Managing your negative inner voice

It’s 6:55 am. You just woke up and real­ize you have a meet­ing at 7:30 am and agreed to grab cof­fee for your cowork­ers. The line at the dri­ve-thru is always wrapped around the build­ing by 7:00 am and the slow barista is prob­a­bly work­ing today, but you think you can make it.

You spring out of bed, jump into the show­er and do the abbre­vi­at­ed ver­sion of your morn­ing rou­tine. You run through the events of your day and it dawns on you that you are hav­ing your in-laws over for an ear­ly din­ner tonight. You agreed with your spouse a few days ago to orga­nize the mess in the liv­ing room before they arrive at 5:00pm, but you have a work-relat­ed call that’s going to end 30 min­utes before that — at the ear­li­est. You devise a plan. As you fin­ish pulling on your socks, you real­ize: you haven’t yet said a sin­gle word today. All of this think­ing has hap­pened in your head.

Has any­thing like this ever hap­pened to you?

Most adults have an inner voice that nar­rates, rea­sons, and strate­gizes all day long. Psy­chol­o­gists call this inter­nal mono­logue or self-talk. For most adults, the inner voice could be what caus­es stress in your life.

How you talk to yourself impacts your quality of life and well being.

We all deal with this inner voice dif­fer­ent­ly, but what if man­ag­ing your inner voice could help you become more pro­duc­tive and pleas­ant in your life and work?

What if managing your inner voice could help you become more productive and pleasant in your life and work?

Negative talk

Your inner voice is what inter­prets your boss’s lat­est com­ment. Why did he say that? Am I going to get fired? Was it the expres­sion on my face? Why is he always like this?!

Positive talk

On the oth­er hand, your inner voice is what brings mean­ing and under­stand­ing to your life. Oh yeah, I remem­ber why I took this job. I can put up with this. I’ve got this!

We talk to our­selves all the time. You may have heard of the phrase “pos­i­tive self talk!” — a chant that sounds nice but can seem a lit­tle weird. Here’s a dif­fer­ent way to think about it: telling our­selves sto­ries.

Telling ourselves stories

We have the abil­i­ty to tell our­selves sto­ries in our lives. Jonathan Gottschall illus­trates how we tell our­selves a sto­ries in his book, The Sto­ry­telling Ani­mal: How Sto­ries Make Us Human:

We are, as a species, addict­ed to sto­ry. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself sto­ries . . . The sto­ry­telling mind is aller­gic to uncer­tain­ty, ran­dom­ness, and coin­ci­dence. It is addict­ed to mean­ing. If the sto­ry­telling mind can­not find mean­ing­ful pat­terns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the sto­ry­telling mind is a fac­to­ry that churns out true sto­ries when it can, but will man­u­fac­ture lies when it can’t.”

Jonathan Gottschall

Even if you don’t remem­ber your dreams, you may have expe­ri­enced the joy of wak­ing up and being able to see some­thing so much more clear­ly. You may have also expe­ri­enced the oppo­site: wak­ing up and feel­ing fear or anx­i­ety about an issue, only to find out lat­er, every­thing was ok. This is because our brains con­tin­ue to work while we are sleep­ing: solv­ing prob­lems and bring­ing mean­ing to our lives, even when the mean­ing is wrong. This can become prob­lem­at­ic when we have a neg­a­tive or wrong mind­set regard­ing issues at work.

Our inner voice intersecting with our work

Many of our jobs today are knowl­edge-based posi­tions. We make sense of infor­ma­tion and make deci­sions based on inputs. You know this is true because if you’re read­ing this and fol­low­ing, you prob­a­bly don’t work in a fac­to­ry every day. Peter Druck­er called this knowl­edge work. Mer­lin Mann sim­pli­fied this by say­ing we bring val­ue to infor­ma­tion.

Bring­ing val­ue to infor­ma­tion in our work requires our brains to be func­tion­ing at their best. Too often, as you prob­a­bly expe­ri­ence, our brains are not at our best. Qui­et­ing the neg­a­tive voice in our heads could be your path to doing bet­ter work in your job and mak­ing great con­tri­bu­tions in your fam­i­ly.

How we talk to our­selves is direct­ly cor­re­lat­ed to how pro­duc­tive and pleas­ant we will be. In oth­er words, man­ag­ing your inner voice is some­thing you will always have to deal with and it will always impact your work­ing mind­set.

A possible solution....

Dr. Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit: A Strate­gic Pro­gram for Over­com­ing Pro­cras­ti­na­tion and Enjoy­ing Guilt-Free Play explains that many adults bring over a I have to inner voice from child­hood. This “have to” voice leads to pro­cras­ti­na­tion and stress. An exam­ple would be I have to do my tax­es or I have to attend this event.

Accord­ing to Fiore, the “have to” voice cre­ates stress and frus­tra­tion because it reminds us what it was like to be a help­less child when we could not con­trol our sched­ule and assign­ments. The real­i­ty is, we are no longer chil­dren, and while we do have oblig­a­tions to our fam­i­lies, job, and coun­try, mak­ing our­selves do stuff cre­ates a sense of over­whelm and make our­selves feel like a cog in the sys­tem.

His solu­tion is to use a “I choose to” voice, which reminds us that we have agency, we have con­trol, we are adults. When you tell your­self I choose to do my tax­es (or what­ev­er), you remem­ber you have con­trol over when it gets done and how it will hap­pen. You may not con­trol the dead­line, but you do con­trol how you can man­age it. This can apply to oth­er tasks in your job and fam­i­ly such as orga­niz­ing your files, send­ing an email, or clean­ing the toi­lets.

The secret to man­ag­ing your inner voice is to remem­ber it needs to be man­aged. Just like a good man­ag­er would do at a great com­pa­ny, con­sid­er how you may be able to play the role of the manger for your thoughts. Remind your­self that you have the abil­i­ty to CHOOSE what to focus your atten­tion on, you can CHOOSE what to ignore, and choose what things you will allow to loop in your brain as you oper­ate in your dai­ly life.

Resistance as positive evidence

When we encounter Resis­tance, we might get dis­cour­aged con­clude that our idea or project is being reject­ed and a fail­ure. We inter­pret Resis­tance as neg­a­tive evi­dence.

But what if we counted Resistance as positive evidence?

Resis­tance is evi­dence that our idea just might stick...

Resis­tance is evi­dence that our art isn’t for every­one...

Resis­tance is evi­dence that we haven’t reached enough peo­ple yet...

Resis­tance is evi­dence that you shipped and got work out into the world...

Resis­tance is evi­dence that dif­fi­cult peo­ple will always exist and show up in any area where you show up...

How to kill distractions

Main point: Killing dis­trac­tions is hard, but achiev­ers can kill dis­trac­tions by focus­ing on the out­come they desire, which active­ly destroys oth­er inputs through real­iz­ing what’s at stake.

You and I know we have the abil­i­ty to be focused and atten­tive, yet it’s easy to get derailed from a feel­ing of progress. While a web­page is load­ing my com­put­er screen, I can be tempt­ed to check email or Face­book. If we’re in line at the gro­cery store, we can check in to see if we have any noti­fi­ca­tions on our phone.
If you are suf­fer­ing, like me, with a sense of being pulled in a mil­lion dif­fer­ent direc­tions, even at the times you’re the only one in the room, here’s the deal: we aren’t tap­ping into our abil­i­ty to CHOOSE focus.

Choosing focus

I know that this idea can sound super obvi­ous and duh. But it’s about real­iz­ing how our brains work and then mak­ing sure we behave in a way that our brains are made for.

We are made to attend

The lizard brain creeping in…

Our amagly­la tells us that con­flict, silence, or bore­dom is to be avoid­ed. That’s why we reach for our phone or plug into a dis­trac­tion — we don’t want to avoid the con­flict that is at hand.

But we are flawed. The con­flict that we’re avoid­ing isn’t as bad as we think it is. Seri­ous­ly! It’s not. And even if it is pret­ty hairy, we can fig­ure out our next move, even if that next move is to under­stand what we can’t con­trol.

David Allen is famous for say­ing “you have to think hard­er than you think, but not as hard as you might think.” The idea here is that fear of con­flict usu­al­ly sab­o­tages us, but we have the agency to remind our­selves that we aren’t being chased by a tiger. If you take a moment to just think a lit­tle bit hard­er and fig­ure out that next step, you will not only get clos­er to achiev­ing the desired result, you will also have a deep­er sense of men­tal clar­i­ty and less stress.


Take a look at the things in your life that have been stag­nant for some time.

  1. Ask: Why have you not been able to make any for­ward momen­tum on that item?Well because I am afraid of it tak­ing for­ev­er to fig­ure out — there’s so much I don’t know — I don’t want to fail — What if the same fail­ure hap­pens again like last time — What will peo­ple say or think?
  2. Deter­mine: Is this your lizard brain speak­ing or your delib­er­ate brain?
  3. Focus: Those rea­sons were most like­ly your lizard brain speak­ing. Is it pos­si­ble for you to “fin­ish your think­ing” on this item for a few moments?
  4. Fin­ish the think­ing
    • Attend: Put your mind on the desired, not-yet out­come you’d like to achieve
    • Inhib­it: What things are you not going to do to ensure you can focus? (INHIBIT DISTRACTIONS: Face­book, Email check­ing, Text mes­sages, Noti­fi­ca­tions, etc)
    • Remem­ber: What will achiev­ing this out­come bring you long term? What are your moti­va­tions?

We have the ABILITY to be focused.

We can CHOOSE to be focused.

We can CHOOSE to elim­i­nate the dis­trac­tion and work on work that tru­ly mat­ters.

Whether you real­ize this or not, what you’re deal­ing with is an emo­tion­al sit­u­a­tion — it’s impor­tant, emo­tion­al labor. Where­in you must iden­ti­fy what is dis­tract­ing you and work to deter­mine why you believe in any par­tic­u­lar moment that oth­er thing would be use­ful to you.