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How I tamed my gremlin Ralph (hint: don't feed him after midnight)


I'm not a gremlin but I play one on the internet.

I have a gremlin and his name is Ralph. Ralph is my inner critic who sits on my shoulder and whispers sweet little nothings in my ear. He truly thinks that he’s protecting me by telling me not to try, never to take a risk, always to take the safe road, and to keep myself secure by playing small. He sees no advantage to risking anything. His primary objective for himself and me is survival. He can’t imagine anything beyond just staying alive. Happiness and fulfillment have no meaning for him even though those are important goals for me.

He truly thinks that he’s protecting me by telling me not to try and never to take a risk...

Perhaps when you read about my gremlin Ralph, it brought to mind one of those fuzzy little things from the 1984 fantasy horror film Gremlins. Though there are some commonalities between Ralph and Gizmo from the movie, there are some distinct differences in how to deal with gremlins in Hollywood vs. the real world.


In the plot of Gremlins, Randall, a struggling inventor, buys Gizmo from a dealer in Chinatown as a gift for his son. After the elderly dealer refuses to sell Randall a gremlin, his shady grandson secretly relents sending him home with Gizmo and three ironclad rules that must be strictly adhered to (or else!):

  1. do not expose the gremlin to bright light or it will die;

  2. do not let it get wet; and

  3. never feed it after midnight.

Because this is a movie, mischief soon ensues. Through a series of mishaps, Gizmo multiplies and soon an army of gremlins wreak havoc on the town of Kingston Falls. The gremlins' crimes range from vandalism to manslaughter. Randall’s son Billy and his friend Pete recognize that saving the town is up to them and hatch a plan that involves a swimming pool, a skylight and a big explosion to decimate the hordes of evil gremlins. When the dust settles Gizmo is the only gremlin left and he is returned to Chinatown where he can be cared for properly without endangering civilization.

If you feed Ralph’s doubts when things get dark he only gets bigger and stronger.

Here’s how Ralph is NOT like the Hollywood gremlins:

  1. Ralph is not cute like the gremlins in the movie. In fact, he looks a like he studied actuarial science at college – he’s skinny and has a penchant for dockers and button-down shirts with pocket protectors. His glasses are thick and he clears his throat a lot.

  2. Ralph is not unhinged. He wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He’s extremely conservative and very risk-averse. Though he’s strong-willed, I don’t see him causing chaos for anyone but my sense of fun.

Here’s how Ralph is like Gizmo and the Hollywood gremlins:

  1. Though Ralph is decidedly uncuddly, he is persistent. He views himself as my pet and is impervious to my hints that he’s not welcome. He’s like a stray cat that follows you home and mews outside the door until you give it a little milk, then you cannot get rid of it. That’s Ralph.

  2. Like the Hollywood gremlins, if you feed Ralph’s doubts when things get dark he only gets bigger and stronger.

  3. Likewise, when I provide Ralph refreshment, his negative messages multiply like poisonous weeds and are just as caustic.

  4. When I shine light on Ralph, he tends to shrink (if not fully perish). He doesn’t like it when I shed light on his conspiracy theories. It’s no fun for him if I bring facts, likelihoods and past positive experiences to bear in countering his arguments for me to stay frozen.

  5. When I tried to actually kill Ralph, it back-fired and his whispers became screams and shouts to the point that I couldn’t hear myself think. Similar to Gizmo, Ralph just needs to be cared for properly so we can co-exist.

This has led me to come up with a different way of dealing with Ralph. The first step was actually naming him. For many years, Ralph did not have a name. He was just a voice whispering in my ear and I sometimes mistook his voice for my own best interest. However, after I named Ralph it was easy to see him for what he was – a well-meaning part of myself who tried his best to keep me safe through fear-based arguments.

I recently adopted a new mantra of “Say Yes to Adventure” that seems to quell his anxiety.

Though Ralph is annoying and neurotic, I’ve decided to embrace him and recognize that he’s looking out for me because he loves me and he knows no other way to show it. He doesn’t assign any value to my desire to have more fun, to explore and feel joy. When he pulls the graphing calculator out of his pristine pocket protector and does the math, to him the odds aren’t worth the risk. Now I tell Ralph that I hear him and I appreciate him, but I am respectfully going my own way.


I adopted a new mantra of “Say Yes to Adventure” that seems to quell his anxiety. I recently learned that the physiological symptoms of fear are the same as excitement, and it’s the lens through which we view the symptoms that make the same symptoms seem pleasant or unpleasant. The mantra has calmed Ralph. All it took to tame him was giving him a name, embracing him as part of myself, and changing the lens through which he viewed the sensations we felt. It turns out, he's a good

little gremlin after all.

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© 2018 Terry B. McDougall