Train to Last!

How to stop the common fizzle phenomenon in training.

By Shirzad Chamine, Chairman, CTI

Billions of dollars are wasted on training and development each year. Within six months of most expensive trainings, whether meant to strengthen leadership skills, emotional intelligence, selling ability, or customer service, many participants can barely recount what they learned or point to what has changed.

The reason so many of our attempts at improving ourselves fizzle is that we sabotage ourselves. More precisely, our own minds sabotage us. Your mind is your best friend. But it is also your worst enemy. Undetected “saboteurs” in your mind cause most of your setbacks without your full awareness.

Positive Intelligence is a measure of the percentage of time your mind is serving as opposed to sabotaging you. Unless your Positive Intelligence meets a critical threshold value, your self-sabotage will more than negate your attempts at self-improvement. These attempts would be analogous to planting a new garden while leaving voracious snails free to roam. The most highly leveraged impact a training professional can have is to help individuals and teams meet the threshold level of Positive Intelligence so that all the other attempts at improvements will stick.

The required minimum threshold Positive Intelligence score (PQ) is 75. This means that outside the neutral zones, one’s mind would be in sabotage mode at most 25 percent of the time. Only 1 in 5 individuals and teams meets this threshold. In the book, “Positive Intelligence,” I provide evidence from a synthesis of research in psychology, neuroscience, and organizational science that shows that increasing Positive Intelligence leads to 30 to 35 percent improvement in performance on average. It also leads to people feeling far happier and less stressed.

To illustrate, a key Saboteur is the Judge, a predisposition to notice and exaggerate the negative about oneself and others. In conflict-management workshops, people learn active-listening skills and work hard at listening better to one another. The problem is that if the nasty Judge is left intact, it soon will override any benefit derived from active listening. Your new active-listening skills might even become a tool the Judge uses to gather better evidence against the other person. As one leader put it to me, “If you enter this workshop a jerk, you will leave a jerk, except you are more dangerous now because you will know better how to cover it up.”

Weakening the Saboteurs

Saboteurs, your internal enemies, are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against your best interest. In all my years of advising hundreds of CEOs and their executive teams, I rarely have seen anyone who was not significantly undermined by one or more Saboteurs. Even high achievers could be far more successful if they could learn to conquer these Saboteurs.

There are 10 of these Saboteurs altogether. Everyone suffers from some form of the Judge Saboteurs. Then, depending on your personality, you have one or two other “accomplice” Saboteurs to your Judge, with names such as Controller, Victim, Pleaser, Stickler, Avoider, Restless, Hyper-Achiever, Hyper-Vigilant, and Hyper-Rational. After learning about these Saboteurs, only 5 percent of the executives in my Stanford University lectures on this subject deny that their Saboteurs do “significant harm” to their reaching their full potential.

Saboteurs are a universal phenomenon. The question is not whether you have them, but which ones you have and how strong they are. They start off as our guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional survival as children. For example, the Judge Saboteur’s bias for noticing and exaggerating the negative was a critical evolutionary design for our ancestors to have survived the dangers of the jungle. When the tree leaves started shaking, the early human who assumed the worst and ran was the one who survived and passed his genes. The one who waited to gather full and unbiased information before taking action eventually was eaten by the tiger. By the time we are adults, these Saboteurs are no longer needed, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind. They form the lens through which we see and react to the world, without knowing we are wearing any lens.

The great news is that you can significantly reduce the power of these mental foes. The key to weakening your Saboteurs is to do a Saboteur assessment to identify your top Saboteurs and expose their key hidden beliefs, patterns, thoughts, and emotions. This, in effect, allows you to create “mug shots” of your internal enemies, so you can intercept them whenever they show up. It is far easier to counter an enemy that is visible rather than one that is hiding well or pretending it is your friend.

Once you identify your Saboteurs, you label and let go of their thoughts as Saboteur thoughts when they pop into your head, rather than believe or pursue them. To be sure, they will keep coming back, which means you will keep labeling them and letting them go. This simple act of observing, labeling, and letting go has profound impact. For example, notice the difference between saying, “I believe I can’t succeed,” and “My Judge says I can’t succeed.” The moment you label a Saboteur thought as such, it loses much of it credibility and power over you.

Strengthening the Sage

A second strategy to increasing Positive Intelligence is to strengthen the Sage. Your Sage represents the healthier and wiser part of you. Its great wisdom and strength is rooted in its perspective: Any problem you are facing is either already a gift and opportunity or could be actively turned into one. This is in sharp contrast with the Saboteurs’ perspective that has you feeling anxious, angry, disappointed, or deflated over many of the circumstances of your work and life, thus wasting precious mental energy and resources. To meet any challenge, your Sage uses a combination of five great powers. Most people have a far greater reservoir of these powers than they realize. There are simple and even fun mental “power games” you can play inside your mind to gain greater access to each of the five Sage powers.

Strengthen PQ Brain Muscles

A third and final strategy to increase Positive Intelligence is to strengthen the PQ brain muscles. The PQ Brain gives rise to the Sage perspective and powers and counters Saboteur tendencies. It consists of three components: the middle prefrontal cortex, portions of the right brain, and what I call the empathy circuitry. The PQ Brain “muscles” are activated and strengthened when you command your mind to stop its busy mind chatter and direct its attention to any of your five physical sensations. An example might be to feel the weight of your body on your seat or feet on the floor or sensations of your breathing. This might appear simplistic, but it is backed by a massive amount of research in neuroscience. Every time you attempt such a shift of attention for about 10 seconds, you have performed a “PQ rep,” strengthening the muscles of your PQ Brain. The goal is to do 100 PQ reps per day to build up and maintain strong PQ Brain muscles. This can be done while sitting in a meeting, driving, walking the dog, or taking a shower. It doesn’t need to take any extra time from your busy day.

Positive Intelligence is the necessary foundation that enables your investments in other training and development to last rather than fizzle. Find out what the PQ score for you leaders and teams are, and how to help them improve it.

C-suite advisor Shirzad Chamine is chairman of coach training organization CTI. He lectures at Stanford and is the author of New York Timesbest-selling “Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20 Percent of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours” (Greenleaf, 2012). Find PQ and Saboteur assessments at

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