ever want to present with a perfect finished product?

Imposter syndrome

That feeling of thinking that you have somehow landed in the job ‘by mistake’, that there are others far better qualified and suited to it than you. One of the loudest inner critics of all. “I’m not good enough”, or “I don’t really deserve this job, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time”, or “They’ll find me out soon enough…” The idea that, somehow, nobody but you has noticed (yet) that they have employed the wrong person.

Frozen in the headlights

Have you ever had to stand up and give a presentation in front of a roomful of people? Did your fear root you to the spot? Were you afraid that nobody would listen to you and that there was nothing you could say that would be of benefit to anyone? These are all real fears. Sometimes you just have to be brave, know that you know your subject, take a deep breath and get on with it.

Facing the fear

The one thing all of these fears have in common is that they have to be controlled. If we all gave in to the silent saboteur and the inner critic, none of us would ever get any work done.

One of our strategies at noodle for dealing with them is a distraction technique. Think of three things. Three things that you can see. Or hear. Or feel. It doesn’t matter what. Whether it be cars passing by outside the window, or the stain on someone’s tie, the important thing is that it will take your mind off your fear and focus your mind on something else, thereby reducing your levels of anxiety. Concentrating on your senses brings your mind back to the moment. Focus on your breathing. Close out the world and let your logical, rational self take over.

Two recommendations

A book which we love, here at noodle, is one entitled ‘I Could Do Anything, If Only I Knew What It Was’, by Barbara Sher, which further explores and summarises the role of the inner critic in our lives. Another which we heartily recommend is ‘Feel The Fear, And Do It Anway’, by Susan Jeffers.


The following selection of five-minute noodles will help you to hear yourself, find the helpful truth and do your best work. They are Inner Critic, Johari Window, Twisted Thinking, Authority, Presence & Impact and Energy Investment Model.

Find out more about self-saboteurs and inner critics, as well as other topics covered in our previous blogs and podcasts at theaccidentalmanager

Join the chat at and follow us on Instagram for regular snippets at noodle_space

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