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.

Use criteria to create momentum

Objec­tiv­i­ty, truth, data, facts, sci­ence, and proven stud­ies all accom­plish some­thing for those that con­sid­er them­selves thinkers.

A plea to “be objec­tive” rids any hint of sub­jec­tive emo­tion, sto­ries, feel­ings, and ideas from being cred­itable. It counts sub­jec­tiv­i­ty as some­thing not to be used or val­ued.

But what if we’ve got­ten it wrong? What if dis­miss­ing sub­jec­tiv­i­ty (and all the emo­tions and less­er things that go with it) is a big mis­take?

Human tendency: to know things.

There’s a pull we have as humans to want to know why and find the real answer that caus­es some­thing to be true. So when we find facts backed by bal­anced stud­ies and research, it’s like find­ing a firm foun­da­tion. By plac­ing our trust in facts, we don’t have to rely on our inad­e­qua­cies, weak­ness­es, or fear that we might be wrong. How could I have known that study wasn’t con­duct­ed prop­er­ly — it’s not my fault!

On the oth­er hand, as humans we have feel­ings, ideas, and sto­ries that aren’t backed by any kind of con­clu­sive, sci­en­tif­ic study. We have raw heart and emo­tion. The best lead­ers, thinkers, writ­ers, and doers have all fig­ured out some way of man­ag­ing their raw emo­tion so they can get through the day and engage with oth­er peo­ple.

One option some­times offered is to “put our feel­ings in the back seat.” is that we can put our emo­tions on the side­lines and count them as part of the expe­ri­ence of what it is to be a per­son.

Maybe you’ve heard some­one say some­thing like, “oh that’s just sub­jec­tive” or “I hear what you’re say­ing but that’s not real­ly root­ed in facts.” Basi­cal­ly, a ten­den­cy to dis­miss things that are felt...

Another option... define criteria

Maybe there’s anoth­er option. Maybe the ten­den­cy to dis­miss things (espe­cial­ly sub­jec­tive remarks) is an inabil­i­ty to define cri­te­ria.

Defining criteria takes effort and concentration

Many of us do not take the time to define cri­te­ria. Defin­ing cri­te­ria takes effort. It takes time. To define cri­te­ria for some­thing means we

Defining criteria requires our slow, deliberate brain (not our fast, fear brain)

Our slow brain is the part of our neu­rol­o­gy that engages in high­er-order think­ing, plan­ning, and rea­son­ing. Our fast brain is the part of our head that thinks we are going to jail if we behave prop­er­ly.

When we have to “define cri­te­ria” we have to go beyond objec­tiv­i­ty

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

Some write, others talk

It can be easy to think that oth­er peo­ple in your life learn and process things the same way you do.

For some, writ­ing is a great way to fig­ure things out. It’s a process that allows a per­son to get their thoughts on a page, see if they agree with them, and make changes until it reflects what they actu­al­ly think.

For oth­ers, writ­ing is an awful way to fig­ure things out. They’re not real­ly sure what they think until they can have a few con­ver­sa­tions and debates until they under­stand what they think.

It doesn’t mat­ter how you fig­ure things out. It’s impor­tant you know which one best serves you. It will bet­ter serve oth­ers.