Silencing the Voices in Your Head

yellby David Bohl

Do you ever have conversations in your own mind… to the point of utter distraction or maybe even obsession?

I was talking with a friend the other day who had agreed to take on some freelance work. The work was of the ordinary variety, maybe even a tad on the dull side… and so my friend confessed to me that during the task, his mind took him to a negative place.

Uncertain about this new client relationship, my friend said he became consumed with worry and anger. Instead of enjoying the task, he began anticipating that the client would try to screw him out of money. In his mind, he was having imaginary words with the client, arguing over future payment.

After all this exhausting mental anguish… my friend learned later that the client was pleased with the job he did, amenable to the agreed-upon price, and even ready with a tip for the extra effort!

Does this ever happen to you? Do the “voices in your head” psych you out for no good reason? Do they hold you back from trying new things, stifle your real voice, or tell you to be on your guard against people who might try to take advantage of you?

In the coaching world, they call this “self talk”. Self-talk can be positive or negative, and I think we all know when our brains have taken us to the Dark Side. Negative self talk is your runaway mind getting the best of you. It’s self destructive, it contaminates our relationships, and takes us away from our goals, hopes and dreams.

The question is, how do you escape from that place, where the tormentor and source of your own misery is actually YOU?

I say, start by examining the REASONS why your mind is taking you on a trip to Unhappy Land. Then, look at what’s REALLY happening and how you can shift your perspective to change your behavior.

What’s the source of the negative mental dialogue? It could be…

1. Events from your past that have shaped how you form opinions today.

Did someone or something once make you feel inferior – as though you were never good enough? If it happens frequently, the backlash from such treatment can put us on the defensive, not just in that particular situation, but in every situation. This can gradually erode our self-esteem to the point that in our minds, the entire world is against us. Of course, this can’t possibly be true.

If you feel (or if people have told you) that you’re an exceptionally mistrustful person, consider the reasons why. Of course, it didn’t take a day to become this way, and it won’t take a day to make peace with the feelings. But an acknowledgement of how you arrived at this unhappy state can open the door enough to finally release pent up, negative energy. Exercise and hard work can be a constructive channel for this energy, provided you have owned up to the feelings. In some cases, it may even help to talk out such issues with a coach or counselor.

2. Boredom.

Did you ever notice that when you’re being challenged and stimulated, there’s less room in your mind for those naysaying voices to creep in? Let’s say that every day, from the minute you wake up, your mental chatter is conjuring up unpleasant scenarios and possibilities at work. You’re fantasizing about telling your boss off. You’re imagining what it would be like to confront coworkers who make you miserable. You’re playing and replaying old tapes of past conversations – things that should be resolved in your mind, not ruminated over endlessly. The antagonistic scenes play on, in the back of your brain, through your day’s activities.

Now, as one might assume, this could point to a few professional relationships that are in disrepair and need mending. But it could also simply indicate that you’re no longer being challenged at your job. Take an objective look at your coworkers. If it will make you feel better, talk over what happened with an objective, outside third party.

In the end, you might conclude that your coworkers’ behavior is mostly acceptable (and that maybe you’re being exceptionally hard on them). And that’s when it might occur to you that the person who needs to change is you! A new skill, a new vocation, a new scene – something to engage your mind, give you the opportunity to solve meaningful problems, and burn some neural pathways. Anything but the dead-end road you’ve been driving every day!

3. Lack of autonomy.

Let’s say that someone – your boss, your mother, your teacher, or whomever, requests a specific favor or action of you. And let’s say that the request is politely delivered. However, instead of simply obliging this person, you get angry. The voices pipe up and run your mind in circles, pulling you away from what you need to accomplish.

Why does this happen? Well, consider the pattern of your thoughts as you react negatively toward what’s being asked of you. Is it that you feel controlled by the person who is doing the asking? Is it that you feel above the task… as though your mind could be better spent solving a more complex problem? Or, is it that the task itself is needless, and you see a better way of resolving the issue?

If it’s the latter, then you might just consider breaking free from the situation you are currently in. Maybe you work at a job that doesn’t excite you. Maybe you live with someone who doesn’t share a “live and let live” attitude. Maybe you feel that you have good ideas, but you aren’t able to exercise them.

I think that when people fall into a routine, they’re less likely to recognize when someone is impinging on their right to free will. That’s because they’re so used to doing the same things over and over, that the “wrong” things start to feel “right” because they’re familiar – and familiarity is comfortable. But if you listen to those voices in your head, they might just be hearkening you to the beat of a new drum – your own!

Maybe, just maybe, the “voices” in your head have a message to share. The message is… it’s time for a change!

What can you do or say differently, to get those voices to start laughing and singing and cheering you on?

Care to share a story about a time when the “voices” inspired you to take action in your life? Leave your comment on the Slow Down Fast blog.

NEWSFLASH: I’ve added another chapter to my life by joining C.A.S.T. Recovery, a Los Angeles based outpatient drug rehab program which specializes in designing highly individualized recovery plans with appropriate professionals to support a client’s health, accountability, and success.

28 Comments on “Silencing the Voices in Your Head”

  • Great article, David. I especially liked your point about boredom. Boredom is a sure indication that we’re not fully engaged with our lives, and as you’ve pointed out, the mind loves to step in to fill the gap.

    While looking at the “reasons” behind the voices in your head can at times be beneficial, it can also simply take us on a mental detour if we get too wrapped up in attempts to “analyze.”

    I’ve found it can be even simpler…any time we get lost in our thoughts we’re no longer in the moment. Practice becoming aware of when you’re on a “mind” trip and use it as a red flag that you’ve checked out of the moment. Then simply bring your attention back to whatever is in front of you….your breathing, your surroundings, a task you’re working on, etc.

    The mind loves to take us on merry, or not so merry, little jaunts. It’s just what it does. We, however, have a choice as to whether or not we go along for the ride. ; )

  • The voices are just thoughts and have no power or use in themselves only in the way they are applied to situations or towards oneself or others. The inner dialogue get’s infused by an individuals conditioning ie beliefs, personal preferences, prejudices, etc., which is then presumed to be reality.

    I used to have all manner of dialogues running about all sorts of things which I accepted as real and which ultimately drove my actions. Then one day I decided to challenge the beliefs and values that lay at the very core of my being and which colored my perception of reality. I started to see that much of the dialogue was not actually true but was purely a result of ingrained ideas and ways of dealing with things which didn’t belong to the here and now.

    When that little voice arose to interpret a situation or maybe something someone said instead of blindly believing that to be true and acting upon it I instead changed the way I would have ordinarily acted just to see what would happen. To my surprise gradually the old ways of being gave way to something new. I realized I could change my reality by dropping the inner dialogue and instead ‘seeing’ real-ality. Continuing to push the envelope frees us from our own self imposed limitations and enables us to ‘be’ that which we really are.

  • Lisa,

    You’re absolutely right. That committee of voices in our heads or filled with “shoulds” and ought tos.” Also, if we’re always trying to herd these thoughts into a neat little labeled package, we’re limiting ourselves. For example, if we label each day as “good” or “bad”, we’ve made a mistake. By calling a day a bad day, we’ve discounted all the good things that have happened to us. By telling ourselves “I’m a failure,” instead of “I simply failed and need to try again,” we fail to separate who we really are from what we do.

    David

  • Susanna,

    Yes! T%hose voices are driven by our conditioning – our perception of our life’s experiences. When we allow those perceptions to become ingrained without checking them, we’ve created our own reality – our private logic that has been formed by our developed beliefs and values. We really get into trouble when we accept this conditioning at face value without questioning. In the alternative, when we analyze how our thoughts were formed, we gain an awareness of other possibilities, many of which are preferable and more efficient than what we’ve been doing all these years.

    David

  • How come the voices in my head are always telling me to do the wrong things?

  • Trying,

    There are two types of voices you might hear. The “bad” voices, which Dr. Carl Jung called the “shadow.” The shadow (or “shadow aspect”) is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. The shadow preveails over our voice of instinct only when we don’t regularly and repeated bring our instincts – our deepest-held values and beliefs – into our conscious. That is, we must constantly remind ourselves of our primary purpose and the principles by which we choose to live life in order to quiet the negative thoughts.

    David

  • David,

    I have acquired a lifetime of being put down by friends and family. I listened when they said you can’t do that or you’re not smart enough. My self esteem has been low for quite some time. I am working on it, but need help.

  • Dear Bobby,

    Indeed things like that do happen. I’m certain they’ve occurred through no fault of your own. Once you ask yourself “What part did I play in forming these negative judgments of myself?,” then it’s time to work on self esteem building through self-affirmations. Address the regrets you have from listening to the bad advice you’ve been given, then form goals to overcome those regrets. For example, if you regret that you never went to graduate school, go take a class or two to prove to yourself you can do it. Take that trip you never managed to go on. And remember: failure is part of life. When you fail, simply remember that failure DOES NOT mean that you’re a failure. It simply means that you’ve failed and need to try again or differently.

    David

  • Right on! with your paragraph on boredom!

  • Guru,

    Boredom isn’t a good thing for me. Being alone in my thoughts sometimes leads to feelings of isolation and alienation. I can get through these times because I’m comfortable with myself, and often find that getting out and focusing on someone else is the best thing I can do. It gets me out of myself and my head.

    David

  • Yes. These voices prevent me from trying out new things. They create fear. Here’s what I use when that happens:
    “Sometimes just the idea of doing something different, something I am not accustomed to doing, can eventually become an act of faith if I do it regularly, and do it without debating whether it’s the right thing to do.”
    It works for me.

  • Dear Serene One,

    I know that reading and use it every day! (not just on March 6th as it appears in the Daily Reflections). Thanks for sharing.

    David

  • “Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.”

    ~ Søren Kierkegaard

  • [...] calmcoach posted a noteworthy aricle today onHere’s a small snippetIn the coaching world, they call this “self talk”. Self-talk can be positive or negative, and I think we all know when our brains have taken us to the Dark Side. Negative self talk is your runaway mind getting the best of you. … [...]

  • Here’s an interesting quote:

    “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

    ~ Mother Teresa

    Any comments?

  • Very true. We certainly need silence to touch/listen to our own souls.

  • I like Mother Theresa’s quote.

    Here’s another for you busness people/techs out there:

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

    Steve Jobs

  • Bobby,

    Excellent quote. Since we’re trading, here’s another:

    “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
    ~ Howard Thurman

  • Hi David,
    I found your website a few weeks ago, and I think it’s really positive and enlightening! After about 6 months of procrastination, I have decided to leave my job and take some time out to ‘come home to myself’
    My true vocation is to become a counselor, and I’m going to train in that field later this year.
    It’s a tough decision to leave a job in a period of recession, but I can apply so much of what was written in this thread to my current situation – apathy, boredom, negative thoughts etc.
    The quote from Steve Jobs is so powerful also, really uplifting and inspiring. So, to add to the wisdom, I would like to leave a poem by the Welsh poet R.S Thomas, called “The Bright Field”;

    “I have seen the light break through
    to illuminate a small field
    for a while and gone my way
    and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
    of great prize, the one field that had
    the treasure in it. I realize that now
    that I must give all that I have to
    possess it. Life is not hurrying

    on to a receding future nor hankering after
    an imagined past. It is the turning
    aside like Moses to the miracle
    of the lit bush. To a brightness
    that seems as transitory as your youth
    once, but is the eternity that awaits you”

  • Brian,

    Good for you. As others cower in fear, you’ve decided to do something proactive to better position yourself, both personally and professionally. You’re nurturing yourself and will obviously be thankful later.

    Love the quote. Thanks for sharing it.

    By the way, I went back to school in January to earn my Masters in Counseling.

    David

  • It is characteristic of genius to be hopeful and aspiring.
    ~ Harriet Martineau

  • Hi David.
    Great post, I find that when I tune myself to my inner voice (my intuition), that that usually jives with the POSITIVE voice in my head the voice that is telling me new ideas, and who I should networking with etc. But always I listen to the intuition FIRST then the positive voice, and when those 2 things work together that for me is one powerful combination. All the best

  • Coryelle,

    Thanks for your insight. Intuition, inspirations, and faith are certainly intertwined.

    David

  • Hi, David:

    I have been reassessing my work performance (and, for that matter, my entire life), but specifically how I can be more effective at work. I began with a list of the things I want to achieve and included details of activities that I believe will support my goals.

    I got stuck on the goal about preparedness and in searching the web for more informationI found your site. Very impressive. I’ve added two of your quotes to my list of goals as inspiration:

    “the power of being prepared lies in taking responsibility for your happiness, using all of the tools available to you, and staying focused on the essentials.”

    The other quote I’ve included is about routine and how it lulls us into settling for less and even turning our priorities upside down:

    “I think that when people fall into a routine, they’re less likely to recognize when someone is impinging on their right to free will. That’s because they’re so used to doing the same things over and over, that the “wrong” things start to feel “right” because they’re familiar – and familiarity is comfortable. But if you listen to those voices in your head, they might just be hearkening you to the beat of a new drum – your own!”

    Very inspiring. Thank you!

  • The next 10 years , are the best 10 years , of the rest of our lives.

  • These techniques work. Thank you!
    D. Bryan

  • I have a problem…
    The voices in my head distract me to the point, whether they be negative or not, i cannot even have a real conversation. I constantly drown out other sounds with my own voice and miss key conversations or sounds around me. How can i stop this?

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