The Inner Voice

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-by Matt Leedham

What’s your inner voice telling you write now? Just stop and close your eyes for a minute. What’s going on up there?

It amazes me that we all have that inner voice in our minds, constantly talking to us or about us. It goes on and on about this and that. We daydream with it, we rationalize with it, we are creative with it, and often times we let it get a little (or a lot) out of control.

I’ve been trying to keep an eye on my inner voice over the last year because I’ve finally recognized the power it holds over me, both positive and negative. There are a couple of good examples of this.

Try to close your eyes and be still, in the moment, focusing on nothing but where you are. If you must focus on something, try focusing on your breath. How many minutes can you go without a random thought popping into your head? If you’re like most people, the answer is zero. How many seconds did you did go before a thought popped in your head? If your answer is more than 10 seconds, I’m impressed. You may be the next zen master. (With practice, of course, you can increase your capacity for focus)

If you meditate regularly, you know what I’m talking about here. The inner voice runs rampant. I once heard our minds described as an adolescent child after 3 candy bars. Our thoughts bounce off the walls in no particular direction. Without observation and awareness, our thoughts are completely out of control.

There are a couple of reasons why this should not be taken lightly.

  1. Imagine for a moment what would be possible if you were able to harness all of your thoughts toward an outcome or a goal. Imagine if you were able to remove all the white noise and focus on your passion at work, or your relationships, or being creative.
  2. If we do not assume control, our thoughts will assume control. That’s when the Inner Critic usually appears and holds us back from accomplishing great things.

The Inner Critic

We’re all familiar with this guy. It’s the inner critic. There are many names for this ugly voice inside our heads. It may be known as The Gremlin, The Heckler, or The Imposter. Or you may have given it your own name as a way of addressing it.

Seth Godin summed it up nicely is a recent post. He calls it The Heckler.

The heckler keeps a running critique going, amplifying its tone and anger as it goes on endlessly about all the things we shouldn’t do, all the things we’re not doing enough, and most of all, at our lack of entitlement to do much of anything new or important.

The heckler cannot be eliminated. It’s been around since the beginning of our species, and we’re hard wired to have it.

What can be done, though, is alter how the rest of the brain reacts or responds to the heckling.

If you engage with the heckler, if you qualify yourself, justify yourself or worst of all, rationalize yourself, the heckler will pounce, turning a small wedge into a giant hole. Like a standup comedian, it’s almost impossible to outwit or shut down a dedicated heckler.

In my coaching certification program, we call it The Gremlin.

It’s the ugly, little, annoying voice in our heads telling us that we “can’t.” It usually comes in the form of a statement that we keep replaying over and over again in our heads like a tape-recorded message. The Gremlin stems from the concept of “I’m not good enough.” You’ll hear it all the time in what appear to be rational, logical explanations of why someone can’t do something. Have you ever heard (or said) and of these statements:

  • I don’t have the right education…
  • I don’t know the right people…
  • I don’t have enough money…

These are all forms of “I’m not good enough.” It may be a true fact that you need a certain degree to do what you want to do, but don’t let that hold you back. Of course you don’t have enough money. Who does? Do it anyway.

Another form of the inner critic within us is The Imposter. I wrote about this last month, but it’s worth mentioning again:

The imposter syndrome, sometimes called imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments…

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserved the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. (Wikipedia)

The Response

Many of you are probably wondering what to do about the Inner Critic, or how to gain more control over your inner voice. The first step is awareness. Be conscious of what is going on in your mind. Be aware of your thoughts, as fleeting as some of them might be. Once you recognize your thoughts, simply do nothing else. As Seth says toward the end of his article, a proper response to The Heckler is, “noted.” That’s all. Just be present with the thought or the critique, note it, and move on.

If you are new to this, just stay with the first step. This is plenty to chew on. More advanced strategies will be discussed in an upcoming post.

Until next time!

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