Personal Gremlins: There’s a monster living inside your head…


t4w’s Life Enhancing Coach helps us face up to our personal gremlins

A monster inside my head? What a scary thought! And it is a scary thought when you stop and consider the damage it’s inflicting on your health and wellbeing, and the quality of your life and relationships. We coaches call this ‘creature’ The Gremlin.

I first came across it when I started training as a coach, but what I discovered was that I had been on all too familiar terms with this creature for pretty much all of my life, with it whispering into my ear that I wasn’t good enough, that I had to do whatever it took to get people to like and accept me, that there was no point in wanting more since I didn’t have what it took, that I wasn’t worthy of the good things in life, on and on and on. And on.

When I finally discovered that this ‘thing’ actually had a name, I was hugely relieved, because that enabled me to understand it better and to figure out how it operates.

What is The Gremlin?

The Gremlin is our inner dialogue, our inner critic, the negative chatterbox that is with us 24/7, from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. Recognising and understanding your Gremlin is the most important thing you can do for yourself, because your happiness depends on it.

The purpose of the Gremlin is to preserve the status quo. Its intention is not malicious; on the contrary, the idea is to keep you safe. It may not feel like it, but it actually isn’t an evil voice; it’s an ignorant one, determined to keep you small.

gremlins-self-doubt-wikimediaWhen you feel overcome with self-doubt, convinced that you’re not good enough and overwhelmed by an inexorable stream of self-criticism (generally called ‘beating yourself up’), remember: this is your Gremlin at work.

One of the ways it operates is by encouraging you to compare yourself with others (always those you believe to have more friends, a better job, earn more money, to be more talented, more successful, more beautiful, taller, slimmer, luckier, and so on) which inevitably makes you feel inferior and unworthy of the good things in life, even ,or especially, love and success.

The Gremlin also encourages you to be a people-pleaser as a way to keep you safe, acceptable and accepted, by telling you that this is the only way you will ‘fit in’. Its greatest talent is to overwhelm you with fear and self-doubt whenever you want to take a risk that could lead to something better, more meaningful, more rewarding. This is why so many dreams remain unfulfilled.

I nearly let my own dream go because I believed I wasn’t good enough. You wouldn’t believe the things my Gremlin kept whispering to me. For a long time it was like I was under a spell, until I finally stood up to my Gremlin.

When I did, it was like somebody snapped their fingers and I woke up from a trance, no longer under its hypnotic spell.

I first came across the term ‘Gremlin’ when I started my training to become a coach. As I began to understand its power, I was shocked. Even more shocking was discovering how many people there are who aren’t even aware that they actually have a Gremlin, never mind the role it plays in shaping the quality of their life and relationships.

And yet, that was certainly true for me. The tragedy at the time was that, because I wasn’t aware of the connection between how I felt about myself, my life, my relationships and my inner dialogue, I was unable to do anything to change my situation.

Taming The Gremlin

The concept of The Gremlin is based on scientific research. Research has shown that the critical inner dialogue is universal, powered by the reptilian part of our brain, which is the oldest, and which is designed to quickly detect threats in our environment (real or imagined) and sends signals to the brain, increasing blood pressure, releasing adrenalin and the hormone cortisol, mobilising the strength needed to confront or avoid a physical threat.

gremlins-fightingToday, threats tend to be caused by perceived (again, real or imagined) emotional attacks, either from ourselves, for example when we beat ourselves up, or from others when we allow them to cross the line without putting a stop to it.

The most important thing I learned about The Gremlin is that, even when we learn to tame it, we will always have to watch out for it, because it will never be defeated. It is just like how in a beautiful garden with lovely flowers, plants and trees, you continually need to remove the weeds – not once and for all, but all the time – if you want to avoid them overwhelming your garden and eventually killing off everything you love about it.

How to manage your Gremlin

Buy two little monsters: the first one as ugly and repulsive as you can find. Give it a name to make it your Gremlin. As for the second figure, choose one that looks totally harmless and call it something like Ben or Fred.

The idea is to take your critical thoughts out of your mind so, instead of thinking: I’m always going to fail, you can now change it to: You’re always going to fail.

When you make your Gremlin an entity outside of yourself, you make it easier for you to notice it.


Chances are that, at first, you’re likely to believe what your Gremlin is whispering to you, but there will come a point when you, like me, will think: No! This is rubbish! Of course I’m not going to fail! or Of course I’m not too old!

However, be warned: it’s the harmless looking Gremlin that is the more lethal. Its main weapons are guilt combined with reason.

For example, the minute you decide to go for that promotion, this harmless looking Gremlin will kick in with: What on earth do you want to do that for?! You already work hard as it is and you’re always exhausted and stressed by the time you get home, and when are you going to see your children?

I’m often asked: How do I know which thoughts are mine and which are the Gremlin’s?

The answer is: Thoughts that make you feel good about yourself are your own; thoughts that make you feel bad about yourself are the Gremlin’s.

If you’d like to know more about managing your personal Gremlins, then contact me and I’d be happy to t4w members a half hour free session.