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.

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