The 5 Sage Powers: How to Combat Your Saboteurs

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Positive Intelligence" by Shirzad Chamine. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the five Sage powers? How can they help you to combat your Saboteurs?

According to Positive Intelligence, the Sage powers are a set of abilities that can help combat self-sabotage and the influence of Saboteurs. These powers serve as antidotes to the negative influence of the Judge and other Saboteurs that create damaging, irrational thoughts.

Read on to learn about the five Sage powers and how to use them, according to Positive Intelligence.

How to Use Your Sage Powers

The Sage is the part of you that can control and override the Saboteurs, claims Shirzad Chamine. In his book Positive Intelligence, he explains that your Sage powers embody 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.

The Sage has five powers it can use to propel your life forward in a positive way: empathy, exploration, innovation, navigation, and execution. Mastering and utilizing your Sage powers 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. 

(Shortform note: In First Things First, Stephen Covey identifies four human “gifts” that resemble the Sage’s power that Chamine describes. These gifts can help you improve your relationships with others and, consequently, your life in general. The gifts are 1) self-awareness, which he describes as understanding how you affect others and vice versa, much like empathy, 2) morality, which is similar to your power of navigation, 3) willpower, which Chamine doesn’t address in his five powers, and 4) creativity, which could encompass both exploration and innovation. Covey doesn’t describe a gift equivalent to the Sage’s power of execution, as Covey’s descriptions are more conceptual compared to Chamine’s more actionable advice.)

#1: Empathy

This power 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.

People are often reluctant to offer empathy because they fear it will encourage negative behavior. They worry that showing compassion after someone makes a mistake is like condoning that mistake. However, Chamine asserts that empathy helps heal the damage done by mistakes that would otherwise stand in the way of learning and growth. 

In order to employ your Sage’s empathy, Chamine recommends you visualize the recipient of your empathy as a child. For yourself, he suggests keeping a photo of yourself from childhood in a place that’s easily accessible so you can look at it when you’re feeling judgmental of yourself. For others, he recommends imagining what they were like before the Saboteurs of adulthood began to affect them. This will automatically prompt you to treat that person with more understanding and compassion. 

#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. 

To effectively use exploration to defeat your Saboteurs, Chamine recommends approaching a difficult situation from the perspective of an anthropologist fascinated with what they’re studying. In this way, you can put your emotions aside and become someone whose sole purpose at that moment is to learn more without judging what you’re learning. This will counteract your Judge’s tendency to only pay attention to information that supports your side. It will also counteract other Saboteurs’ influences, like the Hyper-Rational tendency to dismiss others’ emotions or the Victim’s tendency to view others’ opinions as a personal attack.

#3: Innovation

This Sage power 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.

Withholding judgment can be difficult because our Judge wants to evaluate each idea as it comes to us. In a group setting, passing judgment makes people feel more self-conscious about their ideas and keeps them from suggesting things that are unique or outside the box. The same applies to your personal idea-generating process. Evaluating ideas as they come to us allows our Saboteurs to hold us back from truly great ideas because they’ll often decide an idea is too impractical, too difficult, or otherwise not worth considering. We remain fixed in our previous assumptions and ways of doing things and can’t come up with novel solutions.

To use innovation to overcome your Saboteurs, Chamine recommends that you follow each new idea that you or someone else generates with a “Yes…and…” statement. After you or someone else expresses an idea, say “Yes, here’s what I love about this idea…” and then you share your next idea. This encourages you (and your team if applicable) to acknowledge and show appreciation for each idea before moving on to the next, and it blocks out the negative feedback that would accompany sentences starting with “No” or “But.”

#4: Navigation

Your Sage’s navigation power helps you choose your next steps when there are many options available and you’re not sure which is best. You’ll use this power 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. 

To navigate effectively, you have to be in touch with your personal values, which can be difficult when your Saboteurs try to add false values. For example, the Hyper-rational Saboteur may try to push you toward paths that look better on a résumé but aren’t emotionally fulfilling. The Stickler may try to push you toward the path that leaves the least room for error even when those errors could be beneficial.

To take advantage of this power, Chamine recommends that you imagine yourself at the end of your life looking back on this moment and ask yourself what you’ll wish you had done. This helps you shed your temporary concerns or superficial values and think about what truly matters to you. This way you can see what decisions work best in the moment, which will help you avoid regret in the future.

#5: Execution

This Sage power 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.

To use your execution skills, Chamine recommends anticipating the ways your Saboteurs will try to interfere with your action in advance. For example, your Avoider might tell you the new sales technique you’ve developed is too confrontational, or your Stickler might tell you your household’s new chore wheel technique will fail because your roommates won’t do a good enough job cleaning. Once you’ve thought through the different lies your Saboteurs might tell you to keep you from taking action, it will be easier to confront and dismantle those lies when they come up later.

The 5 Sage Powers: How to Combat Your Saboteurs

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  • The ten ways your brain sabotages your happiness and success
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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.

One thought on “The 5 Sage Powers: How to Combat Your Saboteurs

  • May 13, 2024 at 9:12 am

    I find the sage’s interesting, especially Empathy. I never realized that you should look at yourself and feel that way about yourself. An eye opener.


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