What I’m sharing with you this week was really difficult for me to write. Why? Because the Stickler saboteur had such a significant impact on my life. If you describe yourself (or others describe you) as a perfectionist, then you likely have a very strong Stickler saboteur like I do. In some ways, the underlying strengths of the Stickler serve us really well. But on overdrive, the perfectionistic tendencies of Stickler kill creativity and innovation, as well as intimacy and connection in our most important relationships. It can be brutal.
The first time I took the Saboteur assessment, at the beginning of Shirzad Chamine’s 6-week Positive Intelligence mental fitness course, Stickler ranked a “7” on a ten-point scale as my 3rd strongest saboteur. My Stickler really likes to team up with my Judge and other saboteurs to cause major havoc in my work life and relationships. In many ways, although it is not one of my top two saboteurs, it is an all-pervasive sabotaging influence in my life.
In short, you can think of the Stickler’s dark side as extreme perfectionism and “a need for order and organization taken too far”.* Stickler unintentionally puts perfection above compassion, empathy and connection in relationships. Stickler is also exhausting in its pursuit of perfection in all things, and thus is truly brutal in its impact on making yourself and others feel like you are constantly under a microscope, never able to do it well enough or be good enough.
Strengths of the Stickler
Before we look further into the dark side, let’s first activate the positive Sage brain and look at the truly beautiful strengths of the Stickler*. Take a few deep, easy breaths in this moment to release tension in your shoulders and jaw, soften your belly and your tongue, and shift your brain to Sage mode.
You may be pleased to know that Stickler:
- Holds high ideals and standards, and is principled
- Is able to bring organization and order into ambiguity and chaos
- Is capable of leading oneself and others to live and work based on clear guiding principles, such as to “be a good person” and to “do the right thing”
- Is self-disciplined
- And is direct and discerning, seeing and communicating things as they are.
As the leader of a team or a company, you would absolutely want to hire and retain people with these strengths! And if you have a strong Stickler saboteur, take a moment now to celebrate and appreciate these powerful qualities. Feels so good!
Are the strengths of the Stickler powerful enough to excuse the negative impact of its saboteur qualities? Before we answer this question, let’s look first at this saboteur’s negative characteristics, typical thoughts and lies, as well as the ultimate impact the Stickler has on you and others.
Negative Characteristics of the Stickler Saboteur:*
As you read through this list, keep in mind that someone with a strong Stickler saboteur may only consistently exhibit one or two of these characteristics. You don’t need to see all of these in your saboteur behaviors to have a strong Stickler.
- Overly punctual, methodical, and perfectionistic.
- Can be irritable, tense, opinionated, and sarcastic.
- Highly critical of oneself and others.
- Has a strong need for self-control and self-restraint.
- Works overtime to make up for what Sticker perceives to be others’ sloppiness and laziness.
- Is highly sensitive to criticism.
Which of the above have you seen in yourself or in a Stickler you know in your life?
Common Thoughts the Stickler Voice Tells You*
How can you catch this saboteur trying to mislead you and sweet talk you? Listen for words like these in your mind:
- “’Right is right’ and ‘wrong is wrong’, and there is no gray area in-between.”
- “Only I know the right way.”
- “If you can’t do it perfectly, why bother? Don’t do it at all.”
- “Others too often have lax standards.”
- “I need to be more organized and methodical than others so things get done the right way.”
- “I hate mistakes.”
Pause now and look back at the list of thoughts above. Now place them in the context of problem solving and innovation at work. Where is there space for creativity or different styles and approaches? Zero. There is zero breathing room for creativity when Stickler is at work. Keep this in mind if you have a team member who has a strong Stickler, as you’ll need to work to create a Sage-activating foundation in meetings and conversations to bring out the best side of all involved. If you yourself have a strong Stickler and you need to try a new approach, start first with a long session of PQ reps.
How does the Stickler justify your need to rely on it?*
Stickler is a tricky saboteur. It will do its best to justify its existence so you don’t try to weaken its influence. Be careful! Be cautious! Especially if it’s telling you things like:
- “This is a personal obligation. I must do this.”
- “It is up to me to fix whatever mess I encounter.”
- “Perfectionism is good, and it makes me feel better about myself.”
- “There is usually a clear right and clear wrong way to do things.”
- “I know how things should be done and therefore I must do the right thing.”
It’s exhausting to have your mind ruled by Stickler! It’s constantly frustrated and disappointed with you and others for “not living up to ideal standards”.* It is not open to trying something new. Stickler also makes you anxious all the time, worried that others will mess up the “perfect order and balance”* you feel you have painstakingly worked to create. When Stickler is driving your behavior, your tone of voice may even sound sarcastic or self-righteous. “Oh, so you think that is a good way to do it. Sure, try it and fail, because my way is the only way.”
Let’s look into this further so you can more easily catch this saboteur in the act and stop it in its tracks…
Other Impacts Stickler has on You and Others?*
The suppressed anger and frustration Stickler packs down inside of your body can cause physical and health problems at an extreme. Stickler’s impact on you and others includes:
- Causing rigidity and reduces flexibility in dealing with change
- Resisting or altogether avoiding adapting to or allowing for others’ different styles.
- Being a source of ongoing anxiety and frustration.
- Causing resentment, anxiety, self-doubt, and resignation in others, who feel continually criticized and resign themselves that no matter how hard they work they will never please the Stickler.
This last point is the most painful in how it creates separation in relationships. We all crave and need connection with others, and yet Stickler does a phenomenal job of sticking a wedge between you and others. How does it feel to be constantly criticized for not doing it the right way? Does it make you want to spend more time with your boss who does this or your older sibling who is constantly picking at you? No! You want to run far away. In fact, being around someone like this on a regular basis can strengthen other saboteurs in you, like the Avoider and the Pleaser.
Now you know. Now you have your eyes wide open to the strengths and negative qualities of Stickler. With all of this in mind, let’s revisit the question I posed above: Are the strengths of the Stickler powerful enough to excuse the negative impact of its saboteur qualities? Okay, not to tease you too much, but I think maybe we’re not quite ready to answer it yet. Let’s first bring the Stickler more to life by looking at a famous perfectionist who likely had a really really strong Stickler saboteur: Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs, the late cofounder of Apple, drove the creation of aesthetically groundbreaking and beautiful technology products, that functioned pretty well too. Some would say Apple products even changed lives. But, his obsession over numerous details, that some believed to be fairly meaningless and irrelevant to the customer experience and to sales, wasted millions of dollars, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography. Note: Like all of us, Steve Jobs likely had many other strong saboteurs that partnered with Stickler in its sabotage, further exacerbating the damage.
Other successful people in the public eye who are self-described perfectionists likely have strong Sticklers. These include Serena Williams the trailblazing professional athlete, Martha Stewart the infamous business person, and Stanley Kubrick the American filmmaker. If you are familiar with one or more of these people, consider what you know about their positive (Sage) and negative (saboteur) sides.
I will now (finally!) answer the question: are the strengths of the Stickler powerful enough to excuse the negative impact of its saboteur qualities? And the answer is No, the strengths do not outweigh the negative when the negatives still exist. The critical piece is to weaken the negative impact of the Stickler saboteur by activating and living live more fully with the Sage part of the brain.
Use the 20/80 Rule
Once in Sage mode, you can selectively bring to bear the brilliance of the Stickler strengths by practicing the 20/80 rule: identify the 20% of things where the highest possible quality really does matter and let go of the other 80% where “good enough” is, well, good enough! There are many other strategies for managing and weakening the Stickler, but using the 20/80 rule will have a massive impact and is (in my humble opinion) the best place to start. If you need an example, consider this distinction…
An airline pilot must know the minimum speed at which she can fly the airplane before the plane drops out of the sky. This piece of knowledge is in the 20% of what it absolutely makes sense for how the pilot must perform at the highest level. However, if the pilot walks through the cabin and notices a stain on the fabric of seat 27B, it might bother her, but that is in the 80% of what is “good enough”: the seat still functions well enough to hold the passenger in place for safety and comfort.
Is it worth the effort to weaken the Stickler’s sabotaging influence?
Yes! I myself have worked diligently the past year on weakening my saboteurs and strengthening my self-command and other mental muscles. The result? Officially, according to the results from the second time I took the assessment, the strength of my Stickler has been reduced from a “7” to a “6.3”. That might not seem like a huge drop, but I can attest to the incredible positive benefits! I am less concerned and worried about “the details” in all aspects of my life, at work and at home. When I hear the Stickler’s voice in my head, pushing for too much too often, I do some PQ reps and the voice quiets. The shift to Sage relieves me of stress and strain, and prevents the damage that Stickler can cause in relationships. All this with less than a one point drop in strength. Imagine what my experience will be a year from now. And consider the impact this could have for you!
In my Sage view, relationships are significantly more important than attention to detail. I choose love over perfection. Don’t you?
While it’s true that Stickler gets in the way of creativity and innovation, the more painful impact of Stickler is on relationships, including (and perhaps most important) your relationship with yourself. How can you experience unconditional love for yourself when you are constantly criticizing your appearance and your performance? And if you don’t love yourself fully, how can you be receptive to being loved by others? When Stickler is active, it is really hard – if not impossible – to choose love over perfection. Ouch!
The other observation I have about the reduced strength of my saboteur scores is: it’s a journey! It takes consistent practice of cultivating the Sage brain to weaken the powerful saboteurs. I am committed to this journey, and I hope you are too.
What You Can Do to Weaken the Negative Aspects of the Stickler saboteur:
- Learn how strong your own Stickler saboteur is by taking the 5-minute saboteur assessment here
- Read the detailed online assessment report to build awareness of the full picture of saboteurs that are strongest for you so you can catch the negative thoughts and feelings to intercept the saboteur and stop it in its tracks
- If you want a more personalized analysis of the report, I invite you to meet with me for a Saboteur Diagnosis session at no cost. SCHEDULE HERE
- Practice PQ reps and the Sage perspective, critical foundational practices from the Positive Intelligence mental fitness model
- Strengthen your Sage powers to more intentionally and thoughtfully use the strength side of your Stickler
It takes guided, dedicated work in the beginning
The research conducted by the Positive Intelligence team included revealing evidence via FMRI scans, that after 6 to 8 weeks of intensive practice at least 15 minutes a day, the gray matter in the Sage parts of the brain increases and the gray matter in the Saboteur parts of the brain decreases. While taking the assessment and building awareness of how the saboteurs show up in your own behavior are important foundational work, the real changes and benefits come from taking the six-week mental fitness course and continuing after that to build your mental muscles.
How will you benefit from weakening the Stickler saboteur?
When you use your Sage brain and the strength side of your Stickler, you then experience your highest level of performance, much greater creativity, and sustained happiness. Don’t believe me? Check out the research led by my teacher Shirzad Chamine and his team at Positive Intelligence that was done with more than a half a million people in 50 countries that is the foundation of this model.
Check out past blog posts here to learn more about the other saboteurs in this Positive Intelligence model of mental fitness.
*Source: Shirzad Chamine and his Positive Intelligence mental fitness model. Erin completed her certification with Shirzad and Positive Intelligence, Inc. in the spring of 2021 and is now a Certified Positive Intelligence mental fitness coach (CPQC).