Dog, bone, foot, saboteur

A cousin of mine recently shared a video on Facebook that has been going around for years. In the video a dog is apparently convinced that its own foot is trying to steal its bone. The dog alternates between gnawing at the bone, growling a warning towards its leg, and snapping at its own foot.

The video is either funny or appalling, depending on what one brings to it. As the years have gone on since its appearance on the web, many threads have sprung up discussing whether it is funny or cruel, whether the dog is just dumb or being manipulated or neurologically impaired or needs immediate treatment or…Many opinions, passionately stated on multiple threads. The internet is a place of many passions.

This post does not attempt to solve the controversy. Rather, I’m most interested in the excellent metaphor for an inner saboteur that the video presents. I imagine myself as the dog. Here I am, curled up with a nice big bone to gnaw on, and something…is…in my peripheral vision…threatening my safety, enjoyment, and relaxation. Obviously it is an enemy! I growl: the enemy doesn’t retreat. I snap: ouch! Now I have proof that the enemy has bad intent! My foot hurts! The enemy has bitten me!

A bone is only enjoyable if I feel really safe to gnaw at it in peace. If I essentially do not feel safe, my enjoyment of the bone is impossible. Even my own foot becomes a threat. In case you are wondering what the term saboteur means in coaching, this is classic saboteur!

As a coach, I have been taught that coaching the saboteur is impossible. Saboteurs are seductive. They want to draw both coach and client into dialogue and debate, because that’s their strongest place. They rewrite the rules of reality so effectively (that’s not my foot! It’s an enemy!) it is not possoble to reason with them. It is only possible to name and recognize the saboteur, and choose to ignore, rather than argue, with it. By doing this, we strip the saboteur of its power.

It’s important to recognize the actual saboteur. It may seem obvious, but needs to be noted: in this case, the saboteur isn’t the foot. A kiss is just a kiss, and a foot is just a foot. The dog is safe, warm, comfortable, and has a treat. Absolutely nothing is wrong except the perception that something is wrong. But that saboteur-created perception completely destroys the enjoyment of the moment. No, not the foot, but a voice in the head.

One of many things a good coach can do is to help sort out saboteur voices from feet, so to speak, and help the client learn to turn down the volume on the saboteur.When this happens, clients get to enjoy the gifts of life, really do the things they want to do, really soar, without wasting all sorts of energy attacking their own feet.

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