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Gratitude vs. The Gremlin

Becca Clegg

Gratitude.

If social media and my subjective observations are correct, it’s trending right now.

Kind of like CrossFit, the paleo diet, pumpkin spice, and the mustache.  Maybe it’s because of people like Oprah, Brene Brown, and those amazing and inspiring Ted Talkers.  I don’t know.  I just know that gratitude seems to be everywhere (which is totally cool – and I hope it sticks around).

But not everyone likes gratitude.  Gratitude is actually the kryptonite of a very specific individual, one that you might know very well.  It’s the gremlin that lives in your head.

The gremlin, you say?  Say what??  You mean the little cute fuzzy Gizmo guy from the classic 80’s movie? 

No.  But if you are a child of the 80’s, like I am, then you can use the image of the other gremlin, the one I believe they called Spike (the bad one, the mischievous and nefarious one who torments poor Gizmo and his human throughout the film) to visualize the Gremlin I’m talking about.  He’s kind of a perfect metaphor for this other gremlin, who for the sake of this article, is the voice of fear that lives in your head. 

This looks pretty close to what I think the voice of fear would look like – no? (Photo credited to Gremlins, 1984.)

For many of you, this will need no explanation.  Immediately you will know exactly who I am talking about.  You know his/her snarky voice, critical tone and fear based prompting.  You know the mean and scary things the gremlin says to you, how he/she knows your deepest fears and plays on them.  Maybe you know the gremlin by another name – the “Inner Critic,” “the Ego,” “The Critical Parent,” or just plain old FEAR.  But one way or another, most of us know the little voice that calls to us telling us we aren’t enough, to watch for problems, and that we better get scared and worried or something bad will happen when we aren’t looking.

I have known my gremlin for my entire life, as most of us prone to analytical thinking have.  I had, by all accounts, an idyllic childhood, but I can’t remember a time when that the little voice of fear wasn’t there, as I believe it is for many of us.  (I remember being deeply worried about the feelings of my stuffed animals when I was little; very concerned that one of them might feel rejected if I showed preferential treatment to one over the other. My training began way before graduate school.)

Throughout my life, my gremlin has taunted me with pretty much every fear and worry you can think of.  Fear of death, fear of separation, fear of rejection.  Fear of not being good enough, fear of being too much, fear of failure, fear of making a mistake…throw creepy clowns and heights in the mix for good measure, times infinity and beyond, and you are beginning to have an idea of the depths of the nastiness in the gremlin’s book of tricks.  The dude can pretty much take anything and make it suck.

Except gratitude.  Gratitude is the gremlin’s kryptonite.  It destroys his power the minute he is presented with it.  It is like turning on a light when you enter a dark room – the minute you flip the switch, there is no more darkness.  Gratitude destroys the gremlin.

When I discovered this, it was like someone had given me a magical suit of armor, or special and impenetrable shield, like the one’s given to the knight chosen to slay the dragon.  I felt safe, I felt powerful and I felt loved. Knowing that I had the ability to choose my thoughts, and in that moment I could quiet my mind and shift out of fear and into peace, was priceless.  

When I think about gratitude, I think about all the blessings in my life – and I can’t even begin to tell you how many I have.  I am a tiny tea cup and my blessings are like the ocean.  It’s seriously mind-blowing when I stop and think about it.

But I do have to stop and think about it.  More often than I wish.  More often than I want to admit.  That damn gremlin hasn’t gone away just because I choose gratitude.  I still fall prey to his tricks.  I still have moments when I’m so caught up worrying about what might happen and what I haven’t done that I forget to be grateful.  Welcome to being human, right?

Just this morning, I caught myself in the trap.  I was driving into work, and my every thought was fixated on problems that don’t yet exist.  I was fretting and feeling like crap because of fear that was only in my head and not actually in the present moment.  The little gremlin might as well have been sitting on my shoulder whispering into my ear during my entire drive to work.  And then – I remembered gratitude. 

I made a choice to think of gratitude.  It’s a choice, not some inspired moment when the heavens part – just a simple choice about where I choose to put my attention.

In an instant, I started to notice the leaves falling off the trees.  I started to take in the beautiful, rich colors of fall.  The bright crisp blue sky and the twinkling sunlight.  The bustling city around me and the warmth of my car in contrast to the cold morning outside.

I realized I was safe, and all was well.  I realized I have everything I need in this moment, and that in actuality, there is no threat.  The truth of this moment was that I was driving to a job, which happens to be located on a beautiful college campus, which in the fall, on the East Coast is as picturesque as pictures come.  I am healthy. I am alive.  I am blessed. 

Gratitude 1 - Gremlin 0.

Marianne Williamson is quoted as saying,

“Love is what we are born with.  Fear is what we learn.  The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.  Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth.  To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things.  Meaning lies in us.”

There is always something to worry about.  The gremlin will see to it that you do.  And don’t go calling me Pollyanna – I know that there are real problems in all of our lives.  When the problems are there – then I suggest we deal with them.  In that moment. When they are actually there. 

But I for one am tired of missing the beautiful fall mornings.  I spent far too many years in the company of my gremlin believing the fear he whispered in my ear was real.  I missed far too many opportunities to just be happy – and choosing to be grateful and present in the moment has been a way back to myself.  To my birthright – which is love. 

Every day, remember that choosing to be grateful isn’t just something we can do on Thanksgiving, or as part of a Facebook status challenge (all good things, by the way).  It’s a lifeline back to your authentic self.  It’s the road back to peace amidst the storm.  It’s immensely powerful.  And it’s yours any time you decide to choose to use it.