Don’t feed them after midnight!

You may remember two weeks ago that I wrote an article called The Big Nine: Nine reasons you are too busy. In that article I shared the concept of a gremlin, a form of inner critic that makes you feel inadequate and adds work to your daily life.

This week I want to explore this concept a little further: Why gremlins exist, what they do, what can you do about it, etc.

So let’s get cracking!

What are gremlins?

Gremlins take many shapes and forms, but in all cases they are essentially a creature of fear. They’re the part of you that says things like “you can’t do it”, “you’re a failure”, “people hate you”, or “nobody really likes you”. They’re the part of you that constantly doubts, second guesses, and needs constant reassurance to feel safe.

With people who are too busy, I commonly see a “not enough” gremlin. You feel that you are inadequate, incompetent, unworthy, and undeserving, that nothing you do is enough. As such, I will be using it as my main example.

Are gremlins bad?

Yes and no. Gremlins are actually a vital and basic part of our psychology. Without gremlins, you’d never second-guess yourself and in many cases this would be bad. Some examples would be drinking and driving, going to dangerous places at night while alone, or even crossing the street without looking both ways. In all these cases, gremlins act as a sort of protector, keeping you safe by stopping a bad decision.

Where gremlins become “bad” is when the doubts they create, don’t help you. In many cases, a gremlin is just an outdated program meant to protect you from a threat that’s no longer around.

For example, as a kid with a disabled parent, I was often unable to receive help from parents when I needed it. This manifested for me as a gremlin. I get worried that, if I ask for help, I might just realize I’m alone and nobody cares. I know intellectually that this is outdated and inaccurate thinking. I have many people to support me now, including my parents, but I still feel vulnerable asking for help.

What do you do with them?

The first step with any gremlin is to name it. Come up with a name that suits your gremlin and try to create a picture in your head of what it looks like. Doing this causes the gremlin to be something separate from you and this gives you more power over it.

In my case, my gremlin is named Wolfe and he’s a crotchety old man.

Once you’ve named your gremlin, try to be aware of when it pops up. When is it whispering doubts to you? As you observe your gremlin you can start to predict when it will appear.

For the “not enough” gremlin, look for a few common behaviors. These are feeling a need for recognition and acknowledgment that never feels fulfilled, feelings of inadequacy, an inability to recognize and acknowledge past successes, and the constant feeling that you should be doing more.

Next, challenge your gremlin regularly. Your gremlin is going to give you inaccurate beliefs and fears about yourself or others around you. In order to deal with your gremlin and weaken its negative influence, you need to challenge this ideas.

if you have the “not enough” gremlin, you might catch yourself looking at a project you did and pointing out all the flaws. When this happens, stop yourself and really challenge the idea that you did a crummy job. Some good questions to ask are:

Where did you really succeed with the project?
Are you being unreasonable?
Are you using good, balanced standards to gauge your work, or do they sound ridiculous?
Would others find your work impressive?
Do people without your gremlin disagree with you?

It’s also really good to have a friend who knows about your gremlin that you can talk to. They can call you out when it acts up, and you can use them as a sounding board to know when you might be unreasonable.

Work to rewrite your gremlin slowly. Every gremlin has a mentality it embraces. The easiest way to gradually overcome a gremlin is to rewrite this mentality.

For example, with my receiving-help gremlin, there is a mentality that people are flaky and unreliable– if you lean on somebody, they will let you down. I can work to rewrite this mentality by identifying where that mentality might not be accurate. In other words, I spend maybe ten minutes each day, thinking about the ways I see people as supportive. I notice when people have been there for me– I also recall times when I have seen other people get help when they need it. This helps me realize that I can rely on people.

If you have the “not enough” gremlin, you can do this by recognizing what you have completed. Create a journal showing all the little successes you’ve done. Take some time and also reflect on how much has changed. Chances are you are way better at a lot of things now than you were maybe a year ago. Each time you recognize your own successes, you’ll feel a little more like you are enough just by being you.

So bottom-line, gremlins are nasty stuff. They mean well, but they can create a lot of trouble. Learn to be aware of them and challenge them when you can. Over time, your gremlin will get better at protecting you instead of inhibiting you, and you can start leading an easier life.

Image provided by Inti via Flickr

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