It is not just the crazier amongst us; we all hear voices in our heads.
They exist in our subconscious and repeat choice phrases over and over. From the encouraging, you’ve got this, to the shattering, you’ll never amount to anything, to the questioning, who are you, really?, our internal dialogues never stop.
My voices are different than yours. They speak my strengths, they proclaim my weaknesses, they play upon my fears.
Most of the time, we’re able to escape these thoughts via perpetual motion. We can drown out their mutterings by blasting music, reading, or jumping off the cliff of the next high. We can avoid them by immersing ourselves in our work, in yet another T.V. show, or in the holy trance of physical exertion.
And we can indeed run – avoidance works for a while. But, during the inevitable moments of silence, we realize that the voices were there all along, waiting for the next opportunity to force their way into the spotlight.
Often, we feel that we are at the mercy of these statements. When we are feeling down and judge ourselves harshly, lines like You’re such an idiot, play on repeat. They blacken our eyes and bruise our shins and double-handedly push us deeper into whichever pit we’re sliding.
But we can, in fact, train the voices in our heads. My mother taught me that.
My mother was raised in a home where the words, ‘I love you’ were used sparingly. Her teenage years were spent trying to decide whether she was someone who deserved affection. And after she concluded that, yes, perhaps she was worthy… she spent years convincing herself that it was true.
She did this by repetition. She slowly chipped away at her insecurity with firm words about inherent value and beauty. She repeated those words until she believed them.
And she decided that her children would never have to debate the same issue.
And so I was raised with a nightly regimen of both physical and psychological hygiene. I grew up knowing that before bed, there would be both teeth brushing and inner-voice training.
We called this tradition: The Whisper.
Every evening, her gentle voice floated through my mind as I drifted between alertness and unconsciousness.
“You are surrounded by people who love you.”
Every night – no matter how exhausted she was, no matter how unwell, she would float to my side and the same verses would flutter past my eyelashes.
“Believe in yourself; you can achieve anything.”
During the day, my inner voices would tell me that I was stupid. That I had no friends. That I had no friends because I was stupid. But at night, I would reset. I would be reassured. Her words supplanted and directed my inner dialogue.
“I believe in you.”
These lines and more were not biblical, but they were sacred. Her words were the mortar that held my fragile self-esteem in place. I left for boarding school with a cassette-recorded version of The Whisper clutched in my nervous hands.
And then I grew older; my mother was no longer present as I drifted to sleep. Years passed and cassettes grew antiquated and, although I brushed my teeth and flossed each night, The Whisper just seemed to fade in importance.
But there is no such thing as a silent mind. Our brains are constantly working, our neurons are forever firing. Either we consciously fill our minds with specific thoughts, or subconscious ponderings rise to the surface.
And just like plaque slowly accumulates upon teeth, the negative voices slowly returned.
My mother used to tell me that she believed in me. But I had grown to need more. The time had come for me to override the voices in my head with one statement:
“I believe in myself.”
Studies show that in order for a person to reach their maximum potential, 5 supportive statements need to be heard for every 1 criticism.
If a person hears, You are fat, You are fat, You are fat, repeated throughout the day (by himself or others) it does not matter how thin the person actually is. Chances are, unless he is hearing You are healthy, You are handsome, You are unique, 5 times as much, he will begin to view himself as immensely overweight. Similarly, if a person tells himself, I can’t do this, often enough, he probably won’t be able to. Even if in actuality, he is fully capable.
So, How Can You Train Your Inner Voices?
Firstly, acknowledge that psychological hygiene is just as important as physical hygiene. That evicting detrimental voices and statements from your head is just as vital as killing 99.9 percent of bacteria from your hands. Because although pessimistic statements do not cause disease, they influence every waking moment of our lives. (Plus, positive thinkers have lower levels of stress, stronger immune systems, and lower rates of cardiovascular disease)
Secondly, just like any skill, positive mental attitudes take time to develop. For those of us who don’t have a mother whispering positive statements in our ears, here are 5 simple tricks to improving your inner dialogue, one day at a time:
1) Pick 5 Affirmations:
Pick 5 positive statements to tell yourself every morning when you wake up or every night when you go to sleep (or both). Write them on a notecard and paste it near your bed. Set them as the background image in your phone. It doesn’t matter. As long as you keep repeating them to yourself until they become a part of you. Is 5 too many? So pick 3. Affirmations are person-specific and work best in present tense (ex. Today is going to be a good day. I have two beautiful children. I am capable).
2) Change Your Password:
Many of us have jobs that require us to input our passwords numerous times a day. One guy discovered that changing his password to statements like Quit@smoking4ever helped him accomplish his goal – just by virtue of the fact that he drilled it into his mind via repetition.
3) Tell Your Negative Voices To Shut Up:
A negative voice can be silenced simply by noticing that it is calling out of turn and mentally responding, “Shut Up” or “Stop”. This helps you consciously realize that you are entering a negative thinking pattern and makes it easy to realize that your thoughts may not be based in reality.
4) Surround Yourself With Positive Stuff:
Speak with encouraging and supportive people, read positive quotes, look at things that inspire you. Play with a kid every once in a while. Watch this video on loop. As strong as you may be, surroundings automatically diffuse into attitudes.
5) Treat Yourself The Way You Want Others To Be Treated:
If your friend messed up at work, what would you tell her? So take that, and tell yourself the same thing. Because you deserve to be treated with kindness.
Even after one constructs a positive self-concept, positive voices are like muscles that grow weak from lack of use. And when they grow weak, negative thought-streams run free and allow negative voices to grow roots and sprout like weeds. But you are not powerless to them. You are not powerless at all.
Because you are the master of your fate. You are the captain of your soul.
Your inner voices can form and reshape your perception of yourself and of the world. Even people who are confident in their abilities can be worn down by constant self-criticism. Even people who suffer from various insecurities can develop a feelings of worth by constant self-encouragement.
So, create your own Whisper:
Whisper whatever it is that your mother should have told you, but didn’t.
Whisper whatever it is that you want to believe to be true about yourself, but don’t.
Whisper whatever it is that you need to hear. And whisper it time and time again.
Because you’re pretty much always going to have voices in your mind. You might as well train them now.
Originally Published on Hevria.com