Identifying your gremlins (or challenge your gremlins, part one)

I decided to jump headfirst into April’s Happiness Project resolutions and challenge my gremlins. This involved answering the question ‘what makes you afraid?’ because the first step to challenging your gremlins is identifying your gremlins. These guys feed on fear and have to do with the fear that’s holding me (and maybe you?) back from doing my meaningful work, or even identifying what that is.

Gremlins, the cute/evil fuzzy things?

According to Tod Zipper writing on Monday Motivator, the 1984 movie Gremlins brought the word gremlin to enter popular vocabulary. After this point the word gremlin was used to  “represent things that are invisible, cause trouble, bring difficulties and can multiply easily.”

The gremlins I’m talking about are the beliefs, the ‘shoulds’ and the limitations that live inside us. These gremlins feed on fear, and as Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection “get lots of mileage out of ‘supposed to’ – the battle cry of fitting in, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and proving ourselves”.

Preparing for battle (or identifying your gremlins)

The trouble with the gremlins is, even if you know you have them, it’s not easy to pin them down. Before you can challenge the gremlins you have to know who they are and what they’re saying; you need to identify them.

Taking inspiration from The Gifts of Imperfection I asked myself one seemingly simple question to start identifying my gremlins.

What makes you afraid?

I spent a few uncensored minutes answering this question. You have to let yourself write whatever comes to mind. The gremlins will try and make you censor your answers, so you don’t get to the real heart of the matter.

My fears

Not amounting to anything.

Not being successful in anything I choose to do.

Always having to return to day jobs I hate.

Day job becoming life.

Right now, money. The feat that it just won’t come from any of my wholehearted endeavours and I’ll be forced back into work that makes me unhappy.

That I won’t find a way to help people in the way I know I can. That I won’t be able to bring what I know I can to society.

Step two, what are the gremlins saying?

After identifying the fears that give the gremlins power, it’s time to listen to what they’re saying to you. As I wrote these out (again uncensored) I definitely recognised them as things my inner voice says to me.

“I won’t make money from what I want to do, and don’t know what I’m going. I’m not even trying. I’m going to end up going back to some shitty job. It’s just matter of time”

“I can’t exist in society doing what I want to do. It’s not real work”

“I’m going to spend all my savings and then where will I be?”

“People are never going to notice what I’m really capable of, I’m never going to be able to fulfill my destiny”

“I’m never going to feel like I’m really living the life I want”

The power of writing stuff down

Right now you might be like “thanks for lowering the mood of my Sunday afternoon Ellen”. I know these read like pretty downbeat lists, but don’t worry I promise I had a really good time making them. As Sara Tasker says in her recent podcast on self-doubt, writing stuff down is really powerful and cathartic. There’s something about getting the negative thoughts out of you that I think many of us find really helpful. In this process there’s power in recognising this gremlin voice, and taking back ownership of it. As Brené Brown says:

“It gives us the opportunity to say, ‘I get it. I see that I’m afraid of this, but I’m going to do it anyway’”

That’s where I’m at with challenging my gremlins

That’s as far as I’ve got, I’ve identified the gremlins and am ready for the next step. I think part of this will be turning those negative statements into positives. For example, “I can’t exist in society doing what I want to do. It’s not real work” becomes “ I can exist in society doing what I want to do. It is real work”.

Then I think it’s going to be a case of learning to identify when the gremlins are trying to be in control, and getting them to take a step back.

What do you think? Have you had any experience identifying your gremlins? Let me know in the comments below.

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