Taking on the Voices in Your Head


Posted on : February 23, 2012

Let’s be real here.  We ALL hear voices in our head. They tell us all kinds of things – that that we should try harder, how we can be “safe” and sometimes, if we’re lucky, they tell us we did a great job.  But often these voices trigger a negative spiral, taking one minor thing and fabricating an entire story that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Today we’ll be discussing some tactics for quieting those voices (or at least minimizing their impact!).

Be a detective

First take time to listen in on what you are saying to yourself.  Sometimes our thought patterns turn so quickly with our negative emotions, that we don’t even realize we’re causing the downward spiral ourselves.  Next time you find yourself becoming demotivated, nervous or sad, listen in to those thoughts carefully.  What are you saying to yourself?

For example, last week I didn’t even start a project that I’d planned on finishing, and I noticed I was feeling stressed and down on myself.  So, I listened in to the flood of thoughts that was quietly going on in the background… “I never stay on schedule. I let myself get distracted too easily.  I ALWAYS take so much more time to do things than I should.   I just have to face that I’m lazy and unfocused.  I’m never going to get this new project launched.  I may as well not even try.”

Put it in neutral

Research shows that we do our best self-assessment when our brains are set to neutral or positive; when we’re in a negative space, we do a poor job accurately assessing a situation. I had to break that grip of rumination (link) with a healthy distraction, so I accelerated my planned lunchtime walk.  When I got back, I felt better and ready to tackle my negative self-talk.

Externalize that voice and ARGUE with it

Imagine an actual person is saying those things to you.  Would you let a work colleague talk to you like that?  Would you just sit and take it if your neighbor started in with those statements?

Heck.  No.

You’d stand up for yourself and counter each of their arguments.  So don’t let the voices in your head get away with speaking to you in that tone or saying those outrageous things.  Fight back.

It took me over 30 years to realize that not every thought that went through my head was true or worthy of believing.  Sometimes, my mind can be mean-spirited and aggressive.   So when the voices in your head are taking you down a path you don’t want to go, turn and fight those assertions.  Dispute those thoughts like a good lawyer by using the following:

Use the real facts

What’s true about your situation and what is conjecture?  For me, I missed my deadline.  That’s true.  But the idea that I never meet my deadlines?   Completely false.  As soon as I start to look for evidence to the contrary, I find it.   When I bring up the fact that I’ve posted my newsletter on time EVERY WEEK for the past 6 months, the idea that I can’t meet deadlines is laughable.

So take a good look at that negative self-talk and seek out the evidence to refute those statements.  You will often find that your mind isn’t playing fair. It’s your job to show it the big picture.

Alternative interpretations

Most events have many causes.  What are the other possible explanations for why an event happened?

Did I click over to CNN or Facebook when I should have been working this week?  Sure.  But it was also our first week back after vacation and I had ALL of my clients scheduled on the same week.  I also lost a whole work day because the kids were off school on Friday.   I didn’t get that project started because I had a lot less time than usual, not because I am lazy or too easily distracted.

Remember that it won’t be as bad as you think

Our minds are great at taking a few real facts and leading us down dark paths.   Yes, I missed a deadline, but does that mean I should quit the whole project?  Or, as I think in some of my darker times, that I should quit this whole happiness thing and go back to the comfortable money of my old career?  No way.  Yet when our brains are set to negative, potential catastrophes can seem reasonable.  Once out of the fog, ask yourself the likelihood that the worst case scenario will actually come true.

Even if the worst case happens, will it be as bad as we imagine?  Here, the research is very clear.  Work from Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, shows that we are terrible at estimating how bad we are going to feel.  When a relationship ends or we don’t get that promotion, we feel bad, yes, but not nearly as bad or for as long as we imagined.

Thousands of years of evolution have made us really good at adapting to even the most extreme circumstances.   Often knowing that you’ll be able to adapt to the worst case scenario takes away some of its power to produce fear and anxiety.

Your task this week:  Listen in a little more closely to those voices.  Evaluate those statements as if they are coming from someone external.  Then explore how reasonable they are and practice some of the tools above.  These are some of most powerful ways to fight gratuitous negativity (link) and they will get stronger with practice!

Check in next week as we explore some more ways to counter those voices.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
 
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