My summer project has been to tame my gremlin, that annoying voice in our head that barks at us, commanding what we should or should not do – if we are to be worthy, loveable, a winner rather than a loser. Meet my gremlin: Sister Agatha. She means well, but is judging, sanctimonious, and very bossy. Persistent, like a dog with a bone, and crafty with the lever of shame, Sister Agatha lobbies me to do things that I don’t really want to do, and to do things that aren’t really good for me.
And so, I decided to mix things up a bit, and embarked on a week of no “shoulds.” I committed to stop dancing with Agatha whenever the “should” song started to play and see how things might unfold under my very own power.
Having become rather accustomed to letting Sister Agatha dictate many of my choices for action, I had to be very deliberate in interrupting her demonstratives to make space for my own considered actions. My tactic for interrupting Sister Agatha was to simply pause – long enough to consider what was really best for me. I had to break the habit of immediately saying “yes” to a request, when saying “no” was the better response for me. This meant I had to pause and ask: what do I really want to do? If this was not clear, I probed further: what action best serves my goals (for today, in the bigger picture)? And then the clincher: If I do this, what am I giving up? Of course, asking these questions included the assumption that I am at my core a responsible person with a grounding set of values. So, my wants had their natural limits. I may want to take a taxi to the airport and jump on the first plane to Barcelona, but that is out of the realm of being reasonably responsible.
I (re)learned a few things over this week. First of all, I was reminded that I really do have the power to choose a response, an action. Some of my choices of action were met with disappointment from others. And, you know, what, the world continued to spin and I was not I deemed an unworthy colleague, a partner, or a friend by saying “no.” Secondly, I noticed that a lot of these deliberations of choice involved allocating my time, that most precious of commodities. Try as I might, I simply cannot expand the pie of time. Thirdly, I learned that once I was able to set aside the disappointment of others or the guilt of not doing X, I had a heck of a lot more fun and flow in what I was choosing to do, because I was doing what mattered most to me. Finally, I learned that sometimes Sister Agatha was right. At times, there are things we have to do that are the right thing to do – all things considered.
My week of no “should” furthered the taming of Sister Agatha. Someday we will reach a friendly détente where we can live peacefully in the same head. Until then, I am going to challenge her “shoulds” with a pause and some good questions. This is progress, one determined step at a time.
To learn more about Taming Your Gremlin, check out: https://tamingyourgremlin.com.
Lori Charvat is a former lawyer, who now focuses her efforts on building collaborative workplaces through leadership and team coaching, facilitation and mediation. She is based in Vancouver, British Columbia and aspires to be the person her dog thinks she is.