A friend turns to me this past weekend, asking for help. They’re anticipating seeing someone from their past at an upcoming celebration and although their rational self knows that this will be a lovely reunion, their inner critic or “gremlin” is torturing them by bringing up old insecurities. My friend can’t let these thoughts go and this is threatening to ruin what should be a wonderfully anticipatory time.
Instead of telling my friend to ignore these negative thoughts, I encourage them to befriend their self-defeating gremlin. “Invite your gremlin to coffee.” Literally, set out a 2nd cup of joe (or other beverage of choice). This helps to separate your ‘thoughts’ from your ‘self’. Start your conversation by thanking your gremlin for trying to protect you. Name the things out loud that your gremlin thinks it’s protecting you from – perhaps it’s disappointment, embarrassment, fear of failure, or overwhelm. Stating your fears and getting them out of your head helps them lose power. Remember and acknowledge a circumstance from your past that may have caused you to feel those uncomfortable feelings you’d like to avoid; that may be when your gremlin was formed, freaking you out ever since with its incessant self-doubting comments.
My friend’s gremlin was created when they were a young teenager (as most are) and did help, in those days, to armor them from social interactions with specific people who may have been hurtful. However, decades later, my friend has no need for that armor and no need for that protection. The people who caused them discomfort are long gone from their world, they are now living their best life, and they have every reason to move forward with confidence and pride at all times, without any fear of negative judgment or mistreatment.
“Talk to your gremlin,” I suggest. Let your gremlin know that you have grown up to be the person you were hoping to be. Give your gremlin (and yourself, in the process) specific examples of how you treat others the way you had hoped to be treated when you were young. You are now the adult and you have changed the story. Share with your gremlin all of the reasons why you have confidence now, and are an adult who can hold your head high, feeling proud and grateful. Write these down somewhere easily accessible (I use the notes section of my phone, for instance) so that if your gremlin forgets and the inner critic starts up again, you can open your notes and easily remind it, and yourself, that you’ve got this.
Let’s not stop there though. Give your gremlin a promotion- a job change! Our inner thoughts are very powerful. Just ignoring them can be close to impossible. Let your inner voice work for you, not against you. Let your gremlin move from protector to cheerleader and supporter. Your courage and confidence. Your determination and capability. Make it easy for your gremlin- after all, it’s new to this role and it may take some practice. Tell your gremlin specifically what thoughts it should use to raise you up, when you have a moment of insecurity.
Write a mantra about this specific situation that’s bothering you so that you can use it whenever you need it. My friend’s mantra reminds them why they are looking forward to this reunion and why this person celebrating with them will add to the joy of the day. Read this mantra out loud any time your gremlin forgets its role. You can control your thoughts. But it takes practice and it works best if you are prepared with something on hand to read out loud because it’s hard to come up with positivity in a vulnerable moment. You can even be proactive by reading your mantra as you start your day.
I didn’t make up this idea of thanking our gremlin and reassigning it a role that serves our purpose. I learned about it years ago as I was training to be a life coach- and it is as powerful for me now as it was then. What strikes me this week are the synchronicities around the theme. I had this conversation with my friend hours after I had finished reading a chapter in a book that happened to be about this subject. And then later that same evening, a different book I had just started on a topic that’s brand new to me and based in religion, also mentioned this practice of inviting in negative thoughts and learning to reassign them (albeit without the coffee/wine chit chat).
As I am receiving these same messages from the universe through different avenues, I wonder if someone else out there can use this message. I sit down with my own gremlin (renamed Old Man Sam years ago), who sometimes thinks he’s still protecting me from catty 8 year old girls who laughed when I made mistakes, most likely deflecting their own insecurities. I hand Sam a cup of coffee, thank him for trying to protecting me from the possibility of negative judgement, and remind him that he’s not allowed to limit me from putting my ideas out there anymore. He’s been reassigned to encouraging me to take risks and reminding me how good it will feel if one person’s experience of life changes from the thoughts I’m sharing. After so many years of practice he easily slips into his cheerleading uniform, picks up his pom poms, chants an impressive cheer filled with validation and motivation, does a perfect cartwheel, and then dances me over to this blog post.