According to Professor Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox, a Gremlin is “an unhelpful or destructive belief or behaviour that is removable [from the brain]”. Gremlins can show up when we have unrealistic and/or unhelpful expectations that we assume ourselves, and others, to uphold. Because these expectations cannot always be met, we set ourselves up to fail and end up being disappointed in ourselves (or others), feeling let down, beating ourselves up and so on.
For one person, a Gremlin might be the belief that they should always be on time. That is an unrealistic expectation because being on time is not always within their control – there are external factors to consider like traffic, problems with the mode of transport, or feeling unwell en route. When that person is then not on time, they’re more likely to become stressed or blow the situation out of proportion, as they’re failing to uphold their standard.
Instead of having these unfair expectations, we can replace them with a more realistic belief. The person who believes they should always be on time can re-wire that original belief to minimise the negative response, should they not be on time. The new belief becomes: ‘I would like to be on time whenever possible but sometimes that can’t happen, and that’s not the end of the world’.
Another Gremlin could be ‘I always need to please everyone’. Consider some of the unrealistic and unhelpful implications of that expectation which may negatively impact you, when you are not able to please everyone all the time. If you’re a people-pleaser, how can you replace the belief with a new one that allows you some leeway?
A Goblin, on the other hand, is “an unhelpful or destructive belief or behaviour that is firmly fixed and extremely difficult to remove [from the brain]” – usually hard-wired at a young age. Goblins can be broad beliefs that touch many areas of a person’s life. ‘I never succeed’ or ‘Everyone else has it so much easier’ or ‘I’m not capable’ are some examples.
Recognising your belief system is a good starting point, before you can begin to challenge the validity of these beliefs. External help from friends and family, or professionals like therapists or coaches can also help you manage these Goblins, so they become less powerful and don’t hinder you from going after what you desire.
Goblins and Gremlins might also be referred to as limiting beliefs that guide our values, behaviours and actions.
Limiting beliefs are usually negative statements, and either relate to our view of:
- Ourselves – ‘I’m not experienced enough to go for that kind of job.’
- Others – ‘They’ll never take me seriously if I go for that job.’
- The world – ‘It’s not possible to move from this industry to that one.’
Limiting beliefs are often tied up in what if scenarios and fear of a negative result. Ultimately they keep people fixed in the present, and stop them from moving forwards in making positive change. For example:
- ‘I’m scared to go for that job in case I don’t get it.’
- ‘What if I go for that job and they think I’m a fool?’
- ‘What if I tell my friends about my career change dream and they don’t think it’s possible?’
Start by unpicking what’s going on behind those limiting belief statements: what are you actually afraid of? Then how can you challenge those limiting beliefs? How can you face those fears head-on and manage them so that they’re not controlling your future and potential?