Sunday, May 26, 2013
The Gremlin Voice
I swear that I have a gremlin that lives inside of my head. Just when everything seems to be going well, he says or does something that totally railroads me. And when something potentially negative happens, forget it. He goes into high gear, creating every potential "glass half empty" scenario possible. When I don't hear from someone as often as I usually do, the gremlin tells me that surely I've made a catastrophic error and they're mad at me or are slowly ditching me all together. When a business opportunity doesn't go through as planned, he tells me how unsuccessful I am, despite any evidence to the contrary. When I over-indulge one night on food, he tells me I'd better go shopping for new pants tomorrow because clearly my a$$ will not fit in my pants tomorrow.
That's the thing about the gremlin - he only looks at the most negative, and most immediate evidence. He doesn't weigh everything out. For instance, when I haven't talked to someone in a few days, he doesn't look at the fact that last week that person reached out multiple times. Instead, he racks my brain for all of the potentially awful things I must of done or said and beats me up about it. The business scenario? Forget all of the satisfied clients, the leadership offices I hold in numerous organizations, or the fact that I've been asked to speak on numerous panels over the last couple of years. None of that matters? And obviously all of that exercise this morning doesn't stand a chance against the pieces of pizza I will eat this evening (ok this last one may have some merritt if it becomes a habit, but not on a single occasion).
The thing is, I know the gremlin's secret. It feeds on my history of self-doubt. My fears of rejection and failure are just the source of energy it needs to thrive. The more I feed the gremlin, the more he grows and the stronger he gets. Cognitively, intellectually, I understand this. Emotionally, not so much. I have, though, learned a few tricks to help tame this ugly creature. First off, I find something to distract myself, and therefore throw him off balance. Writing is huge for me. Today, for example, when he was getting a little to "high on his horse", as the saying goes, I decided to write this blog. Other times, I spend time out with friends. Partly as a distraction, but also, it helps to prove him wrong. It says "I'm not unsuccessful, or unpopular, or rejected. Look, I have friends. And they want to hang out with me, and they enjoy my company." It doesn't shut the gremlin up entirely, but it helps. It helps me to not dwell, which is one of the most important steps in the process of battling him.
Now you may be asking: how do you know your gremlin is a "he"? That's a very good question. In fact, while I'd love to think of the nasty voice as a he - blame it on the stress a lot of men have caused me over the years, I suppose - the truth is, it's really not. It's 100 percent female. It's my own voice. It's the distorted, pessimistic voice that feeds off past hurts and is always waiting for other shoe to drop when something is going right. It's the part of my voice that's inaudible to others, because it's too ugly to show itself in public. I read once, and I can't remember where unfortunately, that in this moment, everything is ok. It's not the situations or specific instances that cause us stress or hurt or anything else negative, but they way we view them, and project them into the future.
I realize that this is so much easier said than done. Which is why I am writing this blog right now. If I'd tamed the voice completely, I wouldn't need to. But I have made strides, at least most days. Here are a few questions that I ask myself to at least try to make some progress:
1. Is it possible I'm over-reacting/reacting in too negative a light?
2. What are three positive/alternative things that have happened that could counteract this thinking. (ie if you're thinking "I have no friends", who are the last three personal contacts who reached out?).
3. Even if I'm not over-reacting, how could this be a lesson or stepping stone? This might be a tricky one, but try to come up with at least something.
4. How can you act on #3?
5. If all else fails, how can I distract myself until the acute phase passes? You could just be having a bad day, or be in a frustrated mood that makes the gremlin scream louder.
Finally, a silly but helpful trick I learned (again I don't know where, sadly): name your gremlin. I realize this sounds like creating an imaginary friend, but It also makes it more human and less all-knowing. Importantly, name it something really silly or embarrassing or just plain weird. If you give your gremlin a ridiculous name it's tougher to listen to. Seriously, think about it. Think of the dumbest name you can come up with, and how attentive you'd be if that was your boss or another authority figure. Wouldn't it be difficult to take them seriously every time they acted all important and authoritative? If you need help with your embarrassing name, just google "embarrassing names". I promise you'll have your pick of ridiculousness. If you'd like, share your gremlin's name in the comments below. It might inspire others fight their own gremlin voices.