Change Your Values…Tame Your Gremlins


Have you ever found yourself experiencing a challenge or failure that had a déjà vu feeling as if you have been here before?

Then there is the realization that yes, you have repeated some of the same self-defeating behaviors that achieved a similar unpleasant result before.

I Call Do-Over

Call it DNA, mental loops, or whatever you want, but you have the career, life, marriage, relationships, etc., that you have built for yourself one decision at a time. We hope for a new start only to find that after receiving it, we wind up in the same situation—wishing we had a “do over.”

Whether you get a mulligan or not, what will you do to change the next chapter of your life’s story? You cannot change your DNA, but there are two things you can be aware of as you dig yourself out of that hole or start over again:

1) Change your Values
2) Tame your Gremlins

Change Your Values

Values form the template or filter through which most of your decisions are made. There are essentially two kinds of life-shaping values—intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic values are heart values that seem to come naturally to you because they are internal and heart-felt.

They are formed intentionally or unintentionally through experiences, relationships with family, associations with friends, and DNA. One’s DNA rarely works alone to shape one’s behavior but rather it works in tandem with one of the other factors. When one decides to change his values, he finds that it is difficult.

Intrinsic values are the basis of what are called Underlying Automatic Commitments (UACs) meaning that many decisions are made with little thought. Think of UACs as a traffic signal with the common red, yellow, and green lights, but with UACs all three lights are green.

Here is a way to understand UACs:

  • Underlying—decisions are made below one’s awareness and require little thought
  • Automatic—decisions are made automatically with little intentionality
  • Commitment—since decisions are underlying and automatic, an obligation has essentially been made once two of the three “switches” have activated

As you may see, great intentionality must be exercised in order to make a decision other than that which the UAC has already mandated. This is not to say that one cannot arrest the UAC process in order to change the outcome. In fact, that is exactly what must take place but it is incredibly difficult to do. Life or executive coaching may train one to establish new patterns.

Why is change so difficult? Remember that it takes only 21 days to develop a bad habit but it takes 66 days to develop a good one.

Perhaps there are extrinsic or aspirational values one may adopt in order to “fix” one’s decision-making process. This at least may change the Underlying Automatic Commitment to an Underlying Automatic Contingency—meaning that there is an intentional pause for thought BEFORE a final decision is made.

Tame Your Gremlins

You may remember the 1984 movie Gremlins about a cute little pet given to a boy as a Christmas gift. There were three rules about keeping a gremlin: never expose it to bright lights, don’t get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. Of course all three rules were broken in the movie and the cute gremlin became many little monsters. The connection is that even with good values and a contingency process for decision-making, you may find that you often make impulsive decisions that are almost always poor choices.

We often listen to our inner voices that are “gremlins” created out of one’s experience and desires that become our own worst enemy. Rick Carson, Taming Your Gremlin, 11.

Gremlins are tamed by identifying and naming them…essentially exposing them to the light. When you are aware of your self-defeating behavior, you can make better decisions that will change the story of your life. Which of the following gremlins haunt you or someone you know?

  • Denial: We humans have an amazing adeptness when it comes to denial. Denial is a refusal to accept or comprehend the external reality because it is too threatening whether the reality is self-inflicted or external. It takes the forms of lying to oneself and others, ignoring, passivity, passive aggression, and even continued inappropriate behavior. (Doing the same thing over while expecting different results.)
  • Jekyll/Hyde is a two-faced gremlin. I am sure you have worked with or for a person with a Jekyll and Hyde gremlin. As long as you are dealing with Jekyll everything is okay, but that’s the problem. The occasional and unexpected appearance of …Hyde! It’s like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get.
  • Pigpen gremlin is named after the popular character in the Peanuts Charlie Brown cartoons. People with the Pigpen gremlin possess two primary problems: 1) they stir up everything in the work place leaving the mess for others to clean up, and 2) the big challenge for pigpen gremlins is that as messy as they are with materials, they stir up more dust in relationships. The problem is that they hurt feelings of others along the way. If you work with someone like that and have not received a “dusting”—just wait a while.
  • Scaredy gremlin prevents people from reaching their full potential. Have you ever met someone who has a reputation for quitting or they seldom finish a commitment. Most of the time, they never even get started because they contemplate the fear of failure so much that they fall into the habit of avoiding commitment. One might see this gremlin as the “Runaway Bride syndrome.” He feeds on fear and anxiety and the higher level of these makes him happy.
  • Blamer gremlin seems to always fault somebody or something for their failure. They rarely accept responsibility for anything and even when they do, their statement usually includes some measure of blaming. If Blamer is your gremlin, you need to know two things: 1) you are sabotaging your success and relationships, and 2) your future opportunities will gradually diminish.
Coaching and and increased self-awareness will help anyone tame their gremlins. So before you are exposed to bright lights, get wet, or eat after midnight, identify and tame your gremlin!

Have you observed other gremlins? Share their names and descriptions as a comment and include how they may be tamed. Have you helped someone confront their gremlin? What was effective? What was ineffective? With which gremlin do you struggle with most?

Dr. Tom Cocklereece
is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
He is a pastor, author, professional coach, and leadership specialist

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