A member of a recent PQ mental fitness program pod brought a pretty powerful story to our pod call after learning more about his Restless saboteur. He was learning to scuba dive with his wife in the open ocean when she started to panic. He really wanted her to do this final dive so they could both get their PADI scuba diving certification and he started to tell her to calm down, get over it, and get back on track with the dive. But, then he caught himself. He intercepted his Restless saboteur in action and took a different approach.
This week I introduce you to one of the more common saboteurs I see among my high energy, super productive clients. I’ve observed this saboteur to be more common among entrepreneurs and startup leaders, but is also present in most of us – especially during a pandemic! Restlessness can be a subconscious coping strategy to escape from dealing with fears, anxieties, and painful feelings.
The Restless saboteur’s modus operandi is constantly searching for greater excitement by moving on to the next new activity or constant busyness. You can think of this as not just multitasking, but constantly skimming the surface without diving in too deeply. For some this takes the form of “bright shiny object syndrome” on steroids.
The Restless is “rarely at peace or content with the current activity”.* Without reading further, imagine for a moment how the Restless energy might impact your quality of work (completing tasks, following through on commitments, focusing on reading something enough to discern critical details), relationships (being present, keeping promises), and even your health (following self-care routines, mindful chewing).
If you’re not yet familiar with the term “saboteur”, here’s a refresh. We all have strengths. Some of our strengths we are born with and some we grow and develop over time. When one or more of those strengths are used too often in situations that don’t truly call for them to be used — especially if we lean on those strengths too often in times of stress or anxiety – the negative side of those strengths come out. (To learn more about the overall model this comes from, read more here.)
Negative Characteristics of the Restless Saboteur:*
- You are easily distracted and can get too scattered.
- You prefer to stay busy, juggling many different tasks and plans.
- You seeks excitement and variety, rather than comfort or safety.
- You bounce from unpleasant feelings very quickly to escape the discomfort.
- You constantly seek new stimulation.
My own Restless saboteur was fairly strong when I first took the Saboteur Assessment, so I am quite familiar with the realities of being driven by negative emotions – like impatience and fear of missing out – that are the preferred playground of the Restless. Perhaps you also see in yourself some of these qualities?
Strengths of the Restless
Keep in mind that underlying all of these negative characterstics is the strength side of Restless, which I genuinely appreciate and treasure in others and in myself. When you are not in Saboteur survival mode, your Sage brain is activated, giving you access to empathy, creativity and the kind of resourcefulness that enables you to utilize your fabulous strengths.
For those with a strong Restless saboteur, their underlying strengths include:*
- Having high energy and vitality
- Being open, curious and spontaneous
- Having contagious enthusiasm and appreciation of life
- Being capable of great productivity and creativity
- Energizing and engaging others in co-creation
- And also being capable of being engaged in a great breadth of activity and pursuits
Imagine leading a team with a bunch of super talented people who stay in their Sage brains and continually leverage all these strengths. Truly valuable for an energizing work culture, driving innovation, and getting work done!
To build even greater awareness of what to watch out for when Restless is in saboteur mode, let’s look further into the lies that the Restless tells you and some of the common thoughts it uses to control your mind.
Common Thoughts and Lies Your Restless Tells You
- “This isn’t fulfilling.”
- “This next thing has got to be more exciting.”
- “I don’t want to feel this way, thhese negative feelings suck.”
- “I must shift my attention to something exciting.”
- “Why can’t anyone keep up with me?”
- “Life is too short. It must be lived fully.”
- “I don’t want to miss out.”
If you’ve read this far and you were intrigued to learn what happened to my client and his wife, your own Restless saboteur may be screaming in your head right now saying “whhhhhhaaaaaaattttt happened to him!?!?!?!?!” Well, you can take a deep breath now and smile, because I’m coming back to his story now…
Tame Your Saboteur, Save a Life
Dan [named changed to protect his confidentiality] has incredibly high energy for climbing mountains, building his business, and living life to its fullest. His latest adventure with his wife was to learn how to scuba dive so they could do even more to explore the places they love to travel. In the past when his wife would express concern or caution about trying something new, he would give her positive encouragement to be brave and go for it. His support has helped her to expand her horizons and have numerous new experiences in her life. At times, though, his Restless saboteur would cause him to push her too hard without really listening to her concerns.
On the last day of their open water scuba diving course, the surface of the water was really choppy. The waves were swelling to several feet high, which was dynamically rocking the boat up and down as they prepared to enter the water and dive beneath the surface. As each minute passed, Dan’s wife was getting more and more scared about safely entering the water. She was concerned about being injured. When she expressed trepidation, he started to tell her to get over it and get into the water. His mind was focused on his own excitement about the dive, completing the certification, and what that would allow for their future adventures. His Restless did not want either of them to miss out on this opportunity and his Restless was feeling impatient with her discomfort and hesitation. Furthermore, his Restless did not want to waste time dealing with any unpleasant feelings or the difficult situation this was putting them in: it was their last day to attempt the final dive before they had to wrap up their trip and head home.
But he stopped. He noticed himself getting caught up in the energy of the Restless. He recognized this pattern in his automatic response and caught it. He took some breaths and realized he was allowing the circumstances of the situation to cause unnecessary urgency. She could complete the certification another time, on another trip, or in another location. It did not have to be right then and there.
How did he shift from Saboteur brain to activating the positive qualities of the Sage brain? As Dan breathed, he shifted his physiology. With reduced anxiousness, his heart rate slowed down and he was able to see and think more clearly, literally using different parts of his brain – his Sage brain. He created space to open up an alternative path forward. The idea that emerged was that it would be totally okay for him to complete the dive and for her to stay on the boat. She felt safer out of the water and was fine with waiting, and he felt better completing the dive. As a result, she felt heard and supported, rather than pushed and pressured into something that felt truly unsafe for her. By catching his Restless in the act, stopping it, and using his Sage brain, he honored and respected what was best for his wife, thus strengthening their relationship. He commented on our call that “I’ve never really done this before. It was a big shift.”
What does taming the Restless saboteur have to do with saving a life? In this situation, the risks were quite real. Take a dangerous set of environmental circumstances and add someone who was truly fearful and anxious, and panic can cause death. It’s true. Panic is one of the leading causes of death for scuba divers because panic leads to breathing too quickly, and that leads to using up your oxygen supply before you can surface. Panic can also lead to making rash choices that can lead to further endangerment. Dan was able to manage his own saboteur reaction so that he did not push his wife into a dangerous situation. If she herself had already been trained in the mental fitness model and how to do PQ reps, she would have been able to shift herself to her Sage brain and return to calm, clear headed focus. It may not have changed her decision to not dive that day, but she most likely would have had a less scary and less stressful experience.
Impact on Self and Others*
You now know how Dan handled this situation and how his shift to Sage brain positively transformed the situation for him and his wife. But, what might have been the impact if he hand not done so? Let’s take a look at the typical negative impact that Restless has on you and others:
- The Restless avoids a real and lasting focus on the issues and relationships that truly matter.
- Others have a difficult time keeping up with the frenzy and chaos brought by the Restless and its inability to build anything sustainable around it.
- Underneath the surface of fun and excitement of the Restless is an anxiety-based escape from being present to this moment’s full experience, which might include dealing with unpleasant things.
Did you read those words about the impact? This is serious. Restless makes you miss out on the best of what life has to offer, challenges included. If you’re seeing yourself in these details, take a breath and invite some compassion for yourself. We all have some Restless in us, it’s truly common and normal. And the good news is, now that you know about it, you can do something about it to prevent future negative impact on you and those you care about.
What You Can Do to Weaken the Negative Aspects of the Restless saboteur:
- Learn how strong your own Restless 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. Then 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 Restless.
How will you benefit from weakening the Restless saboteur?
When you use your Sage brain and the strength side of your Restless, 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. Your Restless might role its eyes and say “I don’t have time for that,” but your Sage knows it is worth learning more about.
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).