Who talks to you the most? Who has the most influence over you? To whose words do you listen the most?
If you think about my questions, you might come up with answers such as your spouse (or domestic partner), best friend, sibling, parent or child. But I want to invite you to look into it a little deeper.
Think a little harder. Whose voice do you hear most often? If you are like most of us and think about it for a bit, you will realize quickly the voice you hear is none other than your own.
Our inner voices are our constant companions. We think with them. We use them as our inner creative muses. We consider decisions, process information, work through feelings, remind ourselves of things and think about what to say to others.
Our inner voices can be quite busy at times. In times of stress, our thought lives can run rampant with “could have, should have, would have” scenarios. When we are processing emotional events, good or bad, they are equally busy. And when it’s quiet, if we have a tendency toward it, our thoughts will get busy when we are not.
The most important thing to pay attention to about our thought lives is what our thoughts are saying to us. Are they contributing to situations in life, or detracting from them? Are they building others we are thinking about up, or tearing them down? Are they viewing the world through a positive lens or a negative one?
Once we understand what the tendency of our thoughts usually is, we can take steps toward controlling them. In other words, instead of just listening to ourselves, we can take positive and productive steps toward talking to ourselves!
What do I mean by talking to ourselves? The first step in talking to ourselves is one I’ve already outlined, being aware of what the general tendency of your thoughts. If your thoughts tend toward the negative, be aware of it. Understand that of yourself, and realize you will need to work toward a healthier thought life. Most of us need to do it to some extent or another, and some need it more than others.
The next step in talking to ourselves is called Pattern Interruption. When you notice your thoughts tending toward the negative even slightly, say “STOP!” to yourself. Throw up a mental stop sign, or a hazard warning or whatever works for you. Do it as quickly as you notice it.
The next step in talking to ourselves is called Re-framing. Take the situation or emotion that’s bothering you, and reword it into positive terms. See the good side of it, however small. If someone was cruel to you, realize your mission in life might not include that person, and know you are doing all you able to be polite and pleasant, despite their bad behavior. If it is raining, and you wanted to have a picnic, think about how good the rain will be for the plants, and how you can have your picnic indoors. You get the idea!
The final step in talking to ourselves is to do just that — Talk to Yourself! Look at what you can do, instead of what you can’t and change your focus to that. Tell yourself things only look impossible until someone does them. Instead of listening to your inner critic, tell your inner critic to be silent!
Most of us have an inner critic resulting from experiences from somewhere in childhood and as we grew up. Maybe a sibling or parent told you that you couldn’t do something. Maybe you failed at something you tried and the kids at school laughed at you. Maybe you weren’t attractive enough, or smart enough, good enough or something enough to get the attention of a special someone. The more negative experiences we had as children and young adults, the louder our outer critics, the louder our inner critic will likely be for us.
Quite frankly, for many of us, if someone outside of us talked to us the way we allowed our inner critics talked to us, we’d sever all ties with them! Think of your relationship between yourself and your thought life the same way as you would between yourself and a friend. Would you allow your friend to talk to you that way? If not, then why are you allowing yourself to do it?
Using these techniques of being aware of our thoughts, Pattern Interruption, Re-framing and Talking to Ourselves are vital steps in silencing our inner critics. Once you start to master these steps, you will find you have a healthier thought life. And a healthier thought life leads to healthier relationships, and more happiness in your life overall.