Gremlins are inner voices that say things like you’re no good or you’re not good enough. They are expert saboteurs and make themselves heard whenever you’re ready to grow, expand, or try something new. Gremlins are preservers of the status quo. They hate change and will do whatever necessary to prevent it. They may be liars, exaggerators, or temper-tantrum throwers—and they will do or say anything to ignite your fear and get you to back down from whatever risk you’re taking, or want to take.
You may not realize your gremlins are manipulating you. I didn’t. For years I didn’t even know I had gremlins. I was unaware of their voices as entities separate from me, as other people’s voices I’d internalized. Instead, I identified with them. I believed my gremlins when they told me I wasn’t good enough, had no talent, and would never fulfill my dreams. Still, I soldiered on because Souls are not easily crushed and mine—like most—was on a mission. I knew what I had to do, but I expressed myself as though I’d been shot in the foot. I hobbled for years while I longed to fly.
After half-a-century of seeking, studying, and creating, I am finally soaring. I awaken each day before the sun rises and can’t wait to get out of bed and work. It’s not that my gremlins are gone, but I’ve figured out how to live with them. Most of the time.
A couple weeks ago they crept up on me while listening to a critique of a chapter I’m writing for my memoir, The Raw Years. I’d naively thought the chapter, after one revision, was finished. As I listened to what the chapter needed, but didn’t yet have, my gremlins grumbled: You’re not a real writer, you’ll never be good enough, why are you wasting your time, this sucks--you suck! The attack reduced me to tears, and for an hour I felt wounded—until I pulled out my computer journal and let my gremlins rant openly on my laptop screen.
Here’s a synopsized glimpse of their tirade: Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for being so stupid? You should know better, be better and do better. If you can’t blow everybody away with how great you are, why try? Mediocrity is repulsive. You are repulsive. Better stop trying. The blog is crap. The book proposal won’t sell. If you write about your family they’ll disown you—and they’re all you’ve got since you have no friends.
At one point I laughed out loud at how ridiculous these statements were. I’d never speak to anyone this way—least of all people I hoped to nurture, teach, support, or inspire.
Still, I knew my gremlins needed more airtime, as well as compassion, so I initiated an acknowledging conversation with them. Here’s a clip edited for brevity:
Bella: I love and respect you and I’m grateful to you because I know you’re trying to help me.
Gremlin: That’s right. I’m trying to cover your back. You dream too much. Dreams are dangerous. They set you up for disappointment.
Bella: I hear you and know this is scary for you, but dreams are also wonderful. I’m doing what I need to do and I feel supported on many levels by multiple guides—both physical and spiritual.
Gremlin: You’re crazy and you suck. You’re not good enough. You have no friends.
Bella: I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m just showing up and doing my part. Plenty people think they aren’t god enough—oops, that was a slip! I meant to say good enough, but god works just as well. God resides in all of us. So I don’t think it’s possible for anyone not to be good enough. Miracles happen all the time. Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity. I’ve spent thirty years preparing. Now I’m creating opportunities. If you want a different result you have to try something different, right? Besides, it’s okay if all my dreams don’t come true. I enjoy pursuing them. I understand your fear. It’s okay. I appreciate that you’re trying to protect me.
This conversation with my gremlins was very supportive. It reminded me that they do have my best interest at heart, and mean well, but are—like overprotective parents—living in fear. It also helped to think of them as children who haven’t yet learned to control themselves, so they exaggerate, dramatize, and create much ado about nothing because they are afraid.
Acknowledgment and reassurance is a more effective coping strategy than ignoring or banishing gremlins. It helps when I think of myself as a loving parent and treat them like I would my children—with love and compassion. It also helps when I ask for Spiritual assistance and trust that Divine Intelligence is working through me. This reassures me to heed my desires. Dreams are the stirrings of the soul. Julia Cameron says we are all in charge of taking steps, but we are not in charge of the outcome—which is up to gods (a term I use loosely), not gremlins.
Want to read more about identifying and coping with gremlins? Check out Taming Your Gremlins: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, by Rick Carson.
As always, I invite comments, observations, and musings.
I cannot overestimate the importance of journal writing for writers. Many of my students and clients think they have to know what they want to say before they write. I rarely know. I have inklings, but often I have no clue what needs to come forward until I make my way to the page. I tell my students and clients to simply show up, give themselves fifteen minutes. Setting a timer helps. It takes the pressure off. Just say to yourself, “I’m going to write for fifteen minutes and it doesn’t matter what I say. When the bell rings I’m done.” Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time, yet you might be surprised how much you can accomplish.
My favorite time to write in my journal is first thing in the morning, which I’ve done on and off for thirty years. Long before Julia Cameron published The Artist’s Way, I wrote morning pages, tapping early morning consciousness—and dreams.
Recently I’ve fallen into the bad habit of checking emails when I awaken. This is not a self-honoring way to start the day. It makes no sense putting others’ needs before one’s own, or looking for connections with the outside world before making inner ones. My day is always better when I check in with myself first. Writing in my journal allows me to converse with the one person that’s been with me my whole life and will stay with me until the end—me! Journal writing provides precious time to nurture my relationship with myself. And since I believe divinity resides in us all, it’s also a way to connect with Spirit, Source, God—what you call it doesn’t matter; knowing it’s there and accessing its wisdom does. This, of course, is healing and empowering for non-writers too!
I am the only person I disappoint when I don’t write in my journal. It may seem easier to be accountable to others. Some days everything and everyone seem more important. But they are not. And things are rarely as they seem. Nothing visible happens when I don’t show up for my morning writing ritual. Nobody else cares. But not showing up for myself and for my writing gnaws me. It’s not writing that’s hard, but not writing. Though I love readers, I write first and foremost for myself. The process helps me navigate, understand, and celebrate life.
No matter what project I’m working on, journal writing is home base, the safe haven I return to for sustenance, rest, and whatever else I need. It keeps me honest, centered, grounded, and informed. It presents me with my own internal state of the union address. I see what’s really going on when I write. I listen and receive—not only creative projects, like my book proposal, but my life, which is the ultimate creative project.
A lot gets born in my journal: book chapters, stories, poems, proposals, blog posts—but the important thing is that I approach my journal expecting nothing. I enter that sacred space to experience the sheer pleasure and relief writing brings. The old saying is true: writing is its own reward.
This post started as a seed in my journal that needed to sprout, a message I needed to hear. I thought others might like to hear it too. If this is the case, if the post resonates with you, or if you have questions, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
My high school choir teacher used to tell us not to eat two things before a concert: dairy products and nuts. “They coat the throat,” he said. I could understand milk and cheese, because those products were obviously creamy, but nuts? That didn’t make sense. I couldn’t see the cream in nuts. But have you ever tried blending nuts with water?
Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, cutting back on dairy products is a healthy dietary choice. In Health Concerns about Diary Products, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) links the consumption of dairy products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and more.
Nuts and seeds make excellent dairy substitutes that are nutritious and delicious! Here’s a simple recipe for two of my favorite nut milks:
ALMOND OR BRAZIL NUT MILK
Blend the following:
1 cup Almond or Brazil nuts
(soaked–if possible–overnight in filtered water)
3-4 cups water (to taste)
1 Tb. Agave Nectar (or other sweetener, such as honey. Optional.)
Pour through nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer.
Use on cereal, drink as a snack, blend into your favorite hot beverage, add cacao to make a chocolate nut-milkshake, supplement smoothies, or pour into raw vegetable soups to make them creamy. Yum!
Almond meal makes a wonderful base for cookies and cream sauces, and it freezes well.
I’ll be posting nut cheese, nut-cream sauce and soup recipes soon.
When I’m writing, I’m like a dog with a bone, except I don’t drag it around--it drags me—straight to my office chair where I sit for hours. And days. Sometimes weeks. I find it difficult to switch gears and move my body. I want to stretch or dance or practice yoga, but I don’t want to take time away from my desk. Getting to my Rising Lotus Yoga or Body Freedom movement class seems impossible. I don’t want to change my clothes, drive anywhere, or talk to anybody. I just want to write.
The other day, after not having stretched my body over the course of a long, busy week, I noticed my dog, Katie, sprawled on the back deck. I walked outside, stood beside her, closed my eyes, raised my arms and faced the sun. Slowly, I started moving, “listening” to the sun on my skin, allowing its warmth to direct my movement. I rolled my head. My neck hurt. I hadn’t noticed before. I think of my neck as a bridge between my body and head, and since there hadn’t been any two-way traffic lately, the road had shut down.
I worked with the stiffness in my neck, allowed myself to receive whatever movement came. For a while I stood circling my head slowly, tilting into the pain. Can you bring some love to this kink? I asked myself. This thought loosened it and the pain subsided. What else needs attention? I scanned my body.
Bending forward at the waist relieved my lower back. Hunched forward like an ape, I swung my arms and torso while taking large, lumbering steps. Katie watched. She was used to such sights, but I wonder how many humans she’s seen move this way. I let out a few deep “Ha” sounds, vigorously shook my head and hands, and then slowly rolled up my spine stacking one vertebrate upon another, imagining space between the bones. I felt taller, relaxed, energized.
If you’re an all-or-nothing-type-person like me, you can relate to how easy it can be to ignore your body—especially when life gets busy. Is there something small you can do for your body today? Something that’ll take five or ten minutes? Does your lower back ache? How about lying on the floor with your feet propped against a wall? Try stretching your arms over your head, then folding your knees against your chest. Or for those who practice yoga, how about hunkering down into child’s pose for five minutes and gently wagging your butt from side-to-side? I like hugging a pillow or bolster in this position, placing one ear down for a few minutes and then turning my head to the other side, which is a great neck stretch.
Your five-minute body break might include jumping, running up and down stairs, or shaking your torso and limbs to get energy moving. Or you can simply allow ordinary movements to grow into larger ones. Sometimes, while scrubbing a pot in the sink, I’ll let the movement expand in my body and before I know it, I’m shimmying my hips like a belly dancer—another great low back loosener!
What type of five-minute body breaks work for you? I’d love to hear about them!