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.

Direct statements

We all have things we wish we could come right out and say, but often don’t for our own rea­sons. We may want to pre­serve a rela­tion­ship, not hurt someone’s feel­ings, or reveal what we tru­ly think. We beat around the bush hop­ing that they might pick up what we’re try­ing to say. Usu­al­ly, this strat­e­gy does not work.

The prob­lem is that we want to com­mu­ni­cate some­thing but we have fear or uncer­tain­ty in our head or heart. We feel a sense of pause and we don’t say what we wish we could. So we either say noth­ing at all, aka silence, or say a bunch of stuff to light­en the blow.

Adopting a shared language

One of the tools that can help us grow as lead­ers and with our teams is adopt­ing a shared lan­guage. What’s cool about work­ing with a small group is that you can set rules for that spe­cif­ic set of peo­ple. While you can’t con­trol every­thing in your life, orga­ni­za­tion, or larg­er struc­ture, you can con­trol your direct cir­cle of influ­ence. An easy way to do that is to devel­op a shared lan­guage that your group under­stands and can use when need­ed.

No one is going to assign you the task to “devel­op a shared lan­guage.” This is some­thing that you must take own­er­ship of and make hap­pen the next time you gath­er. It’s kind of like a more seri­ous ver­sion of an inside joke. Your group gets what you’re say­ing, but if you weren’t a part of that group, you might be a lit­tle con­fused. Of course, as your group grows, it’s impor­tant to share the shared lan­guage, just like a nice friend will explain the inside joke to you.

Shared language solutions

Brene Brown has a phrase in Dare to Lead that goes like this: “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” This is kind of a mantra or anthem to say that unclar­i­ty is not going to be tol­er­at­ed. By beat­ing around the bush, you may think you are being kind, when in real­i­ty, your lack of clar­i­ty is dam­ag­ing the group. Bet­ter to be clear about what you think than bury your true thoughts deep down inside you.

Hen­ry Cloud in Bound­aries for Lead­ers notes that a For­tune 500 busi­ness uses the phrase “just give me the 10%.” This is a way of say­ing, “can you please skip the BS?” In a sit­u­a­tion where some­one is obvi­ous­ly hedg­ing around an issue, you can give them the free­dom to be clear and kind by ask­ing them to give you the 10%, or what is real­ly on their mind.

The David Allen Com­pa­ny used to say “Silence means we are OK with what’s going on.” Silence can be a ter­ri­ble thing to deal with in lead­er­ship and in rela­tion­ships. But who said silence has to be mis­er­able? Declar­ing that every­one is going to agree on what silence means helps every­one. This comes with an implic­it expec­ta­tion that peo­ple WILL speak up if they have an issue. Oth­er­wise, the silence com­mu­ni­cates approval and sup­port. The trick is to prac­tice this and to ask peo­ple to speak up, oth­er­wise, their silence com­mu­ni­ties they are OK with what’s hap­pen­ing.

There will always be opposition

Have you ever encoun­tered some­one who doesn’t agree with your point of view or see things the same way you do? I’m sure you’ve expe­ri­enced the ten­sion that lies when you have an idea but know some­one is going to chal­lenge you. This is what makes the world a beau­ti­ful place, but it can annoy us and stress us out. We can prob­a­bly agree with this state­ment: there will always be some­one who does not approve our work.

So, if it’s true there will always be oppo­si­tion, how then might we adjust our behav­ior?

If it’s true there will always be at least one per­son who doesn’t like what we’re up to, what might we need to con­sid­er in our mind­set and think­ing?

If it’s true all peo­ple will not see things the same way we do, what’s next?

Adjusting our behavior

One of the ways we can deal with oppo­si­tion is to adjust our behav­ior. As humans, we have the abil­i­ty to change the nar­ra­tive, change our think­ing, and see the world dif­fer­ent­ly. Some of this hap­pens in our think­ing pat­terns or in the invis­i­ble world. Some of this hap­pens in the exter­nal or phys­i­cal world. How we behave exists in both of these worlds.

Since there will always be oppo­si­tion, make an agree­ment with your­self that you will not sulk or get dis­cour­aged when you hear some­one who doesn’t like what you said. There will always be peo­ple who don’t get you, and you knew that before­hand! If you didn’t know that, it’s true, right? We can’t live every moment of our lives in terms of those who oppose us.

Since there will always be oppo­si­tion, change your sur­round­ings. Switch things up. You don’t have to have your desk in that dark cor­ner. Your room does not have to be paint­ed that col­or. Make a sim­ple tweak to your sur­round­ings to help you remem­ber you have the abil­i­ty to change your sur­round­ings. Charles Duhigg illus­trates this in his book Smarter Faster Bet­ter where he describes how mem­bers of the mil­i­tary were giv­en the abil­i­ty to rearrange the fur­ni­ture in their liv­ing quar­ters. This gave each per­son a sense of auton­o­my and a deep­er sense of con­trol. You can do the same.

Since there will always be some­one who doesn’t like your work, decide now that you won’t let that freeze you up. The last thing you should do is freeze up and stop mak­ing stuff. That’s what the oppo­si­tion wants. Decide on the front end that you will cre­ate art. If there are peo­ple who don’t get it, as Seth Godin would say, it wasn’t for them.

Mindset and thinking questions... (Invisible world)

As you think about your inter­nal dia­logue or your invis­i­ble world, you can struc­ture how you want to think about your work.

How much atten­tion are you going to give the oppo­si­tion? Decide before it destroys your day.

How much atten­tion will you give your sup­port team? Know who they are so you can run to them in emer­gen­cies.

What voic­es ulti­mate­ly mat­ter most in your life? Brené Brown sug­gests hav­ing a 1 inch by 1 inch piece of paper with the voic­es that are most encour­ag­ing in your life. It’s small on pur­pose. Let them know they are on your square and keep them close, espe­cial­ly when you feel dis­cour­aged.

What’s next? (Physical world)

If it’s true there WILL be oppo­si­tion, Get to work. What are you wait­ing for?

Stop com­plain­ing. You knew this wouldn’t be easy.

Butt in chair. Thanks, Anne Lam­ott

Find out what inspires you — and come back to it when you’re dis­cour­aged. Keep a rainy day file.

Decide to focus

The Focused State” is some­thing you may be look­ing to reach. You may have reached it once or twice before but find that it’s hard to repli­cate and repro­duce on com­mand.

You may blame your boss, spouse, or lack of time. You’ll blame any­thing and any­one. I’ve been there.

Choosing to focus takes effort.

Focus takes dis­ci­pline and per­spec­tive to make good deci­sions on what you need to focus on and why it is appro­pri­ate for right now.

But what we often miss with focus is that it’s a deci­sion. You and I must DECIDE to focus — to qui­et the voice that says we need to be work­ing on some­thing else.

Focus is a decision

When you make the deci­sion to focus, you direct your atten­tion away from the triv­ial and toward a top­ic. You block out dis­trac­tions and clar­i­fy the win. You decide what will con­sume your atten­tion and how far you need to get before you’re will­ing to let up.

Choose to focus

You have a choice today. You can decide to focus. Or you can let some­one else do it for you.

Who are you learning from?

Here’s a ques­tion for you to con­sid­er: Who are you learn­ing from?

For our roles in our lives, each of us should be able to point to a per­son or group we are learn­ing from. It is excit­ing and hum­bling to think that we are prob­a­bly not the first peo­ple to encounter the issues we are facing—so why not see how oth­ers have dealt with the same stuff?

We live in an incred­i­ble time where there are more free arti­cles (if you like read­ing), pod­casts (if you like lis­ten­ing), and videos (if you like watch­ing) to help us grow. Some­times, you have to take what you learn with a grain of salt, but if it helps you think, then it may be worth it. 

  • Are you seek­ing out new ways how to do stuff? 
  • Are you see­ing what cur­rent trends are work­ing for oth­er lead­ers?
  • Do you have a desire to want to learn new stuff?

Sustained focus is a competitive advantage

Today’s cul­ture requires each of us to set per­son­al bound­aries to allow our­selves to focus on what we choose to focus.

It’s harder than ever to focus

In our day and age today, it’s hard­er than ever to focus. No only do phones ping and email ding, but there’s an expec­ta­tion in our rela­tion­ships at work and home that we’re always on, always avail­able.

Are you growing?

To gain this com­pet­i­tive advan­tage, you must grow in your abil­i­ty to focus.

Some strategies