How to Become Less Self-Sabotaging
November 11

How to Become Less Self-Sabotaging

What to do with the trickster part of human nature.


Human beings are very tricky creatures. We are tricky toward others and we are tricky toward ourselves. It is a little clearer why we might trick others: if we fool others, we may get what we want. But what do we get when we fool ourselves? What is the value of sabotaging ourselves? Whatever the reasons, many folks are burdened by an indwelling style characterized by self-sabotage. It’s as if there’s a mean trickster in there, one that we had really better admonish and try to exorcise. That’s the goal of this post: to help you admonish and exorcise that trickster.


The trickster is a character out of world folklore. Cultures everywhere have identified this part of our nature. Let’s foul the well water. Let’s sleep with our neighbor’s wife. Let’s steal those chickens. Let’s do worse. Let’s plunder. Let’s turn whole communities against one another. Let’s make a giant mess of everyone’s life. Let’s be a trickster!


Where do these sly, nasty, horrible impulses come from that inhabit everyone? Why is each of us such a trickster? Why do we start the day moral, compassionate, and upright and somewhere around noon turn into coyote, ravenous for mischief? Did the world offend us so deeply that we constantly ache for revenge? Did we not get our bottles on time as infants? What made us tricksters?

I vividly remember one of my own trickster moments from childhood. Two boys were racing side-by-side in the schoolyard and, out from the crowd lined up on either side, came a foot to trip one of them—my foot. Why? I had nothing against the boy I tripped. I cared nothing about the outcome of the race. In fact, not a thing about those two boys racing mattered to me. So why spoil it for one of them?


In folklore, the trickster steals food, steals sex, steals fire, steals whatever he can. He changes shape so that he can’t be spotted and can’t be caught. Is trickster sitting in a corner of your mind right now, maybe posing as a designer lamp or a postcard from Spain or a half-eaten sandwich? The second you blink there he is, full coyote, wild-eyed, meaner than you imagined, your very own trickster sub-personality, part of you, hungry to damage someone—maybe you. In the room that is your mind, trickster is always around somewhere. Just lift up a corner of the rug or move a can of peas on the shelf. There’s trickster!


What can be done to rid your mind of your trickster impulses? Can trickster be caged? Jailed? Banished? Tricked? No, none of that will work. But he can be admonished. You can wag your finger at that part of your nature and say, “That is absolutely not okay, that bit of mischief you’re planning.” Every time you see trickster, even if he’s disguised as half a tuna fish sandwich, you can exclaim, “Absolutely not, trickster. Absolutely not.”

You can announce, out loud in that voice that you use when you really mean something, that you are on to his tricks, that he isn’t the least bit amusing, and that you really, really don’t appreciate him. Don’t give him an inch—he’ll take your whole leg and your whole arm. Don’t bestow even the smallest smile on him—he’ll take that for full license. He is devious, he is not your friend, and he wants to pull the wool over your eyes. Tell him you know what’s he up to!

The room that is our mind is full of shadows. Pulling back the shades and letting in light can help. Turning on a lamp can help. We need more illumination and fewer shadows, more awareness and less impulsiveness. Where do those sly, nasty, downright vicious impulses come from? Who knows! Where do they reside? Right next to us as we read a book, right beside in bed, right in our mind even as we try to be our civilized best. Trickster must be admonished; and maybe, just maybe, if we scold him often enough, he will leave. Maybe, finally, we can get rid of him.


Trickster is not your friend. Trickster is no one’s friend. His laugh is malicious, his plans are devious, and his desires are unworthy. We tolerate trickster living in our mind because, well, he is who we are. We are part-trickster. We are that bad boy and that bad girl. We are that person who would love to trip someone. We are that person who much prefers a stolen donut to a purchased one. Coyote lives in our mind because evolution invited him.

Right now, visit the room that is your mind. Find trickster. He’s somewhere, in the cupboard, in the corner, or sitting right in your own easy chair, laughing at you and daring you to move him. Find him and admonish him. Explain to him that you know him and that you do not cherish him, that you do not find him funny, that you do not want him living in your mind. It doesn’t matter that he won’t listen, that he’ll play a game on you, that he’ll change shape and become your socks, that he can’t be exterminated. Your job is to notice him and admonish him and let him know—let you know, since you are trickster—that you do not admire him.




“Maisel’s thorough explanation of his technique will help readers who are looking to push through their mental roadblocks and improve their emotional well-being.”―Publisher’s Weekly. Redesign Your Mind, available for purchase now.