Congratulations to Just Leap! contributor Amy Christensen, who is currently taking time away from Timeout with Title Nine to welcome her firstborn child. Our very best to you, Amy, and your growing family. -the folks at Title Nine
“You can’t do that,” the voice whispers in my head, “You’re too clumsy and inexperienced.”
I’m slumped over my bike, tears pricking my eyes as I look ahead of me at the long downhill single-track, the dust of my riding partners fading ahead of me. I have so far to go and I’m starting to panic.
I can’t do this, I think to myself.
I pull the bike off the trail and sit down for a moment to gather my thoughts.
They come tumbling out. I can’t do this. Who am I to think I can learn how to ride? I’m too wimpy and afraid of hurting myself. My friends are never going to want to ride with me. Heck, I don’t even want to ride with me right now.
What will they think of me?
I allow the tears to spill out. I’m embarrassed and frustrated.
I know I can do this. I’ve ridden this trail before! What happened? Why is today suddenly feeling so hard?
I can do this. I’ve done it before.
These thoughts begin to gain a little more focus as I breath in the fresh air of the forest. I take another deep breath and stand up. I look down the trail again.
I can do this.
I’ll just take it slow and remember to smile. Relax, I remind myself, you’ve done this before.
The Inner Gremlin
We all have one. That negative Inner Voice that tells us we’re not good enough, talented enough, athletic enough, or smart enough.
If you’re like me (and the rest of the population out there), you probably listen to it more often than you’d like, although usually against our will. The Inner Voice is loud. And strong.
But it’s also familiar and comfortable in a lot of ways.
It allows us to stay comfortable and get to cozy in our comfort zones when we take our Inner Gremlin seriously. We’re so used to our Gremlin’s words that we take them for granted and allow the messages to repeat over and over in the back of our mind, always there.
We’re too old to try a new sport (and besides, we’ll look silly). There are too many other people doing what I want to do, what kind of difference can just me really make?
As we get older, we begin to realize that the Voice isn’t always right. In fact, it’s often dead wrong, but if we believe it, it keeps us from doing the exact thing we really want to do.
It’s hard to stop listening to it. Have you ever noticed that the less we listen to it, the louder it gets?
Our Inner Gremlin lives inside our head. It’s the instinctual part of our brain that acts on impulse and deep habit.
The thing is, it’s very rarely (if ever) right. The messages it spews are old tracks; old scripts that somehow became real over time. Maybe it was something we told ourselves when we were little. Or something someone else told us enough times that we began to believe it.
We can’t erase the Inner Voice. It’s been there a long time and has buried itself deep into the wiring of our brain. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rewire and create new pathways in our brains.
In fact, new studies about neuroplasticity and our ability to retrain our brains are showing that it’s absolutely possible to change our thinking and our perceptions. Now that we’re older and (hopefully) wiser, we have choices. We have the opportunity and the ability to change the scripts we tell ourselves to more realistic messages.
Messages that are true: like the fact that we ARE good enough. We ARE smart and capable. The dreams we have really ARE within reach. We CAN get organized, be on time, write a book, compose that song, or take up that new sport.
To get started, here are a few things that can help:
- Get to know your Inner Gremlin. We can’t change what we don’t know. Set aside some time today and write a list of the messages your Inner Gremlin whispers in your ear.
- Take a look at your list. Really look at it. Then ask yourself:
Are these messages true?
Are they relevant in my life today?
- Rewrite the messages as a positive statement in the present. If the message was “I’m not smart enough,” write instead, “I’m smart.”
- Choose 3 to 5 of the positive messages that resonate the most and write them down 20 times a day.
It might feel hokey at first (and probably seems a bit “woo-woo”) but retraining and rewiring our brain is a lifelong process. It’s like most anything: it starts small and builds. It’s a practice that happens over time.
The more we understand our Gremlin and realize it’s a lot more like a two-year-old having a tantrum than a wise sage sitting on a mountaintop, the more we can separate what we hear with what’s true for us.
When we treat our Gremlin like the tantrum-throwing two-year-old, we are able to allow it space, acknowledge it, but we don’t take it seriously. We don’t make life choices based on what it says.
When we stop believing that everything the Gremlin speaks is truth, we also free up valuable energy that we can use to focus on the task at hand — like riding down rocky single-track with a smile on your face to catch up with your friends.
I’m curious about you: what tricks do you use to manage your Inner Gremlin?
Amy Christensen is a certified life coach with a passion for adventure and helping women discover and tap into their own adventurous spirits. Based in Boulder, CO, her company, Expand Outdoors, focuses on helping women get outside literally and metaphorically: to step outside their comfort zones, take more risks (the healthy kind) and live a richer, more fulfilling, active, adventurous life. Subscribe to Expand Outdoors and receive a free guide to the 10 Essential Elements for Everyday Adventure.