I’ve been reading a terrific book by Ethan Kross called Chatter. It delves into harnessing one’s inner voice. What struck me initially is that there was a study on whether folks believed they had a voice in their head. My inner voice was thinking, “Well no, duh, of course we all have an inner voice in our heads. And then I thought…wow…are there really people out there without a running narrative on what they want to do next, what they would have done differently and reliving embarrassing moments, over and over and over again?” Turns out there are certain medical conditions that cause a quieting of the inner voice; but then I think, that would be awful. So apparently, I want the inner chatter in my head, I just want to be able to use it to enhance my life instead of driving me down an anxiety rabbit hole.
As Kross writes, “However it manifests itself, when the inner voice runs amok and chatter takes the mental microphone, our mind not only torments but paralyzes us. It can also lead us to do things that sabotage us.” I love the image of my self-critic running around with a microphone and how much I want to either turn down the volume, or hopefully, throw the microphone out.
4 ways to harness your inner voice:
- Journal. I have personally found this to be very beneficial. When my ex-husband turned my world upside down, I wrote reams of vitriol words to exorcise him out of my head. There is no need to edit or summarize or be grammatically correct. I just dumped everything out on paper. I wrote to myself for myself as well as to forgive myself for my misguided trust. I find that writing on paper is best for me and as reported by Aytekin Tank for Fast Company, “Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington, says the same: “When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke, by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion.” Writing either in a journal or on sheets of paper really helped me turn down the inner voice.
- Fly on the wall. Recall past bad experiences through the vantage point of a fly rather than from your own eyes. Adyuk and Kross studied the fly-on-the-wall effect in the laboratory. As written in APS, “In one series of experiments, for example, they asked volunteers to recall an intensely unpleasant experience—one that made them either very sad or very angry. Then they gave different volunteers different instructions. Some were told to visualize the experience through their own eyes, to immerse themselves in the sadness or anger and try to understand the feelings. Others were instructed to take the perspective of a fly on the wall—and with that perspective understand the feelings of that “distant self.” Those who experienced it from their own perspective, ended up reliving the bad experience. Those who took on the fly perspective were able to be more subjective and analytical and were able to sustain this weeks later and, in many cases, had lower blood pressure.
- Second or third person. When I coach clients, I’ve suggested using the second (you) or third (Suzy) person perspective when coping with challenges. As Kross posits, “Use distanced self-talk. One way to create distance when you’re experiencing chatter involves language. When you’re trying to work through a difficult experience, use your name and the second-person “you” to refer to yourself.” I’ve noticed myself using this since reading the book. I’ve been in the middle of moving and I can start to get overwhelmed by the work I still need to do but I find myself saying, “You’ve got this, Cathy. Step by step.” I find myself to be much more motivated and positive when my inner dialogue is focused on myself as a friend or third person.
- 10 years. When I first got sober, I used a program called the 30-day sobriety challenge and one of the most impactful tools was a meditation wherein I visualized myself in 10 years if I kept drinking alcohol. I rarely think about my future self and the impact of what I’m doing currently on what lay down the road. When I coach clients and they have a difficult decision or conversation pending I use a tool called 10:10:10. This is a concept developed by Suzy Welch for decision making. “Here’s how it works. Every time I find myself in a situation where there appears to be no solution that will make everyone happy, I ask myself three questions: What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? And in 10 years?” So, when inner dialogue starts nit picking or ruminating about how much I disagree with a recent corporate decision or deciding on a big purchase or moving to a larger city; I ask my inner voice to think about what Cathy ten years in the future will think.
Kross refers to distancing throughout the book. All of these methods require, in a metaphoric sense, to step out of your brain, your own self, by either by dumping it on paper outside of yourself, taking on a different, outside perspective as a fly, or third person, or by time traveling into the future. In all four ways the microphone is turned down and a different view is presented. How do you harness your inner voice?