Some of our best accomplishments come from our sheer belief in our ability to get the job done. But what happens when we do not believe in ourselves or blindly follow behavioral patterns which consistently hold us back? As a Leadership Coach, I work with people to remove common internal blocks, which could come in the form of pesky GAILS — Gremlins, Assumptions, Interpretations, and Limiting Beliefs.
The first step to breaking through these constraints we place on ourselves is raising awareness around their existence and labeling what is happening so we can shatter their power. The second step is to employ strategies to surmount them.
Let’s look at four typical constraints and explores steps to address them:
1. GREMLINS — You may know Gremlins as the popular 1984 comedy horror film about a pet creature who spawns other animals, some cute and some evil monsters, but the term traces back to the ww1 era to describe mischievous folklore creatures who caused malfunctions in aircraft or other machinery. Jumping off that notion, gremlins are the inner self-critics or saboteurs that pop up and tell us old stories, negative messages, and worst-case scenarios. We all have them, they may sound like this: “you are not good enough, you are not worthy, you are not smart enough, you do not matter, what you say is not important, why try when you just fail anyway.” When the voice within frequently whispers these thoughts, we wither, we doubt, we perform less than we can. We do this because our Gremlins want us to stay safe by playing small, so we do not have to worry about exposing ourselves to new situations and possibly feeling embarrassed or ashamed at possibly failing. The inner critic is also related to imposter syndrome; I’ve recently devoted a 3-part series to this topic, you can explore more here.
Here are some strategies to combat the Gremlins or Inner Critics:
A. Become curious. Where do these Gremlins come from? Go deeper by pondering what is at the root — your anxieties, ego attachment, insecurities, patterns of self-defense? What is the profound message the Gremlin is trying to convey? Consider naming it so we create awareness around its existence. When you can shine the light on it, there is an increased chance that it will scatter. It grows strongest when it is hidden in the dark and unaddressed because its power builds and unleashes in unexpected times.
B. Repurpose the Gremlin. While the Gremlin is trying to hold you back from taking chances, perhaps it can be used for a better purpose, such as prompting you to act. Every time that voice shows up and says you should not do something, it can also be viewed as a powerful reminder to do the opposite of what it is saying. From that perspective, we should thank the Gremlin for delivering a timely message to spur us to action. So, the next time you are thinking about approaching somebody to start a conversation and your Gremlins try to yield you, filter the message to read — “keep going, this is what you should be doing!” Discomfort is quite natural, it is about feeling the fear and acting anyway.
C. Regain control and take action. Remind yourself that it is just a voice and that you can decide what you will do with that message. You have the power to choose your response, to take action even when fear is holding you back. Joseph Campbell famously wrote, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” The best surprises are found in action and not in theory.
2. ASSUMPTIONS — are expectations that because something has happened in the past, it will automatically happen again. Every time I have given up junk food, I have gone back to it so what’s the point. My history keeps repeating itself and here is the evidence to show that since it did not work in the past, it is not going to play well in the future. Assumptions are based on fear and are a problem because the beliefs can stop us from striving if we are convinced we will fail. If we have internalized the outcome negatively, we can quickly lose hope. In Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, the third one is “Don’t Make Assumptions.” Ruiz quite clearly tells us, “All the sadness and drama you have lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally.” When we treat these mental constructions as absolute truths, we allow them to rule our actions and shape our words. What would it feel like to break these destructive thought patterns?
Here are some strategies to combat the assumptions:
A. Challenge them. Do not take anything at face value, answer the questions — How true is that thought? What’s another way to look at the situation? Gather evidence for and against so you can expand your awareness. Knowing you have more options available to you will increase your control.
B. Problem Solve. Think about what we can do this time to get a different approach. As Einstein said, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Who we are now is not who we were in the past so it is vital to think about how we can take new information and apply it to this new context. We are constantly evolving so need to utilize the most updated information in our life equations.
C. Know that failure can be the path to success. It is said that Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times before developing the lightbulb. When a reporter asked how it felt to fail that many times, he replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” Clearly, the past does not dictate the future and progress is not linear. When you fail, it means that you are bold enough to take risks and in those courageous acts, you will derive your most valuable lessons.
3. INTERPRETATIONS — are opinions or judgments that we create about an event, situation, person, or experience and believe them to be true. When our friend does not call us back or a coworker cancels lunch at the last minute, we draw conclusions… perhaps this person is upset with me; maybe she is just selfish or inconsiderate or does not care about spending time together. It is about the stories that people make up because they may not have access to all the information, so our brain yearns to fill in the gaps. It also speaks to our failure to recognize personality differences and styles. For example, when my extroverted friend is not making eye contact with me because they are looking around a lot, it may have more to do with how they relate to the world in getting their energy externally, instead of my perception of thinking they are rude and dismissive.
Another reason we make interpretations is to protect ourselves. Melinda Gates shared how she used to sit in a room with experts and felt ignored and that people were condescending to her since she was not the intellectual giant that is her husband, but after years, she knew it was something else. She realized that she did not know enough science to lead world-renowned experts in global health and that Imposter syndrome kept her from asking questions and thoroughly engaging. Once she faced her insecurity, she could chip away at it, and begin to ask various kinds of questions to make progress.
Strategies for Interpretations:
A. Anticipate the opposite view to counteract the prevailing negative. Then name at least 5–10 possible interpretations. This gets us out of binary thinking and onto more possibilities.
B. Do not assign meaning or take things personally. Events just are, so it is not until we ascribe meaning do we get upset. As Shakespeare offered, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” When we learn to not take things personally, we avoid a lot of headaches and it is just a lighter approach to move through life assuming positive intent.
4. LIMITING BELIEFS — are commonly held beliefs you accept about life, yourself, the world, or the people in it which diminishes you in some way. You may think you cannot be a great leader because you do not have enough experience. That thought can stop you from moving forward and can minimize your potential.
Strategies for combating limiting beliefs:
Challenge the belief. You can ask questions such as — How is this belief true today? How is it true for you? What is an idea that would help you feel differently? Roger Banister taught us an essential lesson about breaking limiting beliefs when he became the first runner at age 25 in 1954 to break the 4-minute mark. Before then, it was believed impossible, but once he did it, he gave hope to other runners. Just two months later, two more competitors broke the barrier. Over the years, thousands of male runners have continued to shatter the record, even getting it down to 3:43.
Internal blocks have the potential to prevent us from moving forward. Once you understand their power and raise your awareness, you will know how to defeat their attacks. A simple shift in perspective can change our day, week, life, and general disposition. Start small and be ready for significant results.
Thought of the day: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer.
Q: What is your most common internal block? How do you usually overcome it? Comment and share below, we would love to hear from you!