There are lots of great Christmas movies out there, but by far one of the best is Spielberg’s Gremlins.
(Yes, Gremlins was filmed with the intention of it being a Christmas movie. Even though it was released in the summer. Side note: UK news site The Mirror confirmed last year that Spielberg is working on a Gremlins reboot. 80s and 90s kids rejoice!)
This classic film arguably spawned (pun intended) the Christmas horror genre, but aside from being a great watch, it’s also surprisingly relevant to business owners – especially new business owners and solopreneurs who run an online business.
For those of you who didn’t see it, Gremlins chronicles the misadventures of a young lad named Billy after he receives a strange Christmas gift – a mythological creature known as a mogwai. The mogwai, at first, looks all cute and cuddly and is said to be a peace-loving creature. In other words, the ideal pet.
But quite quickly, the boy’s father conveys a critical message from the mogwai’s former owner – a list of forbidden activities, things to never, ever, EVER do under any circumstances, ever.
(Silly shop owner. Anyone even remotely conscious of horror film tropes should know that issuing any kind of warning or forbidding any kind of activity basically guarantees that hi-jinks and mayhem will promptly ensue.)
So what do you think happens? That’s right…all hell breaks loose.
Fairly soon, Billy’s friend Pete breaks rule number two, which, in and of itself, is fairly innocuous. But then Billy himself breaks rule number three, and that’s when things really hit the fan.
For those of you who don’t recall, the shop owner’s three rules regarding the Mogwai are:
1. You do not talk about the Mogwai.
2. You DO. NOT. TALK. About the Mogwai.
3. If your Mogwai says “stop”, goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over.
Wait, sorry. Wrong movie. That’s Fight Club.
The shop owner’s thee rules about caring for the Mogwai actually are:
1. Don’t put it near light, especially near sunlight; it can kill them.
2. Don’t let it get wet, don’t bathe it, and don’t give it any water to drink.
3. No matter how much it cries or begs, never, ever, EVER feed it after midnight.
So how does that work out?
Well, first, good ol’ friend Mr. Pete apparently succumbs to an attack of the Knocking Things Over Plague and accidentally spills water onto the Mogwai. The result? Suddenly there are six Mogwai instead of one. Bye-bye second rule.
And now, these Mogwai are apparently quite hungry. And I’m not surprised. Cellular mitosis takes quite a bit of energy, and that one Mogwai would’ve used up quite a bit of food energy in splitting into six new creatures. The result? Them there Mogwai are going to be all, “I require sustenance!”
So I think you can guess what happens next. The five new Mogwai trick Billy boy into feeding them after midnight – bye-bye third rule – which results in super bad stuff happening. After a short cocooning period, the Mogwai turn into evil gremlins that wreak havoc on the world. Mayhem! Murder! Chaos and anarchy in the streets, dogs and cats living together!
(Oh, Ghostbusters. Another classic 80s movie.)
Basically, the gremlins go on an old-school rampage and start killing people. Not cool. Then, with the help of the old Chinese shop owner who sold him the Mogwai, Billy kills the evil gremlins and saves the town. Eggnog lattes all around!
And, you see, just like in the Gremlins film, us business owners can encounter savage monsters that want to rampage and pillage and murder and devour everything.
Business gurus, psychology enthusiasts, and life coaches all have a common term for negative beliefs and harmful thoughts that limit your abilities and make you feel like crap. That term? Gremlins.
As my friend and business coach Cynthia Gunsinger describes in her Whoop-Ass Wednesdays podcast, “You can’t always trust your thoughts. Gremlins are the thoughts that keep you small and safe, but not necessarily doing awesome things.”
That’s a perfect definition: Thoughts that keep you small and safe.
Gremlins are thoughts that limit you, that prevent you from exercising your talents to the best of your ability and with all of your energy.
Any time you start to think that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never have what you really, truly want, or that getting what you want is too hard, or that your ideas are crap, you’re letting your mental gremlins get the best of you.
And if left unchecked, mental gremlins can wreak total havoc on your business, on your relationships, and on your life.
So what lessons can a budding business owner learn from a film like Gremlins? Well, in the Gremlins film franchise, there are three critical things you need to know if you’re going to defeat your gremlins:
Bring Your Gremlins Out Into The Sunlight
Spielberg’s infamous creatures of chaos have a fatal weakness: Sunlight. In the Gremlins franchise, exposing a gremlin or Mogwai to direct sunlight causes it to melt into oblivion. And when you bring your mental gremlins out into the light of day, the same thing happens.
So how does that work? Well, you need to shine the bright spotlight of critical analysis on your gremlins when they try to attack. (In cognitive behavioural therapy, this is referred to as challenging negative thoughts.)
Whenever those thoughts of “I’m not good enough” or “It’s too hard” or “Nobody will ever take me seriously” start to come to mind, you need to shine a spotlight on them. You need to label those thoughts, because labelling them reduces their power. (This next part is going to sound a little post-modern, so bear with me.)
Throughout history, religion, and literature, we see a common trope regarding names and power. There is an intense connection between the spiritual power of a thing and its name, and invoking that name can either invoke or drain power.
This concept of the “true name” stretches all the way back to ancient Egyptian myths, such as the tale of Horus’ ascension to the throne. In this fable, the goddess Isis seeks to place her son, Horus, in the ultimate power seat amid the Egyptian pantheon. She accomplished her goal by tricking the sun god, Ra (the then-reigning deity), into revealing his true name – which gave Isis ultimate power over Ra. Isis used Ra’s true name to force Ra to cede the throne to Horus.
In ancient Jewish tradition, the true name of God was considered so sacred, so holy, and so powerful, that uttering that name was thought to confer to the speaker power over God’s creations. The Jews so revered that power that they followed strict rules that dictated how and when they could and couldn’t use God’s true name.
Speaking the true name of God was permitted only on the Day of Atonement, and even then, only the High Priest was allowed to say it, and only when he was making his sacrifices in the Holy of Holies (the innermost chamber in the Jerusalem temple, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept).
So clearly, whether you’re religious or not, there’s immense power in names. And you can use names to break your negative thoughts’ hold over you.
“Gremlins” is a convenient label that you can use to distance your thoughts from yourself. When you can recognize that your thoughts are not who you are, you’re in a better position to really consider whether your thoughts are even worth paying attention to.
Marie Forleo has a great video where she talks about labelling negative thoughts. Forleo uses a few different examples of labels for negative thoughts, but one that sticks well for a lot of people is W-KRAP Radio. When you can give your negative thoughts a label, you bring those gremlins out into the light of day and they lose their power over you.
Be Careful When You Drown Your Gremlins
It can be tempting to drown out your gremlins by thinking about other things. But the problem with this approach is that your gremlins will emerge stronger and meaner than ever. Just as the film’s gremlins multiply when exposed to water, your mental gremlins can only be ignored for so long before they break through. So if you try to simply ignore or drown out your mental gremlins, you’ll want to have a solid strategy for when they eventually come back with a vengeance.
When your gremlins get pissed off and launch a major assault on your mind, you’ll want to address them head-on. Have a plan for dealing with gremlin attacks, and make sure you keep an emergency kit stocked with glowing testimonials from clients, lists of awards you’ve won, and things that represent your deepest passions in life. This will help you to fend off any gremlin attacks should you find yourself unable to get outside your own head.
Never Feed Your Gremlins After Midnight. Or At All, For That Matter.
The film’s third rule is perhaps the most important one. Feeding the Mogwai after midnight is what brings out their gremlin side and causes the resulting doom, death, and liquefied & blended gremlin parts all over the kitchen.
The message is pretty simple: Absolutely nothing good can come from feeding gremlins after midnight.
For me, the middle of the night is often a time of reflection, when I think about how far my business has come and where it’s going. And that means I’m particularly prone to these midnight mental sessions where I’m constantly thinking, “Is this going to work?” and “What if it doesn’t?” and “Am I a REAL business owner yet?” and all sorts of other fun thoughts that I don’t normally experience during the day.
And you see, I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) that I need to simply ignore those thoughts, because if I let them, they’ll completely wreck my sleep schedule – which will prevent me from doing my best work. As a business owner, I can’t afford to stay awake all night worrying about things that might never happen. And neither can you.
But here’s the other thing: You shouldn’t be feeding your gremlins at all.
A while back, I read about a supposed Cherokee legend. Apparently, a man was explaining to his son that inside every person is a good wolf and a bad wolf. (This part of the legend always makes me think of Doctor Who: “Are you afraid of the big bad wolf, Doctor?”)
Anyway, there’s a good wolf and a bad wolf inside each person. The good wolf represents joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery. The bad one represents anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. These two wolves, the legend says, are locked in an epic battle.
And the one that wins? Is the one you feed.
If you feed your gremlins, they’ll eventually overpower everything good inside you and make you miserable. Every time you listen to those thoughts that keep you small and safe, they become just a little bit stronger. And eventually, they become so powerful that they define your entire personality.
There are far too many people in this world who walk around dead inside, afraid to take a risk, afraid to express their talents, afraid to figure out who the hell they actually are. But nobody ever actively chooses that life. That kind of a life sneaks up on you from behind, slowly creeping, slowly changing you, until you wake up one day and you don’t recognize yourself.
That’s why you need to make a conscious choice that you will not allow that to happen to you. Every day, you need to make the decision that you won’t feed your gremlins.
What does that look like?
It looks like being able to recognize when you’re having a gremlin attack and simply ignore those negative thoughts. It looks like being able to work through a gremlin attack and not have it show in your work.
Are you going to be super happy all the time? Hell no. I’ve met people who seem to be wearing a smile all day every day, no matter what pile of manure life just heaped on them. I don’t trust those people. It seems like they’re ignoring their problems. People who are happy all the time simply can’t be trusted.
But instead of acting like everything’s okay, you need to decide that you will make everything okay. You need to decide that your gremlins will not get the best of you.
Because if you can keep doing what you do best, no matter how big and mean your gremlins get?
That’s when you win at life.
What gremlins are running around breaking lamps, shooting handguns, and singing creepy Christmas carols in your life? What are you doing to melt, drown, or starve them?