That inner voice…telling you that you can’t do something or that you should be doing something. Telling you how badly you messed up or telling you what an idiot you are. We all have one. We all have a voice telling us what we should have done differently, wondering and questioning how good we are, or reminding us of past mistakes. It comes from years of experiences and interactions with parents, friends, and colleagues.
The inner voice itself is not always a bad thing. It can let us know when to be cautious, let us know when to take pause and look closer, or warn us when something may not be quite right. However, sometimes that inner voice seems to be running amok, or it has found its way to being a voice that stifles you or causes you stress with it’s overly judgemental or critical thoughts; you would really rather it just pipe down. It is these moments in which the inner voice becomes the over-bearing inner-critic that tears you down, that gets us stuck in repetitive cycles of worry and negative emotions.
The key is learning how to manage it and exist with it. How to use it to cheer you on, support you, and ask the right questions. This way it works for you and is a key supporter of you living your most fulfilled life.
I remember when I was invited to present at SXSW by Gensler around measuring workplace experience. The day I got the phone call, immediately the voice went to work. “Who are you to talk there?” it asked, “omg there will be so many people” it pointed out. It reminded me that “you are no good at speaking in formal settings, remember last time when you were all shaky and red in the face” and questioned “why on earth are you up there with these other great people in industry?” It was making me question how on earth I would do it, and the more it spoke, the more nervous I got. It was such a strong inner voice that I almost said no and made an excuse to not do it!
Then, of course, the voice comes back with, “you are so stupid, why are you so nervous about it? You shouldn’t be having these thoughts…” and so the cycle of excess worrying, rumination, and harsh self-thoughts continue (which we know just leads to stress and maybe eating a few more french fries or donuts that one needs to).
I was in an interesting predicament as the opportunity was far too great to say no to. So, I said yes. Sadly however, that did not mean the voice stopped. Now, I had no choice, I was in for it. So, I sat down and acknowledged it. Fact: I am going to be nervous. It is a nervous situation for me, there are 100s of people and a video streaming (which, for those that know me, know I really dislike). This allowed me to accept it. I remember saying to myself, “well, you are going to go bright red, and probably have shaky hands for the first few seconds” as I remembered terrifying old memories of public speaking, but so what? What I realized was, my body’s physiological response to nervous situations does not take away from the content and message that I am presenting, nor my expertise. Secondly, when the voice said, “what are you doing there, who wants to listen to you?” I responded by going to my support network. I spoke to my close friends and mentors and told them how I was feeling and they told me exactly why I was invited to do it. When you are in the middle of all the worry, sometimes, you just need the reminder. Going to your support network can help you validate things, bring important reminders to the forefront, and relax you. Thirdly, now that I had worked past the negative feelings, I went into planning mode. Being as prepared as possible helped quell some of the panic. I worked with the awesome Gensler support team who were planning the event, who made sure the materials looked good, I went through the points I wanted to say, I planned what I would do should my hands start shaking (which was hold the podium for me) and I planned to put some friendly faces in the audience so that if I got nervous up there I’d be able to look at them. I also asked myself, what is the worst thing that could happen? And if it did, what would I do? Facing the “worst” scenario brought some comfort as even if it did happen, I knew what I would do. The morning of the talk, sure, I was nervous, but I had prepared myself to be. Did I feel red in the face, and shaky at first? Sure, but once I got into the swing of the topic I knew so well, off I went. I have remembered that ever since and it has got me through many speaking engagements since then. Not to mention that apparently, no one else saw my red face or my shaky hands which I felt.
It’s clear that the “inner voice” is something that is affecting many people. Especially in a world where we are subjected to all sorts of access to people’s “picture perfect” lives. In fact, “the most confident person questions their inner self,” said one of Amazon’s leadership at their recent fireside chat.
When researching what makes people their most fulfilled and productive self, we found that people that are highly efficient and happy tended to practice self care and kindness. A part of this was not being overly critical and harsh with oneself, but being respectful and kind, especially in challenging moments.
To start doing this, you need to start rewriting the narrative. Treat your inner voice like any other relationship, set boundaries, and foster healthy interactions. The first thing to do is pause and pay attention to how you feel. Don’t try and sweep the voice away, acknowledge it is there and notice how you are feeling. The pause will help you take the moment to decide if the inner voice is telling you something useful or being overly negative. Then you can work on turning it into something more constructive. It can even help to ask yourself what you would tell your best friend, or to write down your feelings and why you think you have them. The biggest thing is getting to know what it feels like when your inner voice is at play in an overly critical and harsh way, as then you can start reworking the conversation into something that works for you in a positive way.
So remember, when you feel your inner voice is there, being overly critical, making you feel bad, or telling you how rubbish you are – stop, acknowledge it, and work through the moment. It will leave you in a more positive, productive, mental space.