"…your mind is your best friend, but it is also your worst enemy. Positive Intelligence is the relative strength of these two modes of your mind. Positive Intelligence is therefore an indication of the control you have over your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest."
Shirzad Carmine, author and creator of the term Positive Intelligence suggests that we can radically increase the percentage of time that our mind operates as our best friend and, by doing so, achieve more creativity, productivity and happiness. An executive coach and academic, his work draws on positive psychology, neuroscience and cognitive psychology.
Carmine posits that 80% of the population functions below the optimal “positive intelligence” level— where we are truly in the “mind as friend” category, living in our sage vs. our survivor brains (two different brain systems.)
Carmine identifies ten different saboteurs who help us to stay in “survivor brain” mode. These saboteurs are our internal enemies, each with its own voice, beliefs and assumptions. Saboteurs work against our best interests. Based on relatively short descriptions you can quickly identify your own saboteurs—or you can go online to PositiveIntelligence.com and complete a very quick assessment to help you figure out the relative strengths of your saboteurs.
The Big Idea
Exposing the Lie
"A saboteur does its greatest damage if it convinces you that it’s your friend and you accept it into your trusted circle… Don’t fall for the Saboteur’s seductive lies; they aren’t your friends and you don’t need them."
We’ve spent our lives believing that our saboteurs are serving us—that they represent our strengths. The “hyper-achiever” tells me that I’m only as good as the next thing I do well—it requires that I constantly raise the bar on my own definitions of achievement. This is not a strength taken to excess—it is just plain getting in the way. The “lie” is that it’s helping me, that without it, I wouldn’t get anything done. In fact, it is preventing me from achieving lasting peace and happiness and real satisfaction with myself and my life. Your “hyper-vigilant,” who warns you about all kinds of dangers ahead—is not protecting you—but is preventing you from living life fully and is creating constant anxiety.
And, our “Judge” is causing us to find undue fault with ourselves, others and our circumstances and causes much of our anxiety, distress and suffering.
Despite our saboteurs’ attempts to have us believe they are helping, they are actually preventing us from reaching our full potential, exacting a toll on our health and happiness. They are, paradoxically, likely preventing us from achieving what we think they are helping us achieve. Because we are acting from our “survivor brain” when we are guided by our saboteurs, meaning that our actions are fueled by fear, anxiety, anger, shame—the results are not what we say we want.
Truly “getting” that our saboteurs don’t serve us is hard. They’ve been around since we were kids and they have definitely been a big part of shaping who we are.
Name that Saboteur
"The most effective strategy for weakening your Saboteurs is to simply observe and label your Saboteur thoughts or feelings every time you notice them."
Contrary to how you might expect to take on an enemy—you don’t fight your saboteurs head on. That only strengthens them. The work is actually quite simple, though not necessarily easy. Notice your saboteurs when they appear and label them. “That’s my hyper-achiever telling me I’m not getting enough done” or “that’s my hyper-vigilant telling me I’ll miss my plane if I’m not three hours early.” As you do that over and over, you begin to see that your saboteur is not “you” and that there are other choices. Without a frontal attack—you start weakening the saboteur.
The goal is to weaken rather than eliminate our saboteurs. The saboteurs have been with us to too long to be eliminated. What we can do is get faster at identifying them and find them arising with less frequency.
Build Your PQ (Positive Quotient) Muscle
"To develop your biceps you could lift a dumbbell repeatedly. The PQ Brain equivalent of lifting a dumbbell is very simple: shift as much attention as you can to your body or any of your five senses for at least ten seconds."
The PQ rep is one of the simplest and most practical practices I’ve ever learned—and it works! While there’s tons of research showing the benefits of mindfulness meditation, many of us to find this to be out of our reach. A 10-second PQ rep is easy to do—and doing 100 a day results in effects similar to a focused mindfulness practice. We can rewire our brains and create new neural pathways and build greater capacity for resilience—activating our sage brains. PQ reps can take many forms—being aware of our breath for three slow breaths, noticing the sensation of our feet on the floor, being quietly attentive to our eating for a couple slow bites.
And, a cool way to do PQ reps is to do one every time you notice a saboteur. Label the saboteur and then take three breaths. That’s a powerful combination!
Carmine’s book is rich with stories, exercises and insights. It’s a book to read, practice and share. Recognizing our saboteurs, weakening our survivor brain, and activating our sage brain are paths to being happier, more fulfilled and improving performance. The book is packed with ways to use Positive Intelligence at work, in teams, in sales situations and in relationships.
Coming to terms with the idea that our saboteurs are not our friends requires some serious thought. Weakening our saboteurs and activating our sage brains requires commitment. Carmine makes it accessible—but it’s still up to us to do the work!
So, if you’re intrigued—buy the book or start with the online assessment. And then, please come back here and share what you’ve learned: Were you surprised by what you learned about your own saboteurs? What “ahas” did you have? How are you doing at noticing your saboteurs? What’s your experience been like with PQ reps?