Tuning Into Our Inner Voice

Thinking About Your Thinking

Our ‘inner voice’ is what we use to reflect on what we do, how and why we behave in the way we do, how we critique ourselves and how we connect the knowledge, ideas, concepts and concept frameworks… It is the voice that challenges us to strive further and the voice that condemns our foolishness.
— Mark Treadwell, (2014) Learning: How the Brain Learns

Long ago I learned from the researcher Mary Bud Row, she made me realize that when students didn’t answer immediately I had a tendency of responding for them. Realizing this, I had to take charge of my own thinking and listening. I had to consciously refrain from saying anything after asking a question. The silence was troubling and deafening but I soon became comfortable with the fact that nobody was saying anything; rather they were thinking—which is what I really wanted. I soon realized that I had to not only pause my lips but I also had to pause my brain to fully listen to them and understand what they were saying.

I realized that I don’t have to respond to students when there is silence for a few moments. I learned that I could control my language and I could tell myself to be quiet. This experience led me to a life-long investigation and appreciation of the power of self-talk.

Here are a handful of tips that I have discovered along the way that may help you take better care of yourself by using positive inner language.

1. Become aware of your inner voice.

Before being a spectator of others, you need to be a spectator of yourself. For example, you may feel concerned about how you will support parents as they go through the stressful experience of balancing work with their children and their own work.

As you prepare for a conversation, consider engaging in an internal dialogue — a metacognitive rehearsal inside your mind. Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying,

“When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.”

Self- questioning elicits in your mind an active response and gives you an opportunity to prepare and rehearse. Some self- questioning might include:

  • What do I want as the outcome of this conversation?
  • How do I want to come across?
  • How might I remind myself to pause and ensure the other person feels heard?

2. Your brain is a thought factory – focus on your thoughts.

While we can’t just shut them down, we can focus our attention on our thoughts. Self-talk may become negative when we think back to situations that did not go well or when we ponder a future full of plans that could go wrong.

As an inner critic, monitor your choice of words. Would you talk to a child, a colleague or an employee the way you speak to yourself? When you become aware of a negative thought, say to yourself “Stop.” Replace the negative with a positive thought. For example:

  • “I can’t”, intentionally replace it with, “I haven’t been able to yet…” which offers the possibility of improvement.
  • “I shouldn’t,” replace it with “What are my choices?” …. Which puts you in charge of your own conscious decisions.
  • “Never,” “Always,” “Everybody,” “Nobody.” Remember, there are always exceptions to generalizations and exaggerations.

When we focus on the present and see moments and opportunities as valuable, it more effectively helps us reach our goals.

3. Make judgements about what you hear yourself saying to yourself.

You have the power to make choices about what inner chatter to pay attention to and what to dismiss.

Criteria to Pay Attention To:

  • Is it positive?
  • Growth producing?
  • Trust building?
  • Unifying?
  • Does it enhance others?
  • Is it constructive?
  • Respectful?
  • Civil?
  • Loving?

Criteria to Dismiss:

  • Is it destructive to myself or others?
  • Abusive?
  • Divisive?
  • Contemptible?

4. Silence the chatter.

Do you ever have difficulty going to sleep because your brain is processing the day, working on a problem or developing a plan? Can’t turn off the inner chatter? How do you slow your thinking down so that you can hear the silence? Try this:

  • Use deep breathing. Inhale through your nose to a count of four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds. Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds; hold your breath for four seconds. Repeat.
  • Write a list of things you have to do or ideas you don’t want to forget, or worries of what is churning in your brain so that you can let it go.
  • Pose a question or clarify a challenge that you are wanting to have insight. Your subconscious will continue to process while you are sleeping and you may wake up with an a-ha!

The bottom line is as humans we have an underdeveloped capacity to control our metacognition and our thinking. But the beauty is that we can continue to grow our dispositional thinking and move it toward the positive at any age with deliberate practice and reflection.