Piggies Under the Table


Early in my career, I was reaching for bigger impact in my work, but something held me back. You know, those inner voices that say “You can’t do that” or “It’s too risky” or whatever. My friend Pat began to refer to those voices as the “piggies under the table.” I loved having a playful way to acknowledge these voices and so it stuck. We all have “piggies” in one form or another. They shape our lives and our leadership.

Recently a friend was talking about his colleague, Jon, who has a very difficult client and hasn’t been able to set clear boundaries to keep the project from spinning out of control. I could just hear Jon’s piggies squealing. “They won’t like you if you say that” or maybe “You can’t make it stick if you say no.” Because those piggies have control, Jon’s project has become harder for everyone.

So what are we to do?

Well, we can always let the piggies run things, let them limit our leadership and our lives. Or we can learn to work with the piggies more skillfully so that we have more choices.

Here’s a simple (but not easy!) three step process for changing your relationship with your piggies.

1.      Acknowledge the piggy in the moment.

Hear that voice clearly, don’t try to stifle it.
This morning one of my piggies squealed, “You’re really messed up.” Boy did that one grab me. So my next move (after feeling reactive about that voice!) was to hear the voice clearly and notice that it was one of my piggies.

2.      Get some distance from the voice of that particular piggy.

The piggy isn’t you. Find some clarity around that.
When the piggy squealed this morning, I acknowledged it and noticed it was located right in my head. So I played with letting the voice come from different places across the room. There was a slight sense of relief. The voice felt less personal, less potent “over there.”

3.      Remind yourself of thoughts that refute the perspective the piggy is offering.

Now that you’ve got some distance from the piggy, it’s possible to see that the piggy’s voice is just a perspective, not “the truth.”
This morning I found it helpful to remember that we all have our struggles, that’s part of being human. After playing around with various ideas like that, I found something that landed as a counter-point to the piggy.

There you have it. A simple practice for corralling the piggies. A practice – not a “once and done.” No doubt I’ll encounter this piggy (and others) over and over. And each time that I

  • acknowledge it,

  • get some distance from it,

  • find an alternative perspective,

this piggy gets a little easier to corral.

Leadership is all about the choices we make. Not just decisions about our team or the business, but choices about how we lead ourselves. Do you want to let the piggies lead you or are you going to lead the piggies?

Retraining piggies is part of my work with coaching clients. If you want to know more, contact me and we’ll set up a call to talk about it.