Taming your Gremlin, Overcoming Resistance to Change

Last week, the process of coaching was shown to hold significant promise in helping us navigate the persistent changes in our lives as we travel the Cycle of Renewal. The power of the relationship flows from the environment it creates, which allows the client to grow and manage change in ways that provide the best result for him. The coach asks the hard questions that lead the client to find his own answers.

Coaching is about facilitating the client’s learning and doing. One of the values of receiving coaching is the potential guidance the coach can provide the client in managing his internal saboteur, named the “Gremlin” by Richard Carson in Taming Your Gremlin. This is essential to the process of coaching since it is our maladjustments, self-doubts, and fears around the demands of change that keep us from living satisfying lives.

Our inner Gremlin voice shouts out all of the reasons why we should hold on as tightly as possible to the status quo. Sometimes the Gremlin has a valid point and prevents us from acting in ways that are too risky and dangerous. However, our emotional intelligence demands change as we grow and develop our individual potential. We cannot permit our Gremlin to continually draw us away from the forward momentum of our lives by paralyzing us from action. (“Gremlinspeak” often sounds something like-“I cannot do this because I lack the courage, commitment, money, intelligence, and/or social skills to be successful.”)

Whitworth points out that although the Gremlin is a lifelong companion and cannot be directly “coached” per se, observing and naming “Gremlinspeak” helps to decrease its influence at times when our personal values call for action. The coach can guide the client around her Gremlin.

Here’s an example:
Through the coaching process Mia has clarified her values and current life goals as centering around getting a summer internship on the West Coast that would provide her with experience as a financial analyst and give her the opportunity to live on her own without her boyfriend and family nearby. She wants the opportunity to live independently and make decisions based on her own needs and desires. She wants to feel like an adult. Initially she is thrilled when an offer comes through from a prestigious financial institution in Seattle. It seems like a perfect fit both professionally and personally.

Then her “Gremlinspeak” sneaks in. She begins to feel nervous about whether she has the professional skills to do well. She reminds herself that several more talented peers were rejected from the same internship. She is also unsure whether she can manage living alone far away from her boyfriend and family in Boston. She begins to think about how she has lived her whole life in more or less familiar surroundings and even transferred to a college closer to home her sophomore year. Maybe she can only thrive in familiar environments. To make matters more confusing her uncle has pulled some strings and found her an internship with a Boston consulting company.

Sample Dialogue:
Mia: “Initially I was so excited about my internship in Seattle. Now though I just feel confused about what I should do.

Coach: “Tell me again the specific desired outcomes you want from your summer internship?”

Mia: “I want two things. I want to get the best training I can as a financial analyst and I want to live on my own for a change.”

Coach: “Tell me what that would look like?”

Mia: “Well, I am living in my own apartment in Seattle. I am working really hard and learning a lot. I am feeling successful in turning out competent work. I am enjoying my freedom to explore the city and meeting new interesting people.”

Coach: “What will taking the consulting internship in Boston get you?”

Mia: “Not much. It’s the wrong work experience and it keeps me dependent on my boyfriend and family.”

Coach: “Okay. So what do you need to give up to get what you want?”

Mia: “I guess my sense that I am not adult enough to take on a demanding internship and live on my own in an unfamiliar city.”

Coach: “What do you need to say no to?”

Mia: “To my doubts about my ability to do the internship and make it on my own.”

Mia’s coach draws Mia back to her original vision of pursuing her professional goals and becoming more independent. The coach also asks Mia to confront the “Gremlinspeak” in asking her what she must give up and say no to in order to get what she truly wants. This kind of inquiry can help loosen the “Gremlin” grip to release the client to move forward in honoring her values and in acting in ways consistent with her life goals.

[Editor’s Note: This is the final article by Susan S. Wilner, MS in the four-part series on Emotional Intelligence and Coaching. Susan is a personal coach and cross-cultural corporate trainer in the metro-Boston area. She can be reached at

If you would be interested in more articles or an advice column from Ms. Wilner regarding personal coaching, write to

April 8, 2002
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