Contrary To What It Feels Like, The Gremlins Are Not In Charge!

Those negative little voices in your mind are not real, although they seem real when they bombard you with all kinds of unsolicited advice and concern. Have you ever wanted to know how to shut down that endless chatter and move on with more ease and confidence? I’ve discovered a way to subdue the gremlins and I am willing to share!

The term gremlin, as used here, originally surfaced in Rick Carson’s 1983 book titled Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way. (His website is a treasure-trove of resources!) Carson describes a gremlin as:

“…the narrator in your head. He has influenced you since you came into this world and he accompanies you throughout this entire existence. He is with you when you wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep at night. He tells you who and how you are, and he defines and interprets your every experience.” He is part of you.

Lately, I’ve noticed a couple of imaginary companions who poke their little pointy ears over the top of my desk and undermine my work. They even crawl into the car with me and yes, they put their heads beside mine on the pillow at night. So annoying! It’s tough to concentrate, get things done and even to sleep with the endless mental prodding and poking. These little inner-critics seem to know my soft spots. Sound familiar? We all have our own versions of not being “good enough”, or “smart enough” or “rich enough”. Many times the feelings of self-doubt creep in with fear or low self-esteem. Gremlins certainly know how to make a mountain out of a molehill and make us believe we are crazy for thinking otherwise. They are master saboteurs!

However, I’ve discovered there is at least one highly effective way to stop a gremlin in his muddy little tracks: invite him into a conversation.

You read that right.

When the endless nattering becomes apparent, I encourage you to pause what you are doing and pay attention to what is really under the babble. What if the gremlin is simply trying to get your attention and protect you from something or keep you safe? What if his primary motivation is to prevent you from being hurt or hindered; maybe he just wants to keep you from stepping into something beyond what he thinks you can handle? A gremlin doesn’t have the long-term vision to know the consequences of shutting down a step forward; he just feels the urgency and dire calamity of the moment.

Here’s a thought: imagine the gremlin as a little child. How would you handle the situation if a young person in your life was truly scared or afraid for you? I envision that I would either gently wrap my arms around the toddler and snuggle him into my lap for a loving face-to-face conversation, or crouch down, look deep into his eyes and take his hands to compassionately hear the concern. I would find a way to connect and listen in a meaningful way.

Welcoming the gremlins won’t create a 3-ring circus, in fact, it usually does just the opposite – it takes the sting out of the story. While it may take time to process the information that emerges, chances are the outcome is more desirable than running in mental circles. Learning to effectively self-soothe and calmly sort out the emotions of a situation makes it possible to move forward with confidence. Whether your self-talk turns into a role play, a journal entry or a conversation in your head – you get to listen deeply to your own needs and take charge. The gremlins will visit again– make no mistake- but in time you will begin to perceive them as your fact-checking, loyal bodyguards. They will challenge you from time to time, but only in the spirit of keeping you safe and sound. By learning to swiftly lean into the worry and acknowledge the concern you will soon become very skilled at discovering clarity and compassion – for yourself and others. Give it a try; you got this!


What kind of comfort does your gremlin need? What do you need to do to hear the concern?

Photo credit: Sidney Rae