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Most people have hopes and dreams. Most people understand what it will take to get to those dreams. And most people at some point in their lives accept that they probably won’t get there and give up hope. Why? Because they can’t seem to get the issues that haunt them out of the way. The pain of first uncovering the demons, facing them and then knowing how to tame them seems impossible. But there is a way.

Throughout our lives we begin to notice that certain negative behaviors tend to repeat themselves – career choices that aren’t fulfilling, bad choices in romance, reactive and defensive behavior when being criticized, lack of solid friendships, disinterest in things that should matter. We notice a pattern in how people describe us: controlling, stubborn, under-performing, difficult, cold, inconsiderate, self-absorbed, irresponsible. Nobody grows up and wants to become these things. And nobody really wants to admit that they act this way. So we justify our behavior as simply other people’s misinterpretations, insensitivity or jealousy. But the truth is that when enough people repeatedly give us the same feedback whether it be direct or indirect, we have to take a look at our own behavior. It can’t always be someone else’s interpretation.

Most people who are at a juncture in their lives where they want to move forward but aren’t able to don’t understand why they just can’t seem to do what needs to be done. Certain emotions when conjured up bring about a habitual reaction that may be rooted in the past. I’ve coached many people with the same issue from CEOs to people in transition. Intellectually they know pretty well what they need to do. They can articulate fairly clearly their “to-do” list and yet the important things don’t seem to get “to-done.”

Sometimes the lack of productiveness is because the “to-do” list is out of alignment with their values and focusing on the end result might bring them closer to their values as opposed to the tasks to get there. Sometimes once they define their values they see that what they thought they needed to focus on is not going to bring them closer to fulfillment after all and that they begin to re-examine their goals. You can define and refine your values with an exercise on my website at http://www.startingovernow.com/Articles/Values-How_to_Define_Your_Values_and_Live_Fulfilled.html.

Oftentimes, however, there is a voice in just about everybody’s head that is repeating a limiting conviction whereby you practice failure in your mind before it even happens. “You’re too old.” “You’re too young.” “You don’t have enough experience.” “You have too much experience.” “You’re not attractive.” “Don’t fall in love – you always get hurt.” “Don’t try that, it’s too risky and you will fail just like last time.” “You’ll never be able to do that.” “Nobody works hard anymore.” “I’m picky because I deserve better.” An undetected and reconciled gremlin can manifest itself in physical symptoms such as asthma, ulcers, headaches, backaches, neuroses and more.

What is the gremlin in your head telling you? How does it inhibit your ability to get what you want? Are you willing to stare it in the face? What does it look like? Draw it on paper. Hang it where you can see it so that you may get comfortable with it. You can’t expect to rid your life of your gremlin entirely. It is too comfortable with you and you with it. But if you can give it something to do, you might just be able to move around it in a positive direction while it’s pre-occupied.

The Preoccupying Your Gremlin Exercise

The next time you have a goal in mind and your gremlin peppers you with self-doubt notice that it’s there and ask it to sit with you or a moment. Noticing it is the first step to disarming it. In this moment you are no longer ensnarled with your gremlin. You are its spectator. Look it in the face. Take a deep breath – all the way to your stomach. Slowly exhale from your stomach. Fear is your gremlin’s primary tool. In his book “Taming Your Gremlin” Rick Carson reminds us that most people’s biggest fears are around abandonment, pain and death. Your gremlin will tell you that tensing up against these fears will ease the discomfort when in fact all that does is initiate the discomfort and limit the possibility for intimacy.

What is your gremlin doing as you are maintaining control of your goals? In another article I suggest that if it is really unwieldy give it a virtual drink of something that will pacify it – top shelf whisky, chamomile tea. Ask yourself during this exercise, “Regarding my goal, what is the consequence of doing nothing.”

If you make habit of noticing your gremlin and co-existing with it as a disciplined creature you will find that you are able to direct it to keep busy while you get what you want. Who would have thought?

The Zen Theory of Change is: I free myself not by trying to be free, but by simply noticing how I am imprisoning myself in the very moment I am imprisoning myself. Start now!

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Mary Lee Gannon is an executive coach, cultural turnaround and leadership expert who went from being a stay-at-home mother with four children to a difficult marriage, divorce, homelessness, and welfare to CEO. Her book “Starting Over – 25 Rules When You’ve Bottomed Out” is available on Amazon.com and details how she went from welfare to president and CEO within just a few years. Visit her Web site at www.StartingOverNow.com