Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence: Book Overview

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Do you tend to self-sabotage? Is it possible to overcome destructive thinking patterns?

Shirzad Chamine’s book, Positive Intelligence, reveals that your stress and unhappiness stem from destructive patterns of thinking known as Saboteurs. In his book, Chamine offers guidance on engaging with your higher self, the Sage, to overcome these adversaries and enhance various aspects of your life.

Read on for a brief overview of Shirzad Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence.

Positive Intelligence Book Overview

In Shirzad Chamine’s book, Positive Intelligence, he explains that all of your stress and unhappiness is the result of antagonists in your brain—harmful patterns of thinking he calls Saboteurs—that sabotage your thinking and the way you experience life. Chamine provides advice on how to connect with your higher self—your Sage—to counteract these antagonists and improve every facet of your life. Most of his examples relate to improving your performance at work as leaders or teams, but he also explains how you can use your Sage to improve other areas of your life including parenting, performance in sports, finding meaning in your life, and improving your interpersonal relationships.

Shirzad Chamine is a best-selling author, lecturer, and coach who has trained hundreds of business executives. He has multiple advanced degrees, including a master’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA from Stanford. 

How Your Brain Sabotages Your Happiness and Success

According to Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence, all stress comes from harmful thought processes that interfere with our ability to behave and reason rationally. These thought processes developed as survival mechanisms, but in adulthood, they hinder our happiness and success in every aspect of our lives. 

According to Chamine, our brains can either work against us or for us in promoting our happiness and success. When it works against us, it’s because the part of our brains that developed for pure survival is in charge. This part of the brain is responsible for keeping us safe from dangers to our well-being during childhood by helping us identify and avoid threats. For example, a bad grade is a threat to our academic well-being, so our survival brain might push us to study intensely to avoid that threat. However, when we become adults, the survival brain does more harm than good: It continues to exaggerate threats and push us into states of high stress over things we can overcome if we use the other part of our brain, the one that developed to help us thrive instead of just survive.

In adulthood, the survival brain manifests as different mental antagonists, which the author refers to as Saboteurs. These antagonists are tendencies our brains have to cope with stress in various unhealthy ways because our brain tells us that they’re the only ways to survive that stress. 

Chamine adds the caveat that there are a few types of stress that are healthy: 1) the distress of mourning a loss and 2) the immediate, temporary distress that accompanies a negative event. This stress signals to you that the event could be damaging and that you need to do something to prevent further harm—like how the physical pain of using an injured limb signals you to stop using it to avoid further damage.

In his book Positive Intelligence, Chamine explains that there are a total of 10 Saboteurs:

  • The Judge
  • The Stickler
  • The Pleaser
  • The Hyper-Achiever
  • The Victim
  • The Hyper-Rational
  • The Hyper-Vigilant
  • The Restless
  • The Controller
  • The Avoider

Chamine writes that the Judge is distinct from the other nine Saboteurs, acting somewhat as their manager. Thus, we’ll discuss the Judge first and then group the other nine thematically and address them separately. 

The Most Powerful Saboteur: The Judge

The Judge is the most dominant of all the Saboteurs. The Judge passes judgment on you, on others, and on your circumstances, finding faults in all of them—while also making you think you’re just being rational and trying to fix your or others’ flaws.

Self-judgment: The Judge tells you that you’re not good enough as you are, that your level of achievement determines if you’re worthy of love, and that if you allow yourself to be satisfied with who you are, you’ll stop improving and never be good enough. It tells you that you have to suffer to make yourself better and that happiness is just laziness.

Judgment of others: The Judge sets similarly unreachable standards for other people in your life. It causes you to fixate on the Saboteurs it sees in other people. When the other person picks up that you’re judging them, their Saboteur reacts poorly, which reinforces your Judge’s assessment of them and creates a harmful cycle. 

Judgment of your circumstances: The Judge also tells you that “You can only be happy when” some future event happens. In this way, it places a condition on your happiness—however, your happiness shouldn’t have a timetable and shouldn’t need to be dependent on your future circumstances. This Judge also moves the goalposts every time you get close to the thing that’s supposed to make you happy: If your Judge tells you you won’t be happy until you get a six-figure job, when you finally get that job, the Judge now fixates again on a future event that must happen before you can be happy, like getting a new vacation home or a job that pays seven figures.

The Other Nine Saboteurs

Chamine writes in his book Positive Intelligence that the Judge also employs one or more of the other nine Saboteurs to develop patterns of unhealthy stress management and thinking. Which Saboteurs these are depends on your personality and your needs. Some of these Saboteurs share similar traits and themes, as we’ll explain below.

Critical Saboteurs

Some Saboteurs are characterized by a tendency to be overly critical and demand that we and others live up to their expectations.

The Hyper-Achiever is driven to impress others with personal achievements in order to feel good about themselves. They’re more concerned with how others view them than with staying true to themselves, and they alter their behavior and identity based on what they believe others would value rather than what they themselves value.

The Controller feels the need to control their circumstances and other people. They compete with or challenge others in order to connect with them and have trouble understanding why people respond poorly to this approach.

The Stickler is a perfectionist. They hold themselves to high standards of organization, work ethic, and doing things the “right” way. They’re highly critical of others who don’t meet these standards, but they’re also extremely sensitive to criticism from others.

Distractive Saboteurs

Some Saboteurs are particularly likely to try to distract you from your problems and negative emotions, making you seem distant and detached from others.

The Restless Saboteur is pleasure-seeking and can’t be satisfied with what they currently have. They tend to multitask and have many projects going at once, but they’re easily distracted from these and need constant novelty in their lives. They have trouble contemplating their feelings and fear negative emotions and missing out.

The Avoider places a disproportionate focus on positivity in order to avoid negativity. They’re conflict avoidant and struggle to say no and maintain healthy boundaries. They choose to let problems fester rather than confront them, especially if confronting them may upset someone else.

The Hyper-Rational Saboteur relies on a purely objective and rational approach to every aspect of life. They view emotions as hindrances to productivity and objectivity, and they tend to be skeptical and argumentative. They’re often brilliant but arrogant, and they attach their value as a person to their intellect and objectivity.

Fearful Saboteurs

Some Saboteurs operate from a sense of fear of negativity and stress, which tends to sap their energy and causes them to fixate on their struggles and worries.

The Pleaser tries to gain the approval of others by helping or flattering them, and they put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. They’re typically not able to express their own needs clearly and try to meet them by expecting others to reciprocate their help—which then leads to feelings of resentment when they don’t receive such help.

The Hyper-Vigilant Saboteur feels constantly anxious about all the things that could go wrong and often overreacts when things do. They expect others to mess up, and they fear backlash when they themselves mess up.

The Victim uses emotion and a sense of martyrdom to get attention from others. They respond to stress by sinking into negative emotions like depression and apathy. They feel misunderstood, burdened by misfortune, and dependent on their personal problems.

The Sage: How to Combat Your Saboteurs

The Sage is the part of you that can control and override the Saboteurs. It embodies the part of your brain that developed to help you thrive and not just survive. The Sage accepts who you are and what your life is like in the present and views every change in circumstances as a gift.

According to Chamine’s book Positive Intelligence, the Sage has five techniques it can use to propel your life forward in a positive way: empathy, exploration, innovation, navigation, and execution. Mastering and utilizing these skills will help you improve in all areas of your life, whether you’re participating in a team that’s trying to increase your company’s profits, confronting a conflict with your spouse, looking to add a deeper meaning and greater happiness to your life, or working on any other type of problem-solving or growth. 

Technique #1: Empathy

This technique allows your Sage to offer gratitude, acceptance, and kindness to you and others. It is most beneficial when you or another person is feeling pain or fatigue. Empathizing heals and rejuvenates you so you can carry on with the emotional work you’re doing. This skill combats the Judge’s insistence that you or others aren’t trying hard enough and that you need to be stricter and more punitive to see improvement. It also helps you see past other people’s Saboteurs and keep them from provoking your own.

Technique #2: Exploration

By exploring, you can tap into your natural curiosity to discover new ideas or solutions to problems. It’s most effective when you know you have a problem but you need to understand it better to solve it. 

Many of us resist exploration because we’re focused on pushing ahead or on rebutting someone else’s argument. Therefore, we don’t think about how we can re-examine what we’re seeing at the moment. If you already think you know what comes next, or if you’re just trying to win an argument, you’ll focus only on the information that supports your thinking rather than understanding every angle of a situation or listening neutrally to the other person’s point of view, and therefore you won’t explore alternative insights. 

Technique #3: Innovation

This technique allows you to create new, unexpected ideas and solutions to a conflict or problem without judgments or biases holding you back. It’s about generating as many new ideas as possible without evaluating them at all. Innovation works best when you’re in a situation where the old method of doing things is no longer effective and you need a new tactic.

Technique #4: Navigation

The navigation technique helps you choose your next steps when there are many options available and you’re not sure which is best. You’ll use this technique to evaluate your different options and decide—based on your personal values or the values of your team—which option is best. These values become your navigation tool, and the more you use this tool, the stronger your values will become, and the more effectively you can use them to guide your actions. 

Technique #5: Execution

This technique allows you to take action without interference from the Saboteurs. It’s the tactic you should use once you’ve clearly identified the path you should take. It allows you to do what’s right calmly and without emotional attachment to the outcome. 

All of the Saboteurs try to interfere with your execution skills. They use their hang-ups to cause you to waste your time and energy, limit your options, and lose track of what’s best for you.

Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence: Book Overview

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Here's what you'll find in our full Positive Intelligence summary:

  • The ten ways your brain sabotages your happiness and success
  • How to train your brain to overcome its sabotaging behaviors
  • How to increase your level of positive intelligence with attentional exercises

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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