Turning gremlins into allies

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Gremlins Gremlins by Inti, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

This is the time of year when my thoughts inevitably turn toward reviewing the last year and setting goals for the coming year. While those goals will shift and evolve over the course of the year depending on what comes my way, heading into the year with some goals and plans is good motivation to continue growing and stretching.

I've also learned that this goal setting and planning activity is guaranteed to bring out my gremlins. Every. Single. Time. I'm sure you have them too—those little inner voices that tell you that you can't, you're not good enough, and you're going to fail.

Believe it or not, I'm finally learning to welcome them as useful allies in the goal-setting process.

In the 1984 movie by the same name, gremlins start out as cute, fuzzy little pets. When given water and fed after midnight, however, they turn into destructive little monsters that can't be controlled.

My inner gremlins aren't all that different. When they first show up, they are gentle, concerned voices offering cautions and warnings about the risks of the goals I'm setting:

"Are you sure you want to aim for that? It sure would be embarrassing if you fail in such a public way."

"Is it really practical to expect to grow that much in such a short time? Maybe you're setting yourself up for failure with such a big goal."

"That's a big investment to make at this point in the process. Are you sure it will be worth the cost?"

Because all of these voices are negative, however, it's tempting to try to ignore them to encourage myself to dream big and set those goals high. But ignoring my gremlins is kind of like giving them water and feeding them after midnight. They turn into destructive inner monsters determined to derail any forward progress.

Their messages go from concerned to nasty:

"You fail at everything you try. You might as well give up now instead of wasting more time on something that's guaranteed to fail anyway."

"You're too stupid (or lazy or broken or untalented) to make something like that work. People are just going to laugh at you."

"Let me remind you of every failure you've ever had in the past ... [insert really long list here]. This is bound to be just one more for the list."

And if I still don't listen and keep moving forward, they find ways to create enough self-sabotage to ensure my failure.

For a long time, this kept me stuck. If I listened to them, they stopped me from stretching and growing. If I ignored them, they tripped me up. No matter what I did, they were the enemy.

There had to be a better way. The only thing I hadn't tried was making them my allies in the goal-setting process, but it turns out that (for me, at least), that's been exactly what was needed.

As I begin the brainstorming process about goal-setting, I make note of the objections that come up without letting those objections stop me. I let my gremlins know they've been heard and I'll come back to them later.

Once I'm ready to choose my final list of goals and start putting plans in place to make them happen, that's when I come back to my gremlin's input. Only now, instead of seeing it as feedback designed to stop me, I approach it as valid concern for my well-being that could improve my plans.

When reminded of past failures when attempting goals in a particular area, I take time to look at what may have caused those failures and develop structures that will help me avoid the pitfalls I've encountered in the past. I find ways to introduce accountability or incremental investment based on intermediate goals or stepwise smaller goals that lead to a bigger outcome without overwhelming me.

Treating my gremlins as allies in the process that are there to help me allows me to use the concerns raised to improve my goals and plans instead of treating them as enemies who will shut down or sabotage my future. When I maintain that open, listening posture with my gremlin-allies, my growth and my success rate accelerate.

And so, as I work on my goal-setting for 2014, I'm welcoming my gremlins to the table as helpful partners. I need their input to help me make my goals and plans the best they can be. When I treat them with respect, they really do have my best interests at heart.

Do you have these inner gremlins too? If so, what ways work best for you in dealing with them? Have they ever been your allies in the process?

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