Over a decade ago, and in fact it was at the beginning of my coaching training with the Coaches Training Institute, I was exposed to a term and concept called Gremlin. (Psychologist, Richard Carson developed the term and concept. More information can be found in his book, “Taming Your Gremlin.”) I have been using it with myself and my clients for years and thought it would be helpful to share it with you.

In coaching, we use the word Gremlin to describe the negative self-talk a person indulges in from time to time. It embodies a group of thoughts and feelings that attempt to maintain the status quo in our lives. Often operating as a structure that would seem to protect us, it keeps us from having breakthroughs and getting what we want in life. In addition to holding us back, it judges us harshly for every mistake we make. It is that voice that tells us we are not good enough, that we couldn’t possibly succeed or take an overdue break. It is the little drill sergeant disguised as protection that commands us to keep it down and play it small. For some of you, your Gremlin may visit you once a week while for others, the visits occur hourly. Whether you are a frequent or occasional, negative self-talk does not result in positive outcomes. It will leave you feeling flat, stepped on, drained and small. The Gremlin is part of everyone’s makeup.

Using the Gremlin concept, we have a wonderful method of illustrating our negative self-talk, fears and judgments. We can use it creatively to recognize behaviors and effectively change thought processes when we are putting ourselves down or holding back from managing effectively or being a better leader. Let’s take a look, shall we?

How often do you stop yourself from doing something because you “simply can’t” or are “too afraid”? However, if your friend were in your place you would cheer them on telling them they had nothing to lose. Yes, my friend, your Gremlin can have a big mouth and be quite convincing if you let it. The good news is you have the power to change its behavior.

In a recent coaching session, a client of mine was aware of being filled with judgment and anger regarding a “failed” relationship with a direct – report. She was beating herself up for the “red flags” she had ignored. Her Gremlin was in full force and telling her “she should have done a better job interviewing and that it was impossible to find the right person for this particular position.” When I pointed out to her that she was giving her Gremlin too much airtime she realized what she had been doing to herself.

This simple awareness allowed her to shift her perspective. We worked on identifying ways she could be more kind and gentle to herself, especially in times of disappointment and frustration as it would open her up to be more precise in her decision –making process. Of course, it is always good to make time for evaluation. But there is a fine line between evaluating and judging and that line is the difference between helping and hindering.

So what can you do? In his book, Richard Carson presents several ways to tame your Gremlin and while I agree with some of them, I have developed four ways to deal with Gremlins. They are: 1) become aware of the Gremlin’s presence, 2) get to know your Gremlin, 3) disengage with love, compassion and forgiveness, and 4) assign your Gremlin a new job.

The first one is about noticing. Gremlins hate nothing more than to be seen for the hot air they are full of plus the negative influence and undermining messages they carry. Just being aware of them will make them uncomfortable. Gremlins live in the shadows of our minds and hearts. They like to be anonymous and not discovered because as soon as you pay attention to your own self-talk you can make choices.

The second step is to get to know them well. Find out how they operate, what their purpose is and when they tend to show up. By getting to know you Gremlin and its routine, you can be better prepared to deal with them and deflate them. You can outsmart them because you are one step ahead. You know better when to expect them and won’t be caught off guard.

One of my personal favorites is step number three, to disengage them with love, compassion and forgiveness. When I see the Gremlin on the horizon I find out what is really going on with me. Usually it is some kind of mistake I made or some form of disappointment I am experiencing that I may or may not have created. Instead of telling myself what a rotten person I am, I look for forgiveness of my mistakes and particularly the judgments I place on myself. By the way, judgments create fertile ground for the Gremlin.

Finally, Gremlins don’t like change. They will try to keep things the same old way because it might not be great, but at least they are comfortable and in control. Their job is to be the gatekeeper. Keep the old ways “in” and the new ways “out.” What should you do? Give your Gremlin a new job assignment. Find out exactly what they are doing and get their consent to focus on something new.

For example, one of my client’s goals was to create a new business for himself. His previous attempt to become an entrepreneur faltered and on top of the difficult experience he had a very critical and cautious Gremlin. The many times he planned to take risks he found his efforts were accompanied by the Gremlin trying to talk him out of it. After identifying his Gremlin’s intentions (protecting him from potential pain due to failure) he was able to assign it a new job. After some dialogue, he and the Gremlin decided it was going to be better for both of them if his Gremlin instead supplied him with additional energy to succeed in the challenge he set out for himself. Going forward, his Gremlin was going to take the role of being his cheerleader!

Where Mr. Carson is of the opinion that the Gremlin is only out to harm you, I disagree and say that he/she/it actually has the best of intentions. The Gremlin’s job has been to protect you and it might not know something else would be more helpful. So, your job is to enlighten the Gremlin as to a new direction it can go in order to take the best care of you and give it new ways to assist you.

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