Gremlins can be elusive creatures.
No, not those gremlins.
The gremlins I’m talking about go by many different names: self-critic, voice in my head, or as Michael A. Singer might call it “the inner roommate”. But, at the heart of it, gremlins are us. That’s right. The voice(s) inside our head that tells us not to speak up, not to take that a risk, to be afraid of failure, that we’re not good enough – those are gremlins. Everyone has a least one gremlin (my hand is raised). Why? Because it’s part of being human, part of having a complex neurological system. Some may argue it’s a “bad” part of our everyday life but let’s explore that for a moment.
Why do we have gremlins in the first place?
The simple truth is that gremlins arise when something happens to us that harms us in some way. For example, you may be delivering your first big presentation to the leadership of your company when one of the audience members makes a joke at your expense. The whole room erupts in laughter that feels directed at you; you feel ashamed, embarrassed, angry, attacked. Or all of those things at once. Your brain has to create a “story” for why this event happened and it may likely be something along the lines of: “you’re not smart enough, you are a terrible public speaker.” So, you may carry that experience with you – it becomes a gremlin – and it may rear its head every time you stand up to present; no necessarily to the same group of people but any time you are asked to speak in front an audience. With this loud internal voice haranguing you, you may opt out of opportunities to speak up, may silence your voice in group settings, may walk away from jobs (or careers) that require you to present regularly. You may change your life to keep that voice, that gremlin happy. Sadly, the gremlin is never happy, will never be happy. It will keep you limited, keep you from “playing big”
So, back to the question: why?
Why bother having gremlins if all they do is keep us miserable? The answer: to protect ourselves. In this example, the emotional and physical symptoms you may have experienced during the public shaming “injured” you. The body and mind recognize this and provide a narrative to keep you from entering situations that are likely to cause similar harm. Self-protection.
However, as we evolve in our lives the self-protection once offered by the gremlin becomes a limiting belief, something that hold us back from living the life we want. What’s more, those voice(s) of “not good enough” and fears of “failure” become loudest as we start to make changes in our lives: start new jobs, begin new relationships, launch a new business.
So, what’s a person to do?
On one hand, that gremlin used to help us but is now holding us back; on the other, we are seeking to change but are uncertain about the future. Seems like a catch-22, right?
Here’s the good news.
YOU are the source of your gremlin and YOU can choose to re-direct that energy into something that supports your dreams and life, rather than detracting from it. Don’t like the story you’re telling yourself? Think of new story. Give that gremlin a new job! Enlist all the energy you’ve spent telling yourself you’re “not good enough” to celebrating who you are and what you’re striving for.
It may sound simple on paper, but I know this can be really challenging work, especially when you’re feeling vulnerable and facing uncertainties in your life.
I know for personal experience.
I’ve been working on re-directing my gremlin’s energy with my coach. She’s helping me shift the gremlin warrior fighting against me to one fighting for me, alongside me. Together we’re designing a new story to tell myself and giving that gremlin a new job to do. In these types of journeys, having someone to support you along the way can be eye-opening.
What gremlins are you wrestling with? What self-critical stories are you telling yourself? What would you like that new narrative to be? Who, in your life, could help you with this journey? Who would you like to have on your team as you re-direct those gremlins?
Thanks for reading! Until next time, get out there and keep living your best life!
Note: In this example, I spoke about someone experiencing shame during a presentation to colleagues. To learn more about shame and it’s impact on the world, check out Brené Brown’s collective works, especially her newest book, Dare to Lead.