The Elephant In Your Room

What is standing between you and your dreams? You know what you want, your mission is clear- and still you struggle to move forward. Putting your plans on paper seems so easy, and yet you can’t make yourself sit down and write them down. You know you want another job but can’t seem to actually write an application letter to another employer. You want to start a study but you find yourself overwhelmed by all the options. Maybe tomorrow.

Meet the Elephant in your room.

Procrastination and dreams

The other day I was working with an expat client, let’s call her Simone. Simone had overcome her inner block about writing down her plans for a fantastic new organisation she wants to establish in the country where she is now living.

After celebrating this big win, we delved a bit deeper into what had happened, so she could identify it more quickly next time.

When we started talking about what was the challenge in putting it to paper, we looked for a good metaphor.


What is standing between you and change?

Simone described how each time she had wanted to sit down and write, it was like something was standing between her and the computer.

A big, cute looking elephant.

An elephant telling her that, really, it was a good idea, but how she probably wouldn’t make it work. How it was too ambitious, how she did not have the money, she would be moving in a few years again, why try?

It wasn’t a nasty or angry elephant, but he was certainly in the way.


Saboteurs and Inner Critics 

In coaching we call such self-doubting thoughts saboteurs, or gremlins, or inner critic. Saboteurs are those little voices in your head telling you all the reasons why you can’t do something, preventing you from taking action on your dreams.

Saboteurs want to keep you in your comfort zone, even if you do not feel so comfortable there anymore.

We all have these voices, you are not alone (yes I still have them, but I know how to manage them a lot better now).

Sometimes it is really hard to recognise a saboteur. Clients may even think it is their own inner voice, as they’ve grown so accustomed to listening to it.

Sometimes we think saboteurs should look like little (or giant) monsters in our heads, or they have the voices of nasty people in your life, presently or previously.

But sometimes they appear like friendly elephants. Or like reasonable voices.


Recognising fear

Usually, our saboteurs are using our fears to prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zone. Preventing us from making a change.

They hide the fears well, they usually disguise it in thoughts like

  • That will never work
  • Do you really think you are smart enough/ nice enough/ good enough for that?
  • You don’t have time/money for that
  • What will people say?
  • You are bad at…
  • You should be concentrating on…


But saboteurs can also hide behind thoughts like

  • That a great idea, but…
  • That may work, however…
  • Let’s do that tomorrow, then it is a much better day for this

Saboteurs are not always mean, they can be skilled at looking reasonable or non-threatening. Or at looking like funny elephants too.

There may even be some truth in what saboteurs are saying. However, they twist it in a way that makes you give up any thoughts of change for the time being, instead of recognising the truth and taking action in line with it.

3 steps to start recognising your saboteurs

  • Find the elephant

If you’ve been procrastinating on something you really want to change, find the elephant in the room. What is it that you are not acknowledging about this change? Often, it is fear- fear of failing, of making a fool of yourself, fear of what others will say et cetera. It could even be the fear of success, or of rocking the (family) boat. Is it the truth or is it an excuse? Be honest with yourself.


  • Picture it in your mind

What colour is your elephant? (or whatever other image comes to mind for your saboteur, it can be anything from a garden gnome to a snake to a panda or a jeering little boy or your mother in law). What do its ears look like, its eyes, its trunk? Does it have a name? It could have a really funny name, or any name. In what type of situations does it show up?


  • Ask it to step aside

Are you really going to let this elephant stand in the way of change? Are you giving your power to an imaginary beast? Hell no! Tap into your inner leadership and tell it to move over. Take your first steps to change.


And if the elephant comes back? Repeat step 1-3.


How about your saboteurs? When do they show up?


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