We all have an internal narrator: a voice that provides a constant running commentary to our lives.
Many people have never given this much thought because they’ve never known a life without The Voice. Just like the sound of our beating heart in our ears, we’re so used to it being there; we don’t even notice it. Maybe, until now, you haven’t even been conscious of its existence.
The Voice is like the heat that emits from the back of your refrigerator. It’s a by-product of the workings of a busy mind.
Take a moment now. You might want to pick up a pen and grab yourself a piece of paper, alternatively simply sit and observe what The Voice is saying. It’s essential to relax and allow the muscle to be at rest — don’t force it. It might take some time to loosen the leash a little, but once you allow it to roam freely, its fascinating what comes out.
Primarily because it mostly talks utter nonsense.
It flits from one topic to the next, without rhyme or reason, covering a cornucopia of issues from the profound and the existential, to the tedious and the down-right paranoid.
Actively observing The Voice might take a bit of practice. It’s likely to take some time to relax and stop steering it. However, once you master it before you realize it’ll drift off down some strange alleyway and it will begin its inane, random commentary.
Those of you who practice mindfulness or yoga will be used to these observations and may be able to silence The Voice. To others, this will be new, and now that you know it’s there, it can be a little irritating. Apologies. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
The Voice isn’t a voice of reason. It’s irrational, illogical, and it continually switches sides. It makes unhelpful observations, it points out your flaws, it says things that you would never say out loud, it’s rude and offensive, it manufactures fears and worries. Sometimes, it can build you up so that you feel on top of the world before turning on you in a heartbeat. It’s inconsistent. And it’s exhausting.
As Michael Singer of the Untethered Soul attests, if The Voice were attached to a real human being, we’d never allow it into our lives. No, this is no lifetime friend. We’d be terrified of taking him/her out to dinner to meet our family and friends or on a trip to the local museum. God knows what they’d get up to. It’d be embarrassing. At worst they could incite a riot.
Yet, frustratingly, the impact The Voice has on many of us is profound.
We give it the credit it doesn’t deserve because we listen to it, and too often, we believe what it tells us. Why? Well, because no one told us NOT to. Usually, nobody even pointed out its existence to us in the first place.
When we’re busy, The Voice falls into the background. Sure, it’s still babbling away constantly, making ridiculous observations, pointing out our flaws, and drawing nonsense conclusions, but our everyday busyness lessens its impact.
It’s like a kind of unwelcome houseguest. When you go out to work, you are distracted by other things, and you can leave The Voice at home, baking bread in the kitchen, or sweeping the back porch. Sure, it might check in with you throughout the day when you have a moment of quiet time or when you’re feeling concerned, worried or a bit vulnerable (it always times this well), but in general, when our time is occupied, we’re less conscious of it.
The issues arise when we return home at the end of the day, or when we have a period alone, or when we’re quiet. Then it starts up again. Its incessant chatter, chirruping along in the background.
Now that many of us are in lockdown, we’re probably finding that we have more time alone. Because of current events, we’re also more introspective. Of course, we’re still busy, but we’re likely seeing fewer people, so we have more time for our minds to wander.
Bing Bong! Guess who’s at the door?!
[The Voice enters from stage left and takes its place under the spotlight and begins…….]
With concerns about Coronavirus and social distancing, we’re all feeling a little more anxious and concerned. We’re stuck at home, either alone or with our small nuclear group of family or friends. We’ve got more time to worry and think about stuff. We’re checking the news and social media more frequently. We’re struggling to get into the groove of a new routine. Even those key workers, still running the show and doing an incredible job every day, are likely to hear from The Voice a little more at the moment.
You might have found that your voice has become louder and that you’ve started to notice it more. Just like the bad uncle who usually only visits at Christmas, its relentless chatter is wearing. Sadly, The Voice doesn’t have another home to go to — but, thankfully, you can choose to kick it out, or at least banish it to the spare bedroom for a while.
For some, The Voice might have gone into overdrive, highlighting your flaws, reminding you of insecurities, and even pointing out things that never concerned you before.
It’s an exhausting way to live and can be particularly debilitating for those who worry a lot in general or suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
At times like these, we need to get a firm grip on The Voice by regaining a sense of control.
Here’s an exercise I learned when I first trained to be a coach. You can use it for a variety of purposes, and it will undoubtedly help you get a firm handle on The Voice. It’ll empower you to dismiss the nonsense that it comes out with.
It’s a 20-minute exercise that you can do alone or with a loved one. You can repeat as many times as necessary for as long as it proves helpful. There is no magic bullet to deal with The Voice. It takes time, consistent effort, and hard work, but you certainly can learn to get it under control.
To get started, all you need are some post-it notes and something to write with.
Although The Voice is like a constant stream of consciousness, there will be particular things that it repeats that have a profoundly negative effect on you. These might be worries or fears, or they might be limiting beliefs.
Limiting beliefs are false beliefs that we hold about ourselves. They restrict and inhibit us and generally make us feel miserable and keep us back from doing things because we incorrectly believe that we can’t or shouldn’t do some of the things that we would like to do. We simply accept them as rules that we must live by. Everyone has them, and they have usually resided in our brains for years.
Some examples include: “I can’t apply for that job because I’m not smart enough.”; or “I can’t wear that because I’m overweight.” The Voice loves to repeat them — often.
To start, begin by writing on separate post-it notes all of the things that The Voice is saying that cause you to worry, be fearful, or think poorly of yourself. Think carefully about this. Many thoughts are the same thing repeated in different ways — group these where you can on to one post-it. Get all the separate issues out on to different post-its. The simple tasks of doing this will make you feel better.
Next, go through each of the notes one at a time. If you are feeling at a particularly low ebb, do this with a trusted partner. You can do it on the phone or via video-call if you live alone. Make sure you send them this article first, so they know what to do.
As you take each note, ask the following questions, answering one of them at a time:
• Is this true? Is it factually correct?
• Is it helpful? Does it serve a purpose and add value to my life? (Note, some things can be beneficial because they protect us for harm)
• Was it true once? Is this a legacy from your past that no longer applies?
• What is the source of the concern/belief/worry? Who helped create it? How reliable is/was this person?
Make sure that you hold an honest and detailed discussion about each post-it. You may be surprised how fast some of them crumble.
Once you have considered each post-it, classify them according to three rules:
• Keep it — because it is helpful and constructive
• Review and amend it — so that it becomes useful
- Destroy it because it is untrue — physically screw it up and throw it in the bin.
Once you have evaluated and classified all of your post-its, you might find it helpful to write some more that will add value. These should be empowering beliefs that you can refer to and read when The Voice is particularly loud or when you’re struggling. You can do this with your partner, who can highlight your strengths — the things that we often take for granted or aren’t aware of.
At the end of the exercise, you will have a revised pile of post-its. Put these somewhere helpful: on a cabinet door in the kitchen, on the bathroom mirror, or in your notebook. Refer to them often, repeat them as affirmations and read them to dispel the nonsense peddled by The Voice.
Regularly repeating this exercise will help you control The Voice. You will develop a set of coping strategies that will enable you to take charge so that you don’t get caught in a false trap of worry, fear, and limiting beliefs.
Remember — you are in control. The Voice is just the heat from the back of the fridge (your whirring brain).
These are unprecedented times. Many people are currently feeling more anxious and concerned than usual. Just like we need to keep our physical health in check, we also need to manage our mental health too. If you do complete this exercise with a partner, it will be mutually beneficial for you both.
Try this for a few days and see how you feel. Practice does make perfect; the more you complete this exercise, the more effective it will become.
Authors Note: I was first introduced to the exercise when I trained as a coach with Barefoot Coaching.