What if I told you that I was worried about my partner not responding to a text and my best friend’s response was that he’s probably cheating on me because I’m not good enough? You would strongly encourage me to stay away from that friend and all their negativity.
But the reality is that this so-called best friend isn’t a real-life person, but my inner voice—and it always finds a way to creep in to instill fear in me, sabotage my happiness, or question my self-worth. Sometimes it tells me not to bother approaching someone I admire because they wouldn’t be interested, apply for the job I want because I don’t stand a chance, or have hopes of an abundant life because I’ve never been good with money.
Sadly, I’m not alone: every human being possesses one of those inner voices to question, doubt, and challenge their dreams, aspirations, and sense of self. It’s a survival mechanism our ancestors needed to keep them safe from wild animals or big natural disasters, but in modern-day society this voice has evolved into this untamed inner beast that can often encourage us to shy away from greatness.
But how can we step away from those negative patterns and turn our inner dialogue around? If we’d never speak to a friend in such derogatory ways, we should certainly not be speaking to ourselves like that either, so how do we take back control and learn to quiet the inner critic down?
Separate Yourself From Your Inner Voice
Mo Gawdat, a former Google executive and author of the book Solve for Happy, suggests that part of the happiness formula involves acknowledging your inner critic and understanding that you are not your negative thoughts.
How do you achieve this? With an open mind—and a fair share of humor. Give your inner voice or critic a name (Gawdat calls his Becky), speak to them, and let them know that you’re in charge.
“I call my brain Becky, because Becky is a third party. One of the biggest challenges we have in the modern world is that we think the thoughts in our brains are ‘me talking to me.’ If it was ‘me talking to me’, I would have known what I needed to say instinctively, it wouldn’t need to speak. Our brain has a biological function of looking at the world around us, making sense of it, and turning it into thoughts,” explained Gawdat, adding that we shouldn’t then take those thoughts and equate them with our whole being.
“I believe when Descartes said ‘I think therefore I am’ he was wrong. It’s ‘I am, therefore I think.’ Once you realize that your brain is a third party, you make a deal with Becky: she can give you a useful thought or a positive thought, everything else isn’t allowed. That’s when everything changes and you are in charge. When my brain does anything else, I’ll listen for a little — ‘fine brain, complain that the coffee isn’t great’ — but Becky is there to serve me. Every brain is constantly looking for what’s wrong with life, but those thoughts are presented to me and I’m in charge. You can take those thoughts and try to find the useful side, or something more joyful in the picture our brain is painting.”
Make Space for a New Kind of Dialogue
Once you start creating a distance between yourself and your negative self-talk, you’ll be creating space for a new kind of dialogue with yourself. It’s a real opportunity to start becoming more intentional with the way you speak to yourself and fill up your system with positive thoughts that will prime you to face the world, channel positive energy, and simply feel joyful.
Journaling is one of the most effective ways to achieve this. If you start your mornings — the time of day where your brain is most receptive to your instructions and affirmations — by writing down things that you are grateful about yourself and your life in The Five Minute Journal and show yourself a sign of confidence with a positive affirmation, you’re taking power away from that inner critic and setting a different kind of tone for your inner dialogue.
Sometimes things will go wrong and our panicked inner voice will creep up again. The answer isn’t in forever running away or being afraid of that inner critic, but rather acknowledging it and even spending some time listening to it, in silence—similarly to how you sit and observe your thoughts during a meditation.
“I have a ritual called ‘Meet Becky’ where I actually listen. I allow my brain to say what’s going on inside, with me listening to it. Most of the time we don’t really listen to our brains, it’s like white noise, so just like a good friend it tries to alert you again and again. If you acknowledge it, your brain goes silent,” said Gawdat.
Mindfulness is a very individual pursuit, but some easy routes to presence include deep breathing, listening to a guided meditation, taking a gratitude walk, or focusing on a single object in your view. Even if you spend a mere few minutes practicing mindfulness during a stressful situation, you will immediately break your connection to the negative thoughts and realign with your true consciousness.
Now that we’ve established that our brain is a third party and we’re not our thoughts, start observing the way your brain functions like a curious external observer. Are there certain situations or people that trigger your mind to act out and your inner critic to become extra loud with the negative talk?
Maybe your hometown brings up old memories and limiting beliefs associated with your formative years, or crowded spaces spike your social anxiety? Note down those mental triggers and work towards cutting them out of your life or improving your attitude towards them.
By becoming an investigator of your own mind, you gain power over it and get to reset the rules, so that there’s no longer a negative inner voice writing the script of your life—you become the sole author.