Contrary to popular belief, hearing voices in our head does not mean we are crazy. In fact it is perfectly normal to hear voices. I certainly have them and almost everyone I meet who is willing to be honest acknowledges them as well. We can refer to these voices as our ‘inner dialogue’. We may not always be aware of this as we tend to distract our minds by pleasure seeking, being busy, listening to music, watching movies, working.Given half a chance, in a silent setting, our inner dialogue becomes apparent. We can begin to notice the continual stream of voices that speak in our head. Don’t believe me? Give it a go! Take yourself to a quiet place and do nothing. Doing nothing is not reading, relaxing, watching TV, listening to music -it is doing nothing. Observe what happens. Most people start to notice a steady stream of commentary going in their head. Meditators call this the ‘monkey mind’ as it is like a wild monkey -all over the place!
If we give it a chance, it can be interesting and useful to observe this dialogue. It is often a meaningless ramble of commentary-typically about us or if not about us, about other people. This inner dialogue is a continuous stream of voices, thoughts, opinions and commentary. It can be constantly commenting on our experience “I am good at this, I am bad at this,I like this, I hate that, I want this, I don’t want that…”We often remember and bring to mind past experiences “that was a fun holiday, I really enjoyed that …I wonder what so and so is up to now…” or projecting into the future “I would love to go on holiday again….where would I go?…” To the seemingly truly inane “Hmmmm, I like green smarties….green smarties…I haven’t had one of them for a long time…I wonder if they still make green smarties?”
In and by itself the inner dialogue is fine and a perfectly normal aspect of human consciousness. Where it causes trouble is when the inner dialogue is a critical or judgmental voice. Typically these judgments take the form of ‘shoulds’ or ‘should nots’. “I ‘should’ spend more time at work… I ‘should’ be further ahead financially than I am… I ‘should’ be a better person…I ‘should’ know better than to do this…I ‘shouldn’t’ be doing this…I ‘shouldn’t’ worry so much… I ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling this…” Very often this voice is totally divorced from reality and can blame us for things we can do nothing to change because they have occurred in the past or are outside of our control. For example “I shouldn’t be sick… I shouldn’t be thinking this…I shouldn’t be angry…” We can refer to this particular voice as an ‘inner critic’ or ‘inner judge’ and everyone has one. Everyone has an inner critic.The strength of the critic may vary for person to person or at different periods in our lives. You may notice the critic is stronger in times that you are under stress or feeling tired.
Everyone wants to be happy and content. The inner critic, if we listen to it and believe it, gets in the way of our happiness and contentedness (because it is NEVER satisfied), so it can be really useful to learn how to work with the inner critic. This is relevant from a business point of view as most of us are running our businesses to create the lifestyle we want for us and our families, to be content and happy. If we don’t get a handle on our inner critic we may find no matter how seemingly well we do in our businesses it doesn’t actually lead to the satisfaction we crave. Why? Because the inner critic is never satisfied, it can always find areas where we are ‘less than perfect, not OK, not good enough and not complete’ regardless of our personal and business circumstances. We all know people who have seemingly ‘made it’ from a business point of view and are miserable, discontent and unhappy. Most psychologists suggest that these voices are not even ours…They are voices of poor parents, siblings, teachers, peers, even societal expectations. So if we are beholden to the inner critic we are actually fulfilling someone else’s expectations,not our own!Hence it can be really useful to learn of ways to work with this inner critic and increase our levels of happiness and contentedness.
There are a number of psychological tools we can use to work with the critic and I would like to share some of those that I have found most helpful in my own life and have assisted clients as well.
When we are caught by the incessant inner criticising we can ask ourselves these 3 questions…
i)Is it the truth?Very often what we are saying about ourselves is simply not true. By asking if what the voice says is true we can let go of those comments that are obviously lies.
ii)Is it helpful? Even if the criticism is the truth, does it actually help us? If it is true and a judgement and of no help, we can learn to ignore it or park it.
iii)Is it coming from a place of love? Even if the criticism is the truth and could help us, is the voice actually a friendly and loving one? If not, it is probably just pointing out things that are ‘wrong with us’ and is of no value,so again we can let it go.
2.This Too Shall Pass…
We can remind ourselves, that no matter how we feel and how persistent the voice is, it will eventually go away and our mood will change. The truth is EVERYTHING changes. No matter how caught we may feel, no matter how we are stressing, worrying, feeling down, it WILL pass. This is a universal truth so sometimes we can just relax and be patient with ourselves and wait for the stress, worrying, judging to pass.
3.Everything is OK!
Sometimes we get so caught up in worry (which is another form of judgement), we forget that right here and now everything is OK. This is because typically our worry is about past events or future events. For example “I shouldn’t have said that to that person, I should have made a different business decision,or what if I don’t have enough money to pay my bills in the future?” The worrying was just occurring in our own mind, we are just daydreaming. These are all mental formations and have no bearing on reality. We focus on what has happened or what will happen rather than what is going on right now. If we can get present to what is happening right now, we often find that everything in the present moment is actually OK. By telling ourselves everything is OK, we can bring our awareness to the here and now, rather than projecting into the future or being concerned about the past.
This can be quite scary -and yet it is very useful… The truth is that ‘all of us will die’. Although we like to forget this and often find contemplating our own mortality unsavoury at best, there can be a lot of benefit on getting to grips with the prospect of our own death. The reason for this is that it can have us evaluate just what is REALLY important in our lives. This can cut through all our personal, inner judgements and criticisms as there are far more important things to attend to. It also highlights the illusionary nature of our self criticisms. They fade into insignificance in the light of our recognition that we are here for a limited time and truly get in touch with what matters to us.
Sometimes simply telling yourself the following may break the cycle of the inner critic: “This is not my thought and I am not thinking it!” This was a practice developed by NZ coach Leanne Babcock. Although it may sound strange, it is highly effective in interrupting our worrying daydreams and obsessive (unhelpful) thinking. Give it a go and see what happens! Another intervention that can be quite powerful is simply telling the voice to “F off”. Again this may seem a bit weird. Give it a go thought to see what happens. A suggestion with this technique is to say it quietly or silently, rather than out loud to avoid any misunderstandings (and peculiar looks) from people who may be around you at the time.
6.Know Yourself as ‘Whole & Complete’
Perhaps the most powerful technique of all to ward off negative inner dialogue, worrying and the like is to genuinely know ourselves. This is more than just a superficial knowledge of ourselves as our role (business owner, parent, retired person etc) or our personality or our age as these are just labels we attach to be able to define ourselves. At a deeper level we can know ourselves as something FAR greater than any label or judgement. In many cases when we truly get to know ourselves for whom we really are the frequency and power of the inner critic starts to abate. After all the inner critic is simply a thought, simply electrical currents firing in our brain…it is NOT, never has been and never will be who we truly are.
Some of these different approaches will work better for you than others… And every single one of them will be infinitely more effective than engaging with (and believing) your inner critic. Try them on and see what impact they begin to have on your mind and consequently on your life.
And finally, remember that everybody (even the Guru’s) experiences these voices –so you can stop worrying that you might be crazy and stop wasting energy trying to hide that you have them…
When you acknowledge and accept that they’re there, they instantly lose power –and the above strategies disarm them even further.