Work Smarter Not Harder

How to Murder Your Inner Gremlin
A Detailed System to Eliminating Self Sabotage & Getting Unstuck

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Powerful Techniques Designed to 20x Your Productivity, Unlock New Sources of Happiness & Motivation, and Increase Your Bottom Line

“The Trouble Is… You Think You Have Time.”

– Probably Not Buddha

Are you reading this instead of doing something important? Unless you’ve set aside time to research productivity, you are succumbing to what I like to call “your inner Gremlin”. It’s the seemingly random but expected voice in the back of your mind that wants you to do anything EXCEPT the thing you should be doing.

How often have you found yourself thinking…

… let’s see what’s trending on YouTube, it’ll only take a minute… Oo look a cute kitty!
… maybe if I read this blog post, it’ll give me the motivation I need to get stuff done today.
… let’s check Facebook just one more time, then I’ll get back to outlining my new product idea.

This is our Gremlin searching for distractions to pull us away from any “new” or important task, not great for productivity obviously.

Even worse this inner voice will also try and convince yourself of the following:

… don’t waste your time, you’re not one to finish what you start.
… you’re not talented enough to succeed, even if you were you wouldn’t stay motivated long enough to finish anything.
… you’re just not the kind of person who deserves to accomplish their goals.

This more insidious process is our Gremlin’s response to us even considering a new, more positive direction in life.

Your “Inner Gremlin” doesn’t just want to kill our productivity, it’s out to kill your dreams, aspirations, and alter our life course entirely.

Most people believe that this compulsion is something you’re stuck with, that it will never go away. Or they try and apply the latest and greatest “self-help” techniques, usually finding they just don’t make a long-term impact. Or worse yet, many turn to drugs or alcohol, hoping to silence it just long enough to get through the day. They’ve resigned themselves to a life of stress, distraction, and putting their dreams on hold because they can’t seem to conquer that inner beast.

The truth is, there are very specific ways to master this voice and lessen it’s negative effects on your life. In fact, there’s a vitally important technique we can use to turn this voice against itself, allowing us to harness its power to help accomplish almost anything we set our minds to.

Why I’m Mad at The World of Self Help (click to expand)

Many, including yours truly, are exhausted by the false promises of ‘self-realization’ and ‘lasting happiness’ a lot of these self-help movements sell. There’s this giddy feeling that often comes from simply setting a goal to do

Many, including yours truly, are exhausted by the false promises of ‘self-realization’ and ‘lasting happiness’ a lot of these self-help movements sell. There’s this giddy feeling that often comes from simply setting a goal to do better, and this is exploited by motivational speakers and self-help books alike. Unfortunately, this feeling usually doesn’t take hold for long and soon evaporates, after which we often find ourselves worse off than when we started. We might wonder if we’re “doing it wrong”, whatever “it” is. Seeing ourselves as failures for not being happy “like everyone else”.

This confusion, perhaps ironically, has inspired me to take a deep dive into what our mind needs in order to step aside and let us get things done. Yes, you read that right; often it is our own thoughts that get in our own way, self-sabotaging our progress. I’m excited to share what I’ve found, and show you how you can, in a real practical way, apply these ideas in your own life.

Part OnePart Six

Before we dive in you may want to save this mindmap, we’ll be using it along the way… Save it to your computer ‘right click save as’.

STRATEGY PART ONE: GET TO KNOW Your ENEMY

THE PROBLEM – WE’RE UNDER ATTACK, FROM THE INSIDE & THE OUTSIDE.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There’s plenty of psychology behind that nagging little brain gremlin that’s set on sabotaging everything important in our lives. At it’s core this “voice” stems from our brain’s inner drive to conserve energy, to keep us out of harm’s way, and avoid the unknown. It’s a simple instinct, but it’s incredibly powerful and destructive.

If You Suffer From Depression - Important (click to expand)
Important note before we dive in. I want to make it clear that, if you indeed are suffering from depression this advice will be useful; however real clinical therapy is worth investigating if you really can’t seem to get a grasp on your emotions. Often times a real chemical or emotional issue to blame, and there’s nothing wrong with getting professional help. Most people I know have been through some form of therapy, myself included, and I highly recommend it if you feel you need it. If you stumbled upon this with a lingering self-destructive thoughts please visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 right now.

Very literally, our brain does not want us to expel more energy than it needs to survive because you never know when you’re going to need that energy to; ya know, hunt down a deer with your bare hands. It’s amazing that this mechanism is responsible for so much distress in our lives. Sometimes it’s audible, as in a literal inner dialog, and sometimes it’s just feelings or emotions. In short, this natural reaction can get in the way of external and internal progress in our lives.

Why is your inner dialog such a jerk?

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
― George Lucas

Psychologists call this tendency the “negative bias”, our inclination to let fear, and fear of loss, control our decisions. To make things worse, numerous researchers have found that our brains are inclined to engage more actively in negative stimulus than positive. The result? it’s much easier to tune into the “noise” than to ignore it and just keep focusing.

As author & Psychologist Hara Marano explains all of this as something that goes back to the “dawn of human history, our very survival depended” on keeping track of the negative and dangerous things. The negative bias is what kept your ancestors alive so that you could be here now, so it served its purpose centuries ago.

Neuroscientist Marc Lewis was writing about addiction when he said that the brain was design for continuous stimulation and constant feedback, so repetitive actions of any kind, not just drugs, are by our own biology, designed to be continued over, and over again.
Another front in the battle for our minds is our brain’s addictive reaction to repetitive actions. This is what psychologists call “the partial reinforcement extinction effect”, and it’s a fancy way of establishing exactly why we check our Facebook over and over again without any real reward… The repetition of the act itself drives the act. This cycle is created and nourished through many of the pieces of technology we use every day and is worth a lot of money to companies who make a living off our regular use of them.

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” – Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Negativity in itself isn’t the enemy, things will make us sad or angry and there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue is that often we let this noise push us off our chosen path; when we let subconscious tendencies influence conscious decisions.

You see, when our brain identifies something “new” it sees it as an unknown threat. Even if consciously we can see the good in what we’re doing, our subconscious doesn’t want anything to do with the change. This results in resistance kicking in when we try to start something new, especially something positive.

Your subconscious drives you to reach for something comfortable, something it’s done before. It’s why you compulsively check your social accounts, email, or anything else you find comforting; instead of sticking to the task at hand or focusing on ways to improve your life.

These “comfortable things” aren’t the direct problem here, the issue is that often we let this interference push us off our chosen path onto the path of least resistance. It may seem like we’re “just taking a minute” away from our task, but more often than we’d like this tendency can derail a project or dream altogether.

“The insidious problem is when our Gremlin convinces us to replace new life-changing ventures with comfortable patterns of existence.”

Our Inner Gremlin is Set on Disrupting Two Things…

  1. Any important task at hand. (With Distractions)
  2. Any long-term “out of our comfort zone” ideas or thinking we are pursuing. (With negative or false self-talk)

There are four crucial concepts we need to understand before we can really start our battle with our inner Gremlin. We need to internalize them so we can know what to do when the self-sabotage kicks in.

These four concepts are key to keep in the back of your mind as we move forward.

Concept #1 – REMEMBER: PROGRESS TRIGGERS YOUR GREMLIN

We need to admit that this “Gremlin” is going to show up whenever we start something new, challenging, or out of our comfort zone. Really anything that challenges your normal state of being can trigger this voice and lure us into distraction like Professor of Psychology Adrian Furnham wrote about.

I’ll admit, writing this article itself was a real-world lesson in this, I logged about 30+ hours in creating it, and found myself constantly searching for any excuse to avoid writing or to completely revamp the content; simply to avoid the change that would come into my life after publishing it. The creative process is painful, the delivery is painful, but the end result is worth it; even if at the end of the day it fails at its intended goal.

Observe this in action: Next time you start something new and productive listen to your inner dialog or even better write it out. Examples: any new goal (ex. to read 30 pages a day), starting an exercise routine, sticking to a diet, to reach out to mend an old friend. Note any fears, any sharp notes of resistance, and any excitement you experience, dwell on these reactions and reflect on why they’re happening.

COncept #2 – YOUR GREMLIN IS HERE TO STAY (AND THAT’S OK)

We need to admit that our Gremlin isn’t going to just disappear, no matter how much coffee we poor on it. It’s part of our psychology, and we can either learn to manage it or just live in a regressive state where it controls us.

It’s our job to confront and silence this little jackass every, single, day… often many times per day. The good news is the battle becomes easier,  the courage we need to face and conquer it comes with practice and our strength to maintain compounds with time.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Concept #3 – YOU ARE NOT YOUR GREMLIN

It’s important you understand that this distracting voice is not “you”, it is not this thing we call self. There are millions of words written on the concept of “ego” or “self”, but at its core the concept is simple: Whatever we are, we are not exclusively that voice (negative or positive) in our mind. It is simply a part of us.

Stop and think about that for a second. This was a big paradigm shift for me, and it really changed how I view my inner dialog.

I like to think of my “compulsive” (uninitiated) inner dialog as just along for the ride. It’s an annoying friend that wants to stop every 10 minutes on the road trip to success. It has good intentions, but often at the expense of most everything else. As such, we are not required to listen to it, we can acknowledge it and then continue on our journey.

“The voice inside your head isn’t actually you.”

It can seem obvious once it’s all laid out for us, but it’s very understandable if you find yourself lost in a moment of weakness.

Concept #4 – There’s A Lot More to Productivity Than Just Getting Things Done

Our productivity, the process of accomplishing objectives, is the first thing our inner Gremlin wants to fight against, and it’s the first place we can falter without the proper perspective on what drives us. It’s critical that we understand why it’s important to be productive in the first place.

Productivity, applied to things that are important to us, is an incredible source of happiness in our lives.

“Happiness is a reward. When you resolve problems and do challenging work, our brain rewards us with happiness. Happiness can’t be found, only created.”

Most people believe the end game of productivity is to complete a project so we have free time, and then we’ll find happiness. Truth is, this mindset is a huge problem. Happiness isn’t waiting for you at the end, you find it along the way. Here’s a strange irony, when you complete a goal without having a new one ready to replace it, you’ll often find emptiness and longing for the “battles” you experienced attaining the goal. This is why many people don’t thrive in retirement, or they ramble on about “the good ole days”. In short, most people look for happiness in all the wrong places, leading to no real desire to change or excel when they don’t find it.

As psychologist and developer of the concept of “Flow” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it…

“Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed.”

Chances are if you’re unhappy it’s because you’re working on the wrong things, or avoiding work that needs to be done. An unfulfilling career, a bad relationship, a general disconnection with your world; it stems from not taking the time to define where you want these things to lead. Why are you on this path to begin with? This is a big important question to answer, more on this later.

Joy Vs. Happiness
Joy can be found, in simple things, like a great cup of coffee or the touch of the hand from a loved one. It’s also found in big things, like a breathtaking view of a mountain or having a child. Think of it as the little brother to happiness, it will perk us up and serve as a great source of enjoyment, but it is fleeting and, by its nature, doesn’t last long. Be grateful for the joy you have, but don’t rely on it to give you fulfillment.

As we’ve discussed our noisy internal Gremlin is set on us avoiding problems at all costs, to face them would require a lot of work and energy. This avoidance is the core trait of those who feel unfulfilled and unhappy. Think of the happiest times in your life, usually, they’re often found through breaking down barriers… Maybe it was graduating college, paying off a debt, making up with an estranged friend, saving up enough for your dream home; accomplishing things at one point you didn’t think were possible for “someone like you”.

These things all have a “journey” involved that often brings up lots of problems for your mind to solve. These ‘problems’ are the ironic fuel of happiness.

“To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is, therefore, a form of action.” ― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Is the logical conclusion that we need problems in our lives to be happy? Yes, but here’s the key: problems don’t have to be bad; you just have to create the right kind of problems. Most people create chaos and drama in their lives when they don’t have a meaningful handle on the important problems they need to solve, or if they simply don’t have the motivation or courage to face them.

What if I feel genuinely happy? (click to expand)
We can be very happy with the state of our lives, content with what we’ve accomplished. If you are content, this is excellent, but chances are that contentment won’t last, even if you’re happy now it’s no guarantee you will be in the future. You can still utilize these techniques any time you are ready to start something new, in fact, you’ll probably need them more then than ever.

If this is the case, where do we find motivation? To find real motivation we need to first clearly define what we’re fighting for, and get a better understanding of what motivation is, to begin with.

Part TwoPart Six

STRATEGY PART TWO: LAYING THE FOUNDATION OF OUR BATTLE PLAN

Start with defining your “Why” is a common phrase in the self-help world. It’s a great concept, but I find “why” is an overwhelming question to start with. Trying to figure out exactly “why” we do anything can inevitably make us feel like our “why” just isn’t big enough, or worse we may just conclude that we may not be important enough to even have one. If you already have a concrete answer to ‘why’, great! If not, let’s start with something a little easier to define. Let’s start with one specific objective per project in our life.

An objective is a bit more specific than a “why”. It can change over time with new information but is a key part of fighting off the resistance your “Gremlin” will inevitably throw at you.

Your objective can be for a specific project, a group of projects, your relationships, a business venture. Really anything that you want to create or maintain should have a clear objective. This concise statement gives you the clarity you need when you inevitably get lost in the world of tasks and distractions in our day to day life.

Clarity Is Like Having Sound Proof Headphones For Our Brain, It’s The First Layer of Defense in Quieting Our Gremlin.

Here’s How to Find It…

You should lay out your objective in a statement like the following:

MY OBJECTIVE IS TO + “HELP/DEVELOP/CREATE/MAINTAIN” + “SOMETHING VALUABLE” + “THAT WILL ALLOW ME/US/OTHERS” + “TO ACCOMPLISH XYZ“.

Example: “My objective is to create this detailed guide on how to get unstuck that will allow my readers to find more happiness in the work they do.”

Once we know our objective, then it’s going to be much easier to answer that all-important “why” question. You can go as deep as you want with this next step, but it’s important you do peel back as far as you can.

Here’s a simple set of questions you can use to deep dive into understanding why you’re doing anything, you should consider these for each important objective in your life.

Step 1: Read your objective statement and ask yourself: Why is it important that I do that? Hint: It may help to this question with the statement: “So that I can _____________.” Fill in the blank.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Why is it important that I do that?” in reply to your answer.

Step 3: Repeat this question to each of your answers until you hit upon a core answer that resonates.

Example: “My objective is to create this detailed guide on how to get unstuck that will allow my readers to find more happiness in the work they do.”

Question #1: Why is it important that I do that?

Answer #1: So that I can create something of lasting value for my readers.

Question #2: Why is it important that I do that?

Answer #2: So that I can build a stronger connection with my readers and create authority in my industry.

Question #3: Why is it important that I do that?

Answer #3: Because I know with a stronger connection with my audience I’m more likely to sell my products and services better.

Question #4: Why is it important that I do that?

Answer #4: Because I very much believe that my products and services can and do improve the lives of my buyers.

Question #5: Why is it important that I do that?

Answer #5: Because improving the lives of others is something I value, it is fulfilling and it’s at the core of what I believe matters in a business.

You can see by this example (which is indeed the process I used to keep me going after 60+ hours of production on this post) that when you dig deep, there’s a lot more meaning behind “why” we do anything, even something seemingly insignificant.

Important: If you can’t find an answer that resonates with you to your objective, it may be time to end the project and focus on something better. Or, you simply haven’t dug deep enough; even mundane projects may have more meaning than you expect.

Now that we understand what our Gremlin is, what triggers it, and we have the clarity of why we’re working on any given project; next we need to look at ways to actively combat the Gremlin.

STRATEGY PART THREE: COMBAT TIME – The art of the first step

Why decipline and rules is the answer 

This is where a lot of people might stop, they think that having a clear “why” is enough, but there’s more to the puzzle. How often have you felt strongly about something just to see yourself still swaying off the path? Even if we have a clear objective and powerful “why” behind us there are still going to be times you just want to give up, and give in to the demands of the Gremlin. Self-sabotage doesn’t go away just because we believe in what we’re doing.

Here’s an incredibly powerful concept that most people aren’t exposed to: motivation isn’t an emotion or feeling that “comes to you” eventually, it doesn’t magically show up at some point of time and give you fuel to work. Motivation is a result. It’s an after effect of taking action.

Motivation is created when you do something.

Smells of irony I know. “How does one start doing stuff, to generate motivation, if one is not motivated?” – Obvious Follow-up Question

“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” -Jim Rohn

As Jim put it, discipline. Or as I like to put it, having “Rules”, rules are the foundation of discipline after all.  Freakin rules. Those things we all rebel against because, you know; because they suck. Well, you may not care for them now, but trust me, when you see your bank break six figures for the first time you’ll be happy you created some rules and followed them. Or at least, I’m sure you’d agree if you’re not getting what you want out of life now, it may be worth trying something new.

Today’s society seemingly rewards the opposite of discipline, slapping us with more and more things designed to feed our inner Gremlin. Social Media, consumerism, the celebrity rumor mill, these things give us a taste of gratification; but always leave us longing for more.

Satis-fraction; v. word I made up that means “the fractional satisfaction that comes from indulging in distraction and putting off our dreams.”

Distraction and chaos are the substances our Gremlin feeds on. Here’s the bad news, the more we feed these distractions to it the more it rewards us with dopamine. It feels good, but it isn’t good for us; it doesn’t help us accomplish things.

negative emotions

Let’s look at better sources of dopamine, that are a bit harder to create, but are much more powerful in the long run. These things are also pretty poisonous for our Gremlin, and when we perfect using them it will be quiet as a mouse.

A FEW OF OUR GREMLINS LEAST FAVORITE THINGS

Momentum, consistency, focus, and action. These are a few of our brain Gremlin’s least favorite things, and they’re so crucial to accomplishing something worth anything.

Rules are what will help you fight that inner discontent. More specifically, it’s what will push you through those unavoidable moments where you need to take action when you don’t want to.

“Do the thing, and you shall have the power.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Ralph’s point here is to “do the thing”, as in taking action. The power? Well, that’s a not so fancy word for motivation. Rules are the tool we can use to help us take the first step, even if it’s the last thing we want to do.

The bigger strategy here is to build momentum by doing, and that momentum is what it takes to put us into the state of “flow” that everyone gets so excited about. It’s extremely difficult to hear our Gremlin when we’re in this state because it’s drowned out by the awesomeness that is “focus”.

Another important thing to keep in mind, all this takes practice {Reference}. You can actually get better at “willing” your way through tough situations over time. You will be able to focus longer after you practice focusing. You will be able to begin sooner, once you practice starting sooner. Again, of course, all this seems very ironic in nature, till you actually start.

This lesson took me forever to learn because I consistently avoided the practice of pushing myself through tough the mental suffering of change. I would give up early enough in the process before I could “flex” my mental muscles.  I wouldn’t allow myself to experience the growth that results from perseverance and practice. It was only after proving to myself, by experience, that I realized the power that comes from persistent, consistent, and effective practice.

Now, the first few times you try and apply these rules in your life you’re little Gremlin is going to turn into the freakin’ Loch Ness monster; especially if you’re used to giving in to your impulses. I would, at times, literally just lay on the floor of my office engaged with a torrent of nonsense going through my head, instead of simply just “starting”. It can often feel like you’re trying to quit an addiction, in fact, many of the chemical reactions are quite similar.

Our layers of habitual thinking can be so ingrained that in a real way they’ve become as difficult to break as a drug habit. Often our default reaction to something is so incredibly powerful that it can overwhelm all the good intention in the world. This negative cycle keeps building, and fighting it seems like we’re feeding our Gremlin radioactive gamma-ray stew (or whatever it is that made the Hulk).

Point is, it’s best we find the way to break, or at least slow down this cycle… and there’s no better time than now.

If this is where you are, you may simply have to trust the process at first. It will take some time, but right away you can experience the benefits of following these rules and proving to yourself that you can be disciplined. There is a lot of research pointing to benefits of self-discipline from kids in elementary school to adults dealing with adult level issues

The absence of discipline brings chaos.

negative emotions

When you fail, and you will fail if this is new to you, that chaos will seem to control everything. This is part of the process actually, without the contrast of “clear” and “chaos”, you will not appreciate you new found discipline skill as much. So if you feel like you have failed, thank your Gremlin for the lesson and start again.

What’s hilarious, is I can almost hear your little Gremlin yelling at you from here. He’s telling you that there’s no way this advice is really going to make a difference. That I couldn’t possibly understand your circumstances, that you’re different from everyone else who’s faced these kinds of problems…

Well, you have two options here…

  1. Do what you’ve generally always done, and give up halfway through something.

or…

  1. Keep taking action, keep reading and see how far the rabbit hole goes.

 

Yes, indeed that’s a bit dramatic… but our brains just LOVE drama, so we’ll let it have this one. Now, let’s explore the rules that can push us through roadblocks, quiet that inner dialog, and set in motion the actions we need to take to fulfill whatever it is we’re looking to accomplish.

All fun games have rules, it’s time you start building some into your own life.

Where do you find your biggest challenge in the cycle? Getting started or staying in motion? Share in the comments…

In the next section, we’re going to break down how to build and follow rules that can help you in your life and business.

Want to Learn About My Business Model?

If you’re interested in learning more about HOW I actually created my new business model, I’m holding a special (first time) training this coming Tuesday, here are all the details… If you know your business could be better click here to learn how my journey brought me from six figures per year to six figures per month (without hiring a bunch of people and landing dozens of new clients).

About the author

Sean Vosler
  • Sean Vosler

    Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Self-Education Review

      I loved the article man. Also the best email I’ve ever read. Ready for part 2!

      • Sean Vosler

        Appreciate the kind words! Will be sending out part two this evening for sure 🙂 keep an eye out!

  • Elona

    Excellent insight. I have dealt with this a lot in my life. I am getting better, but right now, at the precipice of launching a new business, the gremlin is out in full force! Thanks for writing this series!

    • Sean Vosler

      it seems to always be the loudest precisely when it needs to be quiet… thanks for sharing that, I think you’ll like the next few articles!

  • Andrew Mulcahy

    Looking forward to SL man!

  • My inner gremlin serves as motivation for me. Tell me I can’t do something I want to and I am hell bent to find a way.
    Such a well written article, it brings me fleeting joy to know the pain it caused you. I think we all experience that sort of mental friction in our chosen craft. Perfect base for a connected community.
    Thanks for creating and posting.

    • Sean Vosler

      Totally Deb! It’s a fascinating transition many successful people forget sometimes, going from “it’s holding me back” to “it’s pushing me forward”. I remember the precise moment in my life that transition happened, and excited to break it all down in the next few articles! — Contrats on the show btw, that’s huge!

  • Joe Strandell

    Interesting Sean! I’m always curious as to what you’re up to because your Snapchat, I wouldn’t have known that you’re married or having a baby! Nice place on Point Loma though. I’ve been thinking of making my way down to SD.

  • idaniyalabbas

    I think it happens to me at both of the stages.
    Strangely enough I can relate and understand where you are coming from but the real question is how not to forget it?
    We all know self discipline and the power of why and all that good stuff but how can we ingrain it in ourself?

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