Imagine this; you are outside an interview room waiting to be called in. The interview is for a job you really desire. You know you possess the right skills and experience. You are well prepared and dressed right. In spite of all that you are feeling a wee bit nervous.
A close friend is accompanying you. As you look through the glass door of the interview room, your friend spots the interviewer and says, “That guy looks mean. He probably won’t like you. He may give you a hard time”
Hearing this, your nervousness jumps up a notch. As you step into the interview room and come face to face with the interviewer you find that he does look intimidating. You somehow fumble through the meeting.
As you walk out of the room you know that you’ve blown it. And your friend says, ” You are a stupid oaf. You couldn’t even get the simplest of answers right. Even if you did get the job you would probably have screwed it up.”
By now you are probably thinking that this is not a great friend to hang out.
But would you be surprised if I told you that this friend is none other than self-talk – often called by many as the voice in your head. The things we often say to ourselves are much harsher, judgmental and critical than we would say to anybody else. (Some people experience this self-talk as a feeling more than a voice but for the purpose of this article I will refer to this as the voice in your head.)
Where does the voice in your head come from?
The voice is nothing but the mind analysing information. It is a sum of our experiences and the rules we form based on those experiences. So if the interviewer looks like a pre-primary teacher you hated in school then, the subconscious sees him as a threat and is very vocal to point it out. This is why you may form an impression of people within 30 seconds of meeting them. It is also possible that you may not even remember the experience causing you to form the opinion.
The neurons in your head take nanoseconds to analyse millions of data points stored in your brain and give you an opinion. This opinion is often the conversation in your head. This is also one of the reasons that the voice in your head sounds so opinionated; because it is.
Often, but not always the voice may sound like a parent or parent figure whose approval you craved as a child. This is because a lot of our rules about life come from our early upbringing and parents play a strong part in it.
Why is the voice hanging around in the first place?
While the message of the voice can be unkind and discouraging the intent is rarely so. The brain’s primary job is to keep you safe and the subconscious is constantly tracking for any signs of danger. The voice is often a way for the mind to point out danger, help you get the attention you crave or save you from disappointments like the ones you may have had in your past.
Unfortunately for us the voice comes with 2 inherent flaws:
- The conclusions it draws from the data it has are not always true. For e.g the mind’s subconscious opinion may be that the interviewer looks like a mean teacher from your childhood, hence he will be mean as well. In reality, this may not be true.
- The outcome often does not match the intent of the voice. The voice in your head says that the interviewer must be mean with the intent to warn you so that you can save yourself from getting hurt or upset. In reality, it may derail your confidence in the moment and cause you to mess up the interview.
Is this voice the real me?
The voice in your head is a part of your subconscious but it is not the “real” you. From the scientific viewpoint the real you is the one observing the voice(s).
Making peace with the voice:
Anyone who has tried this understands that you cannot just ask the voice to shut up. It seems to pretty much work on its own. Meditation to a large extent is to be able to quiet the mind of the constant chatter. But since most of us can’t meditate for large periods of time there are alternatives to deal with the voice especially at times when it bothers you, impacts your confidence and hurts you.
- Remember that the voice is not you or someone who knows the absolute truth. It is a thought inside of you that is being brought to focus in your consciousness. It is an opinion being shared and you can look at it and decide whether to accept it or not.
- You have a choice to accept or reject the opinion: Think of it like a sign board outside a restaurant that says “Hot, delicious meals served here.” Unless you sample the meals you won’t know if they are hot or delicious. And you also have the choice not to sample them at all and continue whatever it was that you were doing before you saw the sign.
- Treat it as a well-meaning friend. Ask yourself, “If the voice had a positive intent what could be the intent be.” And address that. In this example, something as simple as reminding yourself that you are not a toddler anymore and that you can take care of yourself even if the interviewer is mean may help.
- Work through things that show a pattern. If certain environments, people or situations trigger the voice understanding and resolving it with professional support can work wonders for your confidence.
Whatever you do, you must never let the voice in your head control the brain in your heart.- Steve Jobs
Disclaimer: This article discusses self-talk and feelings of self-doubt and is not a reference for medical disorders such as Schizophrenia