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Taming Your Gremlin with Rick Carson | Heal The Divide Podinar

July 1, 2020

“Like a sculptor sees something within a stone, starts to chip away at it to reveal something beautiful, your gremlin is the stone that ends up on the floor. Gremlin taming is not about the gremlin, it’s about revealing that thing inside that is the natural you, the essence of the natural you.” – Rick Carson

What is a gremlin, and how do you find yours and tame it? In this episode, Alison engages with guest Rick Carson, an esteemed author, personal and executive coach, psychotherapist and consultant, to learn how his method can help us as individuals and as coaches.

Carson has conducted workshops with organizations in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East. He is the author of four HarperCollins books. His seminal work, Taming Your Gremlin, has been translated into 12 languages and has been a top seller for HarperCollins Publishers for 35 years. He’s a past faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and founder of the Gremlin Taming Institute of Dallas, Texas.

Introduction to Gremlins

We all have a gremlin, that vicious, bullying voice inside our minds that’s intent on making us miserable. It has a fear-inducing power over us that keeps us from being at peace and living to our potential. If it isn’t acknowledged and tamed, it will keep its control, holding us back from making the changes necessary to achieve our goals.

Carson also clarifies what a gremlin is not. “Your gremlin is not your negative thoughts; your gremlin is not your traumatic past experiences; your gremlin is not even the horror movies in your head. Your gremlin is that thing, that part of you, actually, that really uses those things to eat your lunch, to squelch the vibrant soul within.” 

Carson says he gets asked a lot where it comes from and answers, “I don’t know, and neither does anybody else, but I have never met anybody who doesn’t have that duality. It’s a huge gift, from my experience, to be able to tame that thing on the spot. You just have a lot more pleasurable moments.”

The way we discover it and what activates it — simply noticing — is a key part of the method to tame it, Carson says.

The Gremlin-Taming Method

Simply noticing

Carson describes simply noticing as just that. Simply notice. It’s not analyzing, thinking about or trying to solve.

 “The way the method works is you start with practice, not just to notice what’s going on around you or in your own body — which those things are very important — but with practice, you can begin to notice your own concepts, your own beliefs about who you are and about how the world works,” Carson says.

“As you begin to notice those things, you start to see even though they may be right on, they may not be. In any event, they’re basically opinions that you develop loyalty to. … As you begin to notice them, you get a sliver of light between who you are and those opinions. At that point you’re in touch with the observer within, and there’s a natural thing that starts to happen, which I call the Zen Theory of Change.”

Along with simply noticing, accentuate the obvious to initiate change. Shine a bright light to emphasize how you’re getting in your own way. Accentuate the worrying, whatever’s going on in your head, the ruminating, and accentuate at the same time the physical sensation.


Zen Theory of Change

The Zen Theory of Change, simply stated, is “I free myself by simply noticing how — not why —how I am imprisoning myself in the very moment in which I am imprisoning myself. That’s the key.

“It’s the difference between insight and simply noticing. Simply noticing has to do with catching yourself in the act of, and when you accentuate it there is a natural correction that starts to occur. It’s the same system that you used to learn to walk and talk.”

“I just call it the art of graceful change,” Carson says.


Choosing and playing with options

Once you’re aware of your habits and what activates your gremlin, you can choose and play with options to tame it. If you notice that you’re having difficulty or straining at something, it’s time to ask yourself, “How can I play with an option here?” Carson says. “It’s a gentle process; there’s nothing forced about it.” A couple of options to try include:

Change for a change: One way to do this is to quickly say, “I’m not going to go there.” Yet as coaches, don’t jump to that too quickly with clients as we want to first accentuate how they’re getting themselves into it.

Another way is to combine change for a change with positive visualization. Just think, “Well, instead of sitting around scaring the hell out of myself, I’m going to have a really positive visualization,” Carson suggests. “It’s just as easy, and either one is going to affect your future. The positive stuff feels a lot better, so why not do that? They’re both just make-believe. See what happens, you know?”

Just imagine it: Positive visualization is a very powerful tool. “Certainly that’s seen in the work of Bernie Siegel and Norman Cousins, the Simontons,” Carson says. “There’s hard data to support it where wellness and athletic performance are concerned. … Yet, I also think that positive visualization has to be coupled with your best, butt-kicking effort.”

Think of Muhammad Ali (“I am the greatest!”) and Babe Ruth, who signals to the flagpole in centerfield and knocks out a home run without the slightest doubt that it would happen.

Being in process

Being in process means that you recognize you’re not going to tame your gremlin forever, once and for all. It comes with the territory of being alive, Carson says. “But you’re going to keep simply noticing and playing with options. As you do that, you start to notice that the gremlin is completely inconsequential.

“There’s a lot to it, but in short, simply noticing, accentuating the obvious, and then eventually playing with options and then being in process. … Being in process just means simply noticing and playing with options over and over again. … It’s a moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath thing, but you can get really good at it.”

How to Introduce the Gremlin-Taming Method to Clients

The way you introduce the method is to use it in your own life to the point that you are confident that it works, Carson says. 

“The main thing is you won’t take a client or a corporate executive who you’re working with —you won’t take anybody deeper than you’ve been with it. You just won’t. You can’t. So practice and then use it. If it really works for you, which it will, you’re not going to have any problems saying, ‘Here’s what I do.’”

The aim of the Gremlin-Taming Method is to produce change from the inside out, Carson says. When teaching it to clients and when practicing as individuals. Other than survival, make it your No. 1 priority to feel at peace on the inside. 

“And anytime anything messes with that, as quickly as you can, get some light between you and how you’re contributing to it,” Carson says. “If you can remove that layer of how you’re contributing to your own misery, it’s amazing how the other stuff is just not quite so miserable.”

Share your insights and gremlin-taming experiences in the comments; we’d love to hear from you.


People mentioned:

  • Bernie Siegel
  • Norman Cousins
  • Carl Simonton and Stephanie Matthews-Simonton

Places/organizations mentioned:

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