Positive Intelligence: How to Overcome Saboteurs in Coaching

In this article:

Positive intelligence has become a popular term in the executive coaching world.

It is the new ‘intelligence’ of this decade, just as emotional intelligence was in the last decade and cognitive intelligence was in the decade before that.

Positive intelligence indicates how your mind acts in your best interest, and the good news is that it is a skill you can build.

In this article, you will learn about the positive intelligence quotient, its application to coaching, saboteurs, and how to stay positive as a coach. We also share great exercises and books toward the end of this article and hope you will feel very inspired to use this material in your sessions.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions, but also give you the tools to foster the positive intelligence of your clients, students, or employees.

What Is the Positive Intelligence Quotient?

The positive intelligence quotient (PQ) is used as a measure of mental fitness. It is the percentage of time the mind is being positive, allowing it to flourish — a big factor in allowing you to reach your full potential.

PQ measures the strength of an individual’s positive mental muscles (sometimes called their “sage”) versus their negative ( the “saboteur”). The self-command muscle is the ability an individual has to boost their sage and dampen down their saboteur (Chamine, 2012). You will learn more about how to boost this muscle with exercises later on in this article.

Think of physical fitness in terms of enduring physical activity, with little effort or negative impact involved. If you are not physically fit, you will experience physical stress with minimal physical activity.

The analogy can also be applied for mental fitness. If you are not mentally fit, you may experience mental stress. This can come in the form of depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger (Chamine, 2012). It will inevitably impact education, work, family, relationships, social interactions, and recreation.

Chamine (2012) describes saboteurs as being habitual mind patterns, reacting to challenges and generating negative emotions. You flounder rather than flourish. You may experience stress, disappointment, regret, anger, guilt, shame, and worry. The antagonist to the saboteurs is the sage. This aspect of your mental fitness manages challenges through positive emotions. These may be empathy, gratitude, creativity, curiosity, self-confidence, clarity, and action.

Is positive intelligence science-based?

Shirzad Chamine (2012) is best known for his development of the theory of positive intelligence. He argues that positive intelligence is based on research from performance science, neuroscience, and cognitive and positive psychology. He describes the research as independently validating positive intelligence.

Chamine and Katayama (2012) state that there are different parts of the brain that control the saboteurs and the sage. The survival part of the brain controls physical and emotional functioning and influences the saboteurs, while the sage is controlled by the PQ brain and consists of the middle prefrontal cortex, the right brain, and the empathy circuit. The PQ brain releases endorphins that counteract the stress-related saboteur hormones.

In an analysis of over 200 different scientific studies, the overall conclusion was that higher levels of PQ lead to greater success in work, marriage, health, friendships, and social and creative domains (Chamine, 2012).

Chamine examined research by Gottman and Silver (2015), who have produced many positive observations around marriage. Also, Fredrickson and Losada (2005) found that university students who made more positive than negative statements had improved mental health.

10 Types of Internal Saboteurs

Chamine (2012) states that both saboteurs and sages reside in different parts of the brain.

The good news is that saboteurs are not static or fixed for life. They can be changed and weakened, boosting the sage. Exercises described later on in this article can make this happen.

Not everyone is affected by all 10 of the saboteurs at the same time and in the same way. Different people are affected by different types of saboteurs. The judge is the universal master for all people and a common saboteur that afflicts all individuals.

There are 10 internal saboteurs:

1. Judge

Often described as the universal saboteur, the judge will beat you up over repeated mistakes. It obsessively warns you about future risks. It causes you to worry and become easily obsessed and fixated on negativity. The judge is an enemy. It can go on to trigger other saboteurs and cause unnecessary stress, ultimately reducing your overall effectiveness.

2. Victim

The victim does not feel accepted. It tries to attract affection through attention. It focuses on painful, internal feelings and when criticized, it tends to withdraw. The victim receives attention through its emotional problems, poor temperament, or sullen behavior. The victim feels alone, isolated, sad, and abandoned. It feels frustrated, helpless, and guilty.

3. Pleaser

The pleaser tries to gain acceptance and affection by helping others. This meets its emotional needs. It pleases, flatters, and rescues. The pleaser loses sight of its own needs and can become resentful. It has a strong need to be liked by others, which it does so indirectly so that others feel obliged to reciprocate care. The pleaser is bothered when others do not care what it has done.

4. Restless

The restless saboteur looks for excitement from many activities. It is easily distracted and bounces back from unpleasant feelings and seeks new stimulation. Attention is constantly shifted and impatience is constant. It avoids a real and lasting focus on any issues or relationships. Restless saboteurs provide a substitute for self-nurture and an escape from anxiety and pain.

5. Hyper-vigilant

The hyper-vigilant saboteur shows continuous fear and anxiety about danger. It worries about things that may go wrong. It is self-doubting about itself and others all the time.

The hyper-vigilant saboteur is always suspicious of what others may be up to. It seeks reassurance and guidance through rules, procedures, and authorities. The hyper-vigilant saboteur often feels skeptical and cynical. It perceives that life is full of danger.

6. Hyper-achiever

The hyper-achiever seeks self-respect and validation from constant performance. This can lead to a goal-oriented and workaholic streak and losing touch with relationships and emotional needs. It adapts its personality to impress other people. It wants to perfect the outer rather than the inner self.

The overall need is to feel successful, as this creates a feeling of worthiness. Happiness is achieved through achievements. It is unable to connect on a deeper level with others.

7. Hyper-rational

This saboteur focuses on processing everything rationally. High concentration can cause a loss of focus. Insight, knowledge, and understanding is valued most. It analyzes rather than experiences feelings.

The hyper-rational saboteur has a good survival strategy. It escapes into an orderly, rational mind, generating security and intellectual superiority. Attention and praise are gained from being the most clever person.

8. Controller

This saboteur has an anxiety-based urge to take charge. It wants to be in control of situations and people’s actions. It is a strong talker, willful and confrontational. The controller pushes others beyond their comfort zone. The controller can be stimulating and intimidating.

Communication can be expressed in an angry and critical way. When it feels hurt or rejected, it will not admit to this. The controller gets results, but these are temporary and at the cost of others feeling controlled and resentful.

9. Stickler

The stickler is a perfectionist and has a need to keep things in order and organized. It can be highly critical of itself and others. The stickler strongly requires self-control. It has high standards and needs to be methodical.

There is constant frustration with itself and others. The stickler is sarcastic and self-righteous. There is inflexibility to deal with change and the different styles of others. Other people are left feeling resentful, anxious, and full of self-doubt.

10. Avoider

The avoider focuses on the pleasant and positive and avoids the difficult and unpleasant. It has difficulty saying no, resists others, prefers comfort and routine, and procrastinates when tasks are not pleasant.

The avoider will suppress anger and resentment, rather than express these emotions. It denies conflict and negative relationships, and trust from others can be superficial as there is conflict-avoidance and others’ trust levels are reduced.

Positive Intelligence Coaching Explained

Coaching around positive intelligence is designed to help boost the mental fitness muscles. The coaching involves daily practice of positive intelligence exercises. The goal is to strengthen mental fitness, weaken saboteurs, and strengthen the sage.

Coaches work with the client to help them achieve positive thinking and a positive attitude through continued practice. Coaches can encourage positive thinking and an optimistic attitude in an effort to improve clients’ physical and mental health. Coaches can help a client approach the good and the bad in life, with an expectation that things will go well for them.

Coaching positive intelligence means learning new activities to strengthen the brain. When learning is effective, the client realizes they are becoming cleverer, which can start a virtuous circle of wanting to learn more. This makes the brain smarter, makes the client study harder, and creates more nerve cell connections, resulting in the brain increasing in intelligence in a positive way (Driemeyer, Boyke, Gaser, Buchel, & May, 2008).

Positive intelligence coaching can focus on increasing the PQ score and the percentage of time your mind is working positively rather than sabotaging you. For example, a PQ of 50 means that your mind is serving you 50 percent of the time. It is also sabotaging you about 50 percent of the time.

If you can increase your PQ score with positive psychology coaching, you may encounter less stress, improve your work performance, and boost your levels of happiness (Kun & Gadanecz, 2019).

Measuring PQ: 3 Assessments & Tests

The following assessments and tests can be used with your clients to enhance and develop their PQ.

1. PQ gym

PQ Reps was created through thorough research (Hebb, 1949; Doidge, 2007; Begley, 2009). These 10-second exercises are designed to strengthen your PQ mental fitness. The idea is that when PQ is strengthened, it helps clients meet challenges with a clear, focused, and insightful mind.

2. PQ score

The PQ score is the overall score of happiness and performance potential. Researchers Chamine and Katayama (2012) have validated this measure.

The PQ score measures the strength of the sage versus the negative saboteur; as a measure of mental fitness, it is widely used. It is a good predictor of how happy an individual is and how well they perform against their potential (Chamine & Katayama, 2012).

3. PQ training program

This full training package combines assessments and tests of mental fitness. They can be practiced daily to boost the PQ score and require 15 minutes per day. The program exercises the three core elements of mental fitness: saboteur interceptor, sage, and self-command (Chamine, 2012).

3 Helpful Exercises for Coaches

Several exercises can promote positive intelligence for coaches. Why not try some of these to foster positive intellectual growth and deter the cycle of sabotage that you may encounter?

Here are some exercises to build up your PQ fitness.

1. Gratitude exercises

Write down three things you are grateful for each day, even if they are small, such as the meal you just ate, a colorful sunrise, or the beautiful soundtrack you just listened to.

This exercise shows you how to be grateful for small things. It also helps you see things in the world differently. You can get a whole new worldview on each day, fight against negative bias, and draw in and notice the positive aspects of your day.

2. Set small goals with boundaries and reward yourself

Coaches can be so focused on clients that they often overlook their own wellbeing. Set small goals at the start of the day, with start and finish times. Build in breaks. When you complete each task, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or a five-minute break outside.

Such rewards ensure you work in a productive and efficient manner, while teaching your brain that it will be rewarded for making positive choices. Over time, this new way of working can help improve your mindset. Watch the development of your brain’s six-pack, as it becomes stronger and fitter.

3. Kindness tool

Random acts of kindness can be used by coaches as well as their clients. Strengthening the kindness muscle can be an important element of mental fitness and weaken saboteurs.

Random acts of kindness bring positive mental and physical health gains to the giver (Post, 2005).

As a coach, you can plan a week of kind acts for each day of the week. These do not have to be monetary and can be simple. Why not pay a compliment to three separate people in the day? What about writing a thank you note to someone you know? Smile and say good morning to a stranger. Pick up some litter and throw it in the garbage can. Take flowers to a family member or friend or donate unwanted items to a charity.

3 Books About Saboteurs & PQ

There’s so much more to be said on PQ than can be contained in one blog post, so we recommend the following books.

1. Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential – Shirzad Chamine

This book contains valuable tools and techniques. It shows you how to measure and increase PQ for yourself and your clients.

The book will help you identify which of the 10 saboteurs are hidden enemies. Use this with your clients to identify and conquer their saboteurs and strengthen their sage.

This is a fascinating and inspirational read, describing activities to develop mental fitness through daily routines. The book also describes fun games to tap into mental powers.

Find the book on Amazon.

2. The Saboteur Within: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Self Sabotage – Matt Hudson

This book is a great read that shows how self-sabotage can affect health, wealth, relationships, and business.

It describes how these sabotaged situations can be transformed very successfully through varied techniques.

The writer, Matt Hudson, allows the reader to understand how the inner saboteur works. The author was born with severe hearing problems but considered this as heightening his other senses. He developed a unique gift: he could see when people lose morale and need a good kickstart again.

The book describes the tools and motivations required to overcome difficult life situations.

Find the book on Amazon.

3. The Mind Monster Solution: How to Overcome Self-Sabotage and Reclaim Your Life – Hazel Gale

The author of this book, Hazel Gale, is a world champion athlete turned therapist.

Her own experiences of being admired for her success by others while experiencing self-sabotage through depression, anxiety, and self-doubt are what led to this book.

In the book, she describes these as the monsters of her mind and dangerous opponents when she stepped into the ring.

The book describes the mind monster solution — a system for overcoming fear, self-sabotage, and underperformance. In addition, the book contains very useful anecdotes, therapy tools, and exercises to help create a life full of confidence and positivity.

Find the book on Amazon.

PositivePsychology.com’s Resources

Take a look at the following resources you can also use with your clients to boost their PQ.

1. Self-Directed Speech

This worksheet is simple. It creates affirmations using motivating and positive vocabulary to coach your brain toward positive intelligence.

2. My Positive Qualities

This exercise helps with reflection on positive strengths, achievements, and talents. It will help your client to appreciate and appraise themselves positively.

3. 17 Emotional Intelligence Exercises

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop emotional intelligence, check out this collection of 17 validated EI tools for practitioners. Use them to help others understand and use their emotions to their advantage.

A Take-Home Message

We all self-sabotage, and it can be so automatic that we don’t even realize it. When this destructive thinking continues, it causes us to flounder and draws us further into negativity and self-defeat.

But do not worry, as all is not lost. As this article has shown, it is very easy to re-train our brains and strengthen positive thinking once again.

We hope you have found this article enlightening and enough to make you want to train your clients in their brain workout gear next time.

The assessments, tests, exercises, and books in this article will be a great way to help your clients build their positive mental fitness.

Don’t forget to download our three Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free.


Begley, S. (2009). The plastic mind: New science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves. Constable and Robinson.
Chamine, S. (2012). Positive intelligence: Why only 20% of teams and individuals achieve their true potential and how you can achieve yours. Greenleaf Book Group Press.
Chamine, S., & Katayama, R. (2012). Positive intelligence: How to maximize performance and potential. Stanford Advanced Projected Management. Retrieved October 3, 2021 from
Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Penguin Books.
Driemeyer, J., Boyke, J., Gaser, C. Buchel, C., & May, A. (2008). Changes in gray matter induced by learning: Revisited. PLOS One, 3(7).
Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. American Psychologist60(7), 678–686.
Gale, H. (2018). The mind monster solution: How to overcome self-sabotage and reclaim your life. Yellow Kite.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2015). The seven principles for making marriage work. Harmony Books.
Hebb, D. (1949). The organization of behavior: A neuropsychological theory. John Wiley and Sons.
Hudson, M. (2013). The saboteur within: The definitive guide to overcoming self sabotage. Author.
Kun, A., & Gadanecz, P. (2019). Workplace happiness, well-being and their relationship with psychological capital: A study of Hungarian teachers. Current Psychology, 1046–1310.
Post, S. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine12(2), 66–77.

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