Creativity for the Rest of Us

Taming Your Gremlin

I discovered a new voice in the choir of inner critics that serenade me on a regular basis.  In Taming the Gremlin – A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, Rick Carson suggests we name those unhelpful voices of judgment– a.k.a. gremlins – when we become aware of them.  Give them a personality, a nickname.  Makes them more manageable is the theory.

This one is called ST – the Sullen Teenager.  The script sounds something like this:

Me: I’m going for a hike

ST:  I don’t want to

Me: It will be great

ST: I don’t want to

Me:  It will be good for me – get the blood pumping, brain firing, body moving

ST: I don’t want to

Me:  I’ve got a blog to write and I need some ideas

ST:  I don’t want to

ST is tenacious and unwavering in her position that whatever I want to do that supports my work or well-being is a really lame idea.  ST’s sole purpose is to sabotage my creative spirit.

Living with my own flesh and blood version of the sullen teenager, I know this conversation well.   As soon as I recognized the familiarity of the dialogue, I knew what to do.  Do not plead, bribe or negotiate.  Simply declare what you’re doing and go do it.  More often than not, the whining stops after a few minutes.

There will, of course, be the last ditch effort to abort the mission.  “Turn here and take the short trail.  You can be back home in 10 minutes.”  I know I’ve got it on the ropes when it feigns concern for me.  “You’ve been working so hard and you’re tired, you should skip today.”  Do not attempt to convince the ST – save your breath.

Here’s what I know to be true:  If even a whiff of negotiation is going on in my head, I’m engaged in a sabotage conversation. When I simply notice it, don’t engage with it, get in the car and go, I’m always glad I did and the ST usually shuts up after a few minutes.  This is equally true when I sit down to write and am overcome with the sudden urge to check email or pay a few bills.

Don’t give it a choice, don’t make any deals.  Simply notice and do what you have to do.

Check out more of Jennifer Song’s fresh and delightful drawings at her new site My Buddles


Taming Your Gremlin is a terrific resource.  According to Rick Carson, simply noticing is the primary skill when it comes to taming the gremlin.  If you want to explore further, get the book.  In the meantime, when you find yourself locked in one of those endless loops with your dodgy gremlin, simply notice.  You can’t do anything about it until you know it’s there.


2 Responses to “Taming Your Gremlin”

  1. Hi Mary,
    We want to thank you for this post. The way you have applied the process to you own situation resonates so nicely with others going through a similar challenge – more than a few of us have a Sullen Teenager 🙂
    The drawing by Jennifer Song is lovely!

    Warm regards,
    The Gremlin Taming Institute

  2. Janemeire says:

    I began to notice the imapct my wanting to control life for my daughter was having on her. I noticed the eyes, the head down or tone, etc. and I realized I was not allowing her to be herself, make her own choices. It was out of love for her, however it was also out of fear of life not going a certain way for her if I didn’t put my two cents in and try to control outcomes for her. I’ve let go of that fear and it has allowed me to see even more how great she is, how competent, independent and wise. She is blossoming with that faith and freedom. It becomes a powerful force for a parent to love without the fear, to truly appreciate our children and let go. In that place they can truly become themselves and so much more capable to create a life filled with love and successes, which is what I want for her. She’s much happier and I feel a lot better allowing and letting go.


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