Gremlins are folkloric, mischievous creatures that tinker around and, traditionally, cause malfunctions in machinery. But you can also think about gremlins as tinkering around in your head. These gremlins can be negative or positive, thereby either tearing you down or building you up from the inside out, respectively. Creating and using gremlins to visualize your self-talk can be a very powerful storytelling and awareness-building strategy.
In this activity, ask students to think about self-talk creatively; as little creatures who sit on their shoulders and whisper to them. Students will probably be familiar with “shoulder angels” and “shoulder devils” – use these ideas as a starting place for this activity. To demonstrate your point, play the one-minute clip of Kronk’s shoulder angel and devil from Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove”.
Tell students that, similar to how Kronk has a “good” shoulder angel and a “bad” shoulder devil, they will be drawing positive and negative gremlins to represent their self-talk. Let students know that these characters can be as realistic (ex. people) or imaginative (ex. monsters) as they want and that they can have fun with this activity by naming their gremlins, giving them personalities, and imagining their behaviours. After drawing their gremlins, students will then fill the page with speech or thought bubbles that identify their most common positive and negative self-talk phrases.
Show students the attached example, which is a more fictional representation of gremlins, or draw your own positive and negative gremlins to share with the class. Seeing a completed activity helps students develop a deeper understanding of the task at hand and helps them explore this activity’s flexibility.
The Positive and Negative Character Examples are available in the download section of this page.
In the last five minutes of class, wrap up the activity by allowing students to share their characters, as well as any insight they gained from identifying their most common positive and negative self-talk phrases. You can also ask students to reflect on whether or not they found this activity helpful.
Ask students to try becoming more aware of the things they tell themselves and remind them that, throughout the school year, they will be learning strategies to deal with negative self-talk, amplify positive self-talk, and shift from negative to positive self-talk.
Doesn’t hearing voices/talking to myself in my head make me crazy?
No, talking to yourself is very normal. We all have things that we tell ourselves based on previous experiences, our current mood, and our beliefs. You have probably never thought about it as self-talk or mind chatter before and that’s okay. Some of us might be more aware of our self-talk than others, but we all have an inner voice. In fact, it would be more concerning if you didn’t talk to yourself in your head!
Why do I talk to myself the way that I do?
There are a lot of different factors that influence your self-talk, including conscious thoughts and unconscious beliefs. Your self-talk may be based on things that people (ex. parents, teachers, friends) have told you in the past, or standards that they have set for you. A lot of what we tell ourselves is also shaped by the messages we receive through TV, movies, social media, and other pop culture. We internalize these societal ideals and use cultural messages as a “rubric” for self-evaluation. Even if someone hasn’t explicitly told you that you, for example, need to get perfect on a math test to be accepted, you may interpret their actions in such a way. If your sister came home from school with a perfect score and your mom said “You are so smart. I am so proud of you honey”, then what might have registered in your head is “I need to get perfect grades to be smart” or, “If I don’t do well in school then my mom will be disappointed in me”. Personal factors can also influence self-talk. For example, mood is one of the biggest variables affecting self-talk. If you are in a good mood, then it will be much easier to practice self-compassion and remain optimistic. The challenge comes when you are in a bad mood and are being asked to take care of yourself through positive self-talk and coping skills.
That’s probably not the easy answer you were looking for and, to make a long story short, it’s complicated.
Can I talk positively AND negatively to myself?
Yes, it’s possible to have both positive and negative self-talk. The way you talk to yourself depends on a lot of factors including your environment, previous experiences, the people you are with, and the mood you are in. It’s even possible to talk to yourself differently when you are engaging in the same activity. For example, think about a time when you were trying to learn something new, like riding a bike. If you had accomplished a difficult homework problem in the morning, or if you spent a wonderful morning with friends and you were in a good mood, then when you fall off the bike you might say, “It’s okay. I will get up and try again”, or “I know I will be able to do this if I keep trying”. Now, think about that same experience (learning how to ride a bike) in a different context. Maybe you had a really big fight with your parents in the morning, or you weren’t able to solve that difficult homework problem and you were really frustrated. Now, when you fall off your bike you might say “I can’t do anything”, or “I’m never going to learn”. This example demonstrates how you can talk positively and negatively to yourself at two different time periods. But it is also possible to talk both positively and negatively to yourself at the same time, either when you are doing two different activities, or (like the video we watched in class) when you are “arguing with yourself”.