What is The Gremlin?
The Gremlin is your inner dialogue, your inner critic, your critical chatterbox that goes on and on and on – 24/7. There are many names for it but the characteristics are the same whatever you call it. The gremlin is with you from the moment you wake to the moment you fall asleep.
Your Gremlin wants to keep you safe
Recognising and understanding your Gremlin is the most important thing you can do because your happiness depends on it. The point of the Gremlin is partly to preserve the status quo as a way of keeping you safe. It isn’t an evil voice but an ignorant one, determined to keep you small. You will recognise your Gremlin when you feel overcome with self-doubt, convinced that you’re not good enough and overwhelmed by an inexorable stream of self-criticism generally called beating yourself up. Your Gremlin also encourages you to compare yourself with others (always those you believe to be more successful, have more friends, a better job, earn more money, definitely more talented, beautiful, taller, slimmer, luckier and so on) which inevitably makes you feel deficient and unworthy of the good things in life, including love and success.
The Gremlin also encourages you to be a people pleaser as a way to keep you safe, acceptable and accepted, by telling you that this is the only way you will ‘fit in’. Usually, it will also overwhelm you with fear whenever you want to take a risk that could lead to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling. This is why so many dreams remain hidden.
Standing up to your Gremlin
I nearly let my own dream go because I believed I was not good enough. You wouldn’t believe the things my Gremlin kept whispering to me. For a long time it was like I was under a spell until I finally stood up to my Gremlin. When I did, it was like somebody snapped their fingers and I woke up from a deep sleep.
Have you recognised yours?
Many people aren’t even aware that they have a Gremlin, let alone the role it plays in shaping the quality of their life and relationships. That was certainly true for me. The tragedy is, because I wasn’t aware of the connection I was unable to do anything to change my situation.
Your critical inner dialogue
The concept of the Gremlin is based on scientific research. The critical inner dialogue is universal, powered by the amygdala which is the oldest part of the brain. The amygdala is designed to quickly detect threats in our environment (real or imagined) and sends signals to the brain, increasing blood pressure, releasing adrenalin and the hormone cortisol, mobilising the strength needed to confront or avoid a physical threat. Today, threats tend to be caused by perceived (again, real or imagined) emotional attacks, either from ourselves when we beat ourselves up or from others when we allow them to cross the line without putting a stop to it.
The main thing you need to know about the Gremlin is that, even when you learn to subdue it, you will always have to watch out for it because it will never be defeated. Imagine a beautiful garden with lovely flowers, plants and trees. You continually need to remove the weeds – not once and for all, but regularly and often if you want to avoid them overwhelming your garden and eventually killing off everything you love about it.
Control your Gremlin’s power
I first came across the term The Gremlin when I started my training to become a coach. As I began to understand its power I was shocked.
To begin to manage your Gremlin, here’s what I encourage you to do:
- Buy a little monster, the uglier and more repulsive, the better.
- Give it name to make it your Gremlin.
The point of this is to put your critical thoughts outside of your mind. So, instead of thinking “I’m always going to fail”, you can now change it to “You’re always going to fail”.
When you make your Gremlin an entity outside of yourself, you make it easier for you to recognise and ‘hear’ it.
Chances are that, in the beginning, you’re likely to believe that what your Gremlin says to you is true but, eventually, there will come a point when you, like me, will think, “No! This is rubbish! Of course I’m not going to fail!” or “Of course I’m not too old!” (or too young or too – whatever)
Who’s thoughts are they?
I’m often asked “how do I know which thoughts are mine and which are the Gremlin’s?” The answer is, “Thoughts that make you feel good about yourself, are your own; thoughts that make you feel bad about yourself, are the Gremlin’s”
As you begin to notice your Gremlin, I invite you to record all your insights in a journal.