Updated: Mar 17
I’ve been thinking a lot about the forces that drive us. The
forces within our minds that either help or hinder us from moving forward, from progressing, from jumping into the unknown. On any given day, we are faced with a multitude of choices, decisions we need to make about when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, and then the more advanced decisions like when we get to work, dealing with our children and partners. Throw in the more complicated questions about our life in the grand scheme of things and who we are and want to be, then we really start to see where our heads are at.
All of us hear a voice, or two, or three that influence us. Some are positive, like cheerleaders pushing us to our best self. Others are negative, draining us, sometimes forcing us to hide back in our own shadows. Those voices can have a personality—it could be a family member whose approval we have spent our lives so desperately trying to win. Or it could be a former partner/boss/teacher who told us we wouldn’t amount to anything. The latter could be a voice that spurs us on to prove them wrong or it could be one that takes us back to how we felt when we first heard that negative comment. The writer Aliyah Marr writes in Parallel Mind, “Many of the thoughts and beliefs that we hold and practice are not even ours. The thoughts of our parents, siblings, teachers, society, nation, and race inhabit our heads. A crowd of judgements lives inside each of us. It’s an incessant chattering of different voices and personalities, each with their own history and agendas.”
Life coaches use the term “Inside Team” to help us figure out what and whose voices are inside our heads. It’s this “team” that we need to get to know if we are to begin to know ourselves better and use them to our benefit. So much of who we are and what we do is decided by this team and trusting which voice to listen to comes down to dissecting which voices are serving us. Even the negative voices, sometimes, are there for our benefit—if we choose to see them that way. We can see them as our internal checks and balances that we confer with before we make decisions that can impact our lives. But getting to know those influential voices also brings them down to an equal level, studying who they actually are, why they have so much power over us, and then once we know them, really know them, that power diminishes. Instead, we get to the point where we recognise them as old friends even, there to make sure we’re taking the right steps towards our growth. As author and motivational speaker Agapi Stassinopoulos says, “We have both an anxious, critical, downspiraling voice, and a trusting, optimistic, calming one. Every day, every moment, we have a choice. It has to be a conscious choice of feeding the voice that will support us, while ignoring the other one.”
I recently read about how the Academy Award winning actress Cicely Tyson chooses her roles. She said, “When I read a script, either my skin tingles or my stomach churns…If my skin tingles, I know it’s something I must do. If my stomach churns, I can’t touch it. It’s that simple to me.” And it really is that simple. We all have had times in our lives when we have had to make difficult decisions and not really knowing which way to turn. But our bodies will know right away. Caroline Myss, author and speaker who specialises in human consciousness, spirituality, health, and so much more, said in her interview with Oprah, “(We) should see everything about (our) life as a lesson. Ask “Am I empowering myself?” The same goes for the voices that swirl around us whenever we are faced with a decision that needs to be made, whether it is accepting a job, a promotion, a project, staying in a relationship, a friendship, or knowing what to actually do that would be best for us. Anything that has an impact on our lives is when we hear and feel those voices turning up their voluminous sounds, swirling around our heads. Here's the key--feeling what those voices are saying is so important because that is how we know which voices to listen to and which to brush off. It is equivalent to listening to and feeling our gut instincts.
Our gut never lies to us even when we often choose with our heads. Sandy Abell, a life and business coach writes, "We all have this inner wisdom. It’s our subconscious mind, which is often a quiet voice inside our head that seems to know a lot of things our conscious mind doesn’t usually access. The inner wisdom is easy to ignore because the volume of words from our conscious mind gets in the way." But strong gut feelings don't go away no matter how much we try to ignore them. So when we start to hear those voices judging, fear mongering, or supporting and empowering we can feel conflicted or confused, lost and in need of guidance because we don't know which voice is real and telling our truth. That's when we need to get quiet and when we start to hear our inside team, we then need to tune in to how we’re feeling. If a voice empowers us as Myss says, lifts us up and energises us, if a voice eases that weight off our chest and we feel we can breathe easier and we feel we want to keep moving in that direction, that is the voice we listen to. It is that simple. If a voice is telling us not to do something, not out of any reason other than telling us we can’t or we’re not good enough, we need to notice how that makes us feel. If we feel the blood draining from us, if we feel all that energy and excitement we had initially felt about something is gone like when water is drained from a tub and all we then want to do is just hang our head low and all we feel is weight around our chest and legs then no, that is not a voice we listen to. I found this table (below) to illustrate our thoughts perfectly. It also works if you substitute thoughts for voices.
The table is from the Proctor Gallagher Institute, an organisation that works with individuals and companies to educate and empower them to expand their mindset in order to maximise their potential.
So we know we go by feel when it comes to deciding which voice to listen to. What is also helpful, is writing down who we hear. If the voice is someone we know, we write their name down. Or if the voice is a characteristic like Confidence, Shame, Judge, write that down too. Looking at them and forensically analysing who they are and where they come from, I have found, can be freeing. Because frankly, I'm tired of giving my time and energy to things that don't serve me positively. I've spent way too much time and too many years listening to those voices that haven't served me for fear of being wrong or being judged. But now I know it is only wrong if I don't listen to my gut, that inner voice, that is trying to steer me towards my best self. My happiest self. My most authentic self.
We really are smarter than we think we are. And our minds are complex. Our bodies are intelligent beings and they will guide us to our optimal self. If we listen. Finding out who is part of our Inside Team, who those voices belong to and acknowledging why they have such power can result in a massive shift in how we go forward in life. And as Gautama Buddha said, “nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded.” The same goes for those voices in our heads.