We think of ourselves as being a monolith, a solitary individual with a particular set of values, priorities, and ways of relating to the world.
But if you listen to the chatter in your head, you will quickly find that there isn’t just one internal voice but many. We experience our inner life as a dialogue, not a monologue.
If you pay attention...
You may notice a voice that is critical, both of yourself and others.
You may notice a voice that is a bit more innocent, just wanting everyone to get along and for harmony to reign.
You may notice a voice that relentlessly says “do more,” and has little space, or tolerance for distraction.
Often, at our modern speed of life, we have a hard time differentiating these voices. We get used to an incessant chatter back and forth amongst undifferentiated parties. We have a hard time separating the signal from the noise.
But it’s to our detriment.
Unless we can recognize the voices in our own head, we remain unaware of our inherent conflicting views and internal disagreements. The result - some of our internal voices, often the wisest ones, get drowned out by the most incessant and obnoxious.
As it turns out, our minds work quite similar to a boardroom, school board, or church council - the loudest voice disproportionately wins, while the quieter, more nuanced voices tend not to get as much attention.
Without taking the time, and getting acclimated to these different voices operating within us, we can take the loudest voice at face value as our sole arbiter of truth. Worse than that, we can find ourselves consistently taking this voice’s advice - even if it’s wrong.
Take for example the voice of anxiety. The voice of anxiety tells us to be constantly vigilant, always on the lookout for the next threat. It gives us three main directives, to fight, flee, or hide.
It would be wrong to say that this voice isn’t important. This voice is important. It helps us to navigate danger (which is a reality of life), and forecast potential threats further down river. But if it doesn’t stay in its proper place, balanced by other voices, it can easily lead us astray. It can convince us that the world is in essence danger itself, and then filter all facts and findings through a lens that supports its case and ensure it retains its dominant position at the table.
The ideal isn’t to rid ourselves of these voices, but rather to harness their strengths and properly order them. To have them all participate together, bringing us to a deeper knowledge of what is really going on inside us, and outside us.
And the only way we do that is by slowing down.
When we slow down, we learn to parse through these various voices, and create space for others to emerge. We may discover that certain voices have been absent from our life for some time and that it’s time to rediscover them anew and invite them back to the table.
Here is a list of some common voices that you may already recognize as part of your inner dialogue...
- The voice of anxiety/fear
- The voice of anger/resentment
- The voice of the critical thinking/judgement
- The voice of desire
- The voice of comparison
Here is a list of voices that you may find speaking less than you would like...
- The voice of curiosity
- The voice of hope
- The voice of harmony
- The voice of grief
- The voice of compassion
- The voice of your soul
The reality of this table is neither good nor bad, it is simply part of our human experience. Our minds are places of dialogue and debate, not a unified monologue - whether we are aware of it or not.
And just like any debate, the outcome and winning argument is just as much about the structure and the participants invited as it is about the strength of the arguments. If you want to change the way you act, change the way you think. And a great way to change the way you think, is to get intentional about what internal voices you give most credence to, and when.
Here are some questions to help you get started with intentionally managing your inner dialogue...
What’s the first voice you hear when you wake up?
Which voice tends to speak first when you encounter a problem?
Which voice is the most dominant?
Which voice’s argument is challenged least?
Which voice’s argument is challenged most?
Which voice tries to change the subject when things get too intense?
Which voices do you take advice from, even though they are often wrong?
And my personal favorite -
Which voices are missing from the dialogue entirely?
All the best,
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”
- Herbert Simon
The Critical Inner Voice - PsychAlive.org
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How to be Childlike - ZenHabits.org
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25 Questions That Help You Understand Yourself and Your True Potential - LifeHack.org
Living in an extremely busy world, we can at times default to autopilot. If you feel like this may be happening and you've started listening to a voice that seems unbalanced, you'll likely benefit from looking through this piece by Krissy Brady to take a brief check in and rediscover your deeper sense of self. LINK
Featured Art: Man in a Blue Smock, Paul Cézanne (c. 1896-1897)