How to Work With Gremlins in Coaching (Yours and Your Clients') with Tips, Tools & More! | by Dr. Mickey Parsons

Inner Critic Takes Over - Coach Holding Head

How Can We Manage Our Gremlins So We Can Be Fully Present To Our Clients?

As coaches, we need to learn to tame our own minds so we can be fully present to our clients. Just as importantly, we must be skillful at guiding clients to recognize and deal with the tyranny of their own inner critics.

So, here's a confession. Every so often in the middle of a coaching session my brain goes a little haywire and starts up with a stream of internal commentary about my coaching. Naturally this annoying and distracting inner critic tends to hold forth at the most inconvenient times.

Of course, this mental chatter is something we all experience. Our mental narrator is a product of our restless, unruly minds. For most of us, this inner voice delivers a constant background of negative and positive thoughts and judgments all day long.

Staying Engaged with the Client

As coaches, we need to tame our own minds so we can be fully present to and engaged with the client. And believe me, your client senses when your attention wanes. Being fully present is essential if we are to have the authentic and spontaneous exchanges that build trust and lead to positive outcomes.

In short, being present is foundational to being an effective coach.

And there's another equally important reason that coaches need to become skillful at recognizing and dealing with the chattering mind: Many of our coaching clients struggle with the tyranny of their own inner critics. In fact, I've found this to be a common obstacle to growth for many clients.

Our Insufferable Gremlins

Author Rick Carson has a lot to say about the inner narrator, which he calls a gremlin. Carson, who wrote the popular book Taming Your Gremlin®, A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, describes this gremlin as, "a vile, vicious, villainous, insufferable bully lurking in the shadows of your very own mind."

This gremlin is out to make you miserable, he says. "Left to do his thing, he'll zap your health, foul up your relationships, ruin your disposition, dampen your creativity, hamper your productivity, drive you into low-down funks, and wind you up in to fits of anxiety."

Your Client's Gremlin

Your client's gremlin or inner voice may have convinced her that she is unworthy, that she'll never reach her goals, that her dreams are ridiculous. The internal critic might be telling your client he'll never get the job he wants or that he doesn't deserve the kind of healthy relationship he longs for. The inner critic can undermine a client's sense of accomplishment and hamper his or her ability to move toward goals.

In the worst cases, this inner critic is crippling. But even in its less-vicious forms, the inner gremlin needs to be addressed during a coaching engagement.

Working with Gremlins in Coaching

As a coach, you can expose clients to tools and concepts that will allow them to recognize and tame their unquiet minds.

Start by asking the client if they'd like to learn to quiet their inner critic and tame their mind. If the answer is yes, introduce the concept.

Once you've done this, you can ask questions during your sessions that draw the client's attentions to their inner dialog and the underlying beliefs that fuel it. Remember to frame questions in a way that invites the client to have new insights about their beliefs, habits and values.

Sample Questions to Draw Attention to a Client's Inner Dialog and Underlying Beliefs:

  • What's getting in the way of you creating what you deserve?
  • What's your inner narrator telling you now?
  • How is your gremlin trying to undermine or sabotage you?
  • How can you be more positive and kinder to yourself?
  • What can you do, say, think or feel right now that will open up a new perspective?

5 Tips for Asking Great Questions

Asking the right kind of questions is essential to effective coaching. Here are 5 tips to ask good questions:

  1. Ask clear, direct and open-ended questions.
  2. Make your questions curious, short and to the point.
  3. Incorporate the client's language into your questions.
  4. Invite the client to explore his or her thinking, assumptions, beliefs and values.
  5. Ask one question at a time, at a pace that gives the client time to pause and reflect.

5 Steps to Taming Your Inner Critic

Once the client begins to notice their chattering mind or inner critic, you can introduce them to tools to help them tame this inner voice.

The key is awareness - learning to notice your thoughts - so you can get some distance from them rather than being swallowed up by them. Here are 5 steps to share with your clients:

  1. Practice the pause. When you notice negative self-talk, put the brakes on by pausing and taking a few deep breaths.
  2. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. Remember, you don't have to believe everything you think!
  3. Ask yourself, "What is my brain telling me right now? Is it useful or helpful?"
  4. Rather than berating yourself for recurring negative self-talk, or trying to push the negative thoughts away, simply acknowledge the thoughts - "Oh, you again" - then let them go.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. Show compassion toward yourself when your gremlin acts up, just as you would for a friend.

5 More Awesome Tools for Coping With Gremlins - for Coach and Client!

  1. Put it on paper. Writing down your negative thoughts will give you distance from them.
  2. Reframe negative thoughts with positive thinking. Instead of: "I can't do anything right," try: "I'm having a tough time right now but I know I have the skills and tools to change things." This is most effective if you put it in writing.
  3. Distract yourself in the moment. Sometimes the best way to break the tyranny of negative thoughts is to get active. Take a walk, organize your files, fold the laundry.
  4. Do the 3 Good Things Exercise: Every night write down 3 positive things that happened during your day. This helps train your brain to focus on the positive.
  5. Adopt a mindfulness practice. Typically, this involves regular meditation in which you focus on noticing and accepting what you're experiencing in the present moment without judging it or getting attached to it.

4 More Resources for Coach and Client

Here are another 4 resources that may be useful for you and your clients when the inner critic is playing an outsized role and needs to be tamed.

If you liked this article about taming gremlins and the inner critic, you may also like:

Dr. Mickey Parsons Headshot

Contributing Author:

Dr. Mickey Parsons, MCC, founded The Workplace Coach, LLC, in 1999. Since then, Mickey and The Workplace Coach's award-winning team have coached thousands of executives and leaders. Based in Atlanta, Mickey is also an assistant professor of coaching psychology and has a passion for coaching that extends to mentoring new and existing coaches and supporting leader coaches in obtaining their certifications through his Certified Leader Coach® program.

Learn more about Mickey & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach Holding Head Because of Inner Critic and Gremlin by El Nariz via Shutterstock

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.