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Try this challenge to banish internal gremlins!

I’ve spoken in the past about gremlins … those nasty monsters that sit on your shoulder and tell you what you cannot do. They tell you all kinds of negative things as part of your internal conversation.

Intellectually, gremlins play a very important role. Our brains are designed in such a way that our initial reactions are controlled by our limbic brain and our amygdala. In addition, our neo-cortex helps us understand what is happening around us.

Simply put: the limbic brain figures out how we fit in and who our friends and foes are. It reflects on our needs, emotions, and the relationships we have. The amygdala is a very primitive part of our brain. It controls our fight, flight, freeze, or appease responses. Needless to say, the amygdala is a first line of defense and where we respond from fastest, followed closely by the limbic brain. The neo-cortex then sorts this information based on our senses, memories and experiences and helps us to make sense of what’s happening. [1]

First impressions

So imagine you are in a new situation—something you’ve never before experienced. In your brain, the amygdala is screaming, “this is new… I don’t like it… it’s not safe… it’s time to get out,” followed very closely by the limbic brain questioning “is this person a friend or a foe?” and our neo-cortex sorting through past experiences looking for links “that the closest similar experience you’ve had to this is… and ….”

However, that isn’t how you hear it, because that would be too clear and easy to think through logically. Instead you might hear: “you don’t have what it takes; you aren’t smart enough, prepared enough, experienced enough; you can’t do this; you are too afraid to take that leap; you aren’t worth it; you are going to fail.” The gremlins that reside in our amygdala and limbic brains have taken over… and while they are the “master” our other brains (the neo-cortex (understanding) and the pre-frontal cortex (where logic resides) are the slaves.[2]

What is consistent about these negative internal conversations is that they are rooted in fear of change and new experiences. They may even be subtly influenced by times we’ve tried to stretch and grow in the past and failed.

Changing the message

It is our choice to listen or not. We can determine whether the messages we are receiving from our limbic brain and amygdala are true. For this to happen, we need engage a two additional parts of our brain: the neo-cortex, which promotes understanding and the pre-frontal cortex, where our decision-making abilities reside. It is the job of the neo-cortex and pre-frontal cortex to look at, evaluate, and assess options and make choices accordingly.

To engage our neo-cortex and pre-frontal cortex, we first need to down regulate our fears to look at things in a more logical fashion. That is not always easy. For this to happen, our brains need to sort through our stories, emotions, fears, and experiences to understand what has gone wrong and to assess where similarities exist and don’t exist; to find the holes in the argument that the gremlin is presenting. To make different choices that allow us to grow and evolve—and to create new, more positive stories and experiences to replace those stored in our limbic brain.

That’s not easy work! But it is necessary.

I have explored the role that our internal conversations have on limiting us in a couple of blog posts: A well placed punch, No More Negative Nelly, and I can't fail these tests - and neither can you!

A challenge

Today, I want to present each of you with a simple challenge that can have great benefits.

  1. Download the Change the Message worksheet

  2. Record the most common negative messages that your internal gremlin shouts (or whispers) at you.

  3. Reflect on why the message is being delivered so that you understand the roots of the emotion / fears.

  4. Reframe the message to be more positive and practise replacing the old gremlin message with the new, uplifting message.

  5. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Given that we know that the results we achieve are directly linked to what it is that we are thinking about, how will changing your internal messages and thoughts change your results?

I can’t wait to read about how this exploration impacts your internal messages and what the end results are. Please share your insights below in the comments.


[1] Glaser, Judith. Conversational Intelligence: how great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results. Bibliomotion, 2014. Pg. 78

[2] Glaser, Judith. Conversational Intelligence: how great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results. Bibliomotion, 2014. Page 81-2

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