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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Befriending Gremlins for Coaching Success

Jun 30, 2021 11:00AM ● By Kira Freed
No matter how intentionally people pursue the life of their dreams or how well equipped they are to do so, obstacles inevitably arise from time to time. People often seek out the services of a professional coach for support to navigate and move beyond these obstacles. Working with a coach can be a highly effective way to sharpen one’s vision and make measurable progress toward one’s goals. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that a coach’s perspective on those obstacles has a profound impact on the coaching process and, by extension, the outcome.
Imagine a coaching client who wants to pursue a new career direction. The first several sessions have been very positive. She’s completed her fieldwork and has challenged herself to try out new options. She’s come to each session with new insights and a lot of excitement about the progress she’s making toward her goal.
Fast-forward to the start of her fourth session. Zero. Zip. She hasn’t done a thing since the previous session. When the coach asks what got in the way, she responds with one or more of the following:
•    She didn’t get to her fieldwork—she just didn’t feel like it.
•    Figuring out a new career seems like too much work.
•    Her current job isn’t all that bad.
•    She needs a vacation more than a new career.
•    It’s ridiculous to go for such an ambitious goal. What was she thinking?
The coach smells a gremlin—perhaps an entire herd of them. A gremlin is a negative inner voice that blocks success and satisfaction in life. Whether conceived of as an inner critic, a saboteur, a reflection of low self-esteem, or the voice of fear, doubt or procrastination, a gremlin is a creature that represents some form of negative self-talk.
The term gremlin, as used in this context, originated with Rick Carson’s book Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, originally published in 1983. Carson explains that a gremlin is “the narrator in your head” who “is intent on making you feel lousy.”
Carson recommends banishing gremlins, and many coaches would agree. A survey of coaching websites yields a host of negative descriptors for gremlins, including sly, sneaky, subversive, fear-based, nasty, pesky, sneaky, pushy, relentless, snarky and powerful. Common perception would suggest that gremlins have nothing good to say and should be conquered, banished, slayed or kicked to the curb.
If gremlins truly want the worst for us, it would make sense to try to get rid of them so coaching clients can be freer to pursue their goals. However, anyone who has tried to silence a part of themselves knows that it simply doesn’t work. Going to war with gremlins doesn’t work because it forces banished parts of a person to become more insistent and extreme in their attempts to be heard. As Swiss psychologist Carl Jung famously said, “What you resist persists.”
What if that view of gremlins isn’t accurate? What if they’ve just gotten a bad rap in a culture that tends to avoid looking at its dark side? Internal Family Systems (IFS)—a powerful, non-pathologizing view of the human psyche—holds a different view of gremlins. IFS asserts that gremlins (“parts”) have positive intent at their core and hold crucial puzzle pieces in our quest to lead fulfilling lives.
Like geese flying in a V-formation, gremlins can be supported to work together harmoniously. Learning to listen to them allows them to transform into powerful allies that can make important positive contributions to people’s goals and lives. This isn’t just a nice metaphor—it’s a systematic approach that yields tangible results.
This transformation happens as a result of developing a respectful, appropriate relationship with gremlins. Far from wanting to make people miserable, they actually want the best for us. For that to happen, we only need to listen to them from a centered place and provide them with witnessing and wise leadership. IFS coaching supports clients to do just that.

Kira Freed, MA, BCC, LPC (ret.) has been incorporating the Internal Family Systems perspective in her work with coaching clients for 14 years. To learn more and schedule a free initial
consultation, visit See listing, page 32.



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