Most of us have an inner voice running through our heads constantly, spewing upwards of 4,000 words per minute. Because they’re with us all the time, these inescapable voices can systematically undermine our mental health, even causing us to make foolish career decisions.
Have you ever heard yourself talk in your head? If you have, then you’ve experienced a common phenomenon called an internal monologue. Certain brain mechanisms cause you to hear yourself talk in your head without actually speaking and forming sounds. Not everyone hears this inner voice, but for those who do, learning to manage it is an important element in well-being.
A study found that we talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking more than 4,000 words per minute. If this seems exhausting to you, it should be. The average conversation speed for American English speakers is about 150 words per minute.
Your inner voice is your most important well-being partner because unlike a therapist, coach or mentor, your inner voice is with you all the time. This inner voice can provide you with the support and confidence to make bold and dramatic moves or it can be a tremendous critic and paralyze you with fear of any decision.
Inner experiences are so impactful because they are like water over a surface: Even the hardest rock eventually gives way to the power and persistence of water over time. Once a ruminative thought takes hold, it can alter even the best party, the most longed-for new job and the best compliance program foundation.
The critical inner voice is a well-integrated pattern of destructive thoughts toward ourselves and others. The nagging voices that make up this internalized dialogue are at the root of many self-destructive and maladaptive behaviors.
When oriented toward the negative, inner voices can give rise to something insidious, the kind of negative cycles that turn the singular capacity of human beings for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing. A negative cycle with a persistent inner critic can lead to potentially grave consequences both for our mental and physical health.
The inner voice turned against ourselves is the destructive side of our personality that is opposed to our ongoing growth and development. It is rooted in fear. When this happens, the messaging consists of a perpetual stream of negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that undermine our goals and best interests and have the ultimate effect of eviscerating self-esteem. During this type of cycle, persistent messaging of self-defeating and resultant self-destructive behavior reigns supreme. This judgmental misdirection also warns us about other people, promoting distrust, lack of respect for others and angry and cynical attitudes, while drawing a negative, pessimistic narrative about the world around us.
Here are some tips for using your inner voice to your advantage:
- If you feel a need to vent, try venting to an inanimate object and then imagine an optimist giving you an entirely different set of perspectives to consider. Venting to a person can do more harm than good, because negativity can act as a repellent to friends and confidants when you may need them most. Try out what you are concerned about first before expending the energy on humans. You may decide your imagined optimist has some valid points to ponder.
- Talking to yourself using the “late night DJ voice.” In the book, “Never Split the Difference” by Christopher Voss and Tahl Ratz, one of the recommended techniques in negotiations with hostages is to use the late-night DJ voice to emit calm and soothing feelings. Realize that in this case, your brain is a hostage to its environment and the messaging that is on a loop. Listening like this, as if you were another person altogether, is both calming and confidence-inspiring. It helps you reframe what you have been hearing and put a more rational spin on it, allowing for higher executive functioning and problem-solving.
- Catch the loops and negative spirals by stalling and critically evaluating them. Imagine that you have a pause button and every negative like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t is where you take a pause. Then replace the statements with examples of things you can, might or should do.
- Practice excellence. We all know that getting to a point of true expertise takes time and exposure. Find the small wins or tiny noticeable things that you are making progress in. Celebrate the steps along the way instead of fixating on the final destination.
- Be a kindness gentle giant. Find ways to be your own best friend by cheering yourself along, looking for accountability partners who uplift you and encourage you along the way.
- Make room for positive failure. A favorite saying of mine is that the word fail is actually an acronym for “first attempt in learning.” Find the core lessons and positives from the experience and recognize that each misstep can be forward progress in your life journey.
Take some time today to tame the inner voice gremlins.