I like to think of myself as an introverted extrovert. When I’m comfortable, I can be the life of the party. But in other circumstances, I might be super quiet and hesitant to chime in. But things are quite different in my head, where I’m dealing with an inner critic. In there, it’s a loud and boisterous free-for-all where a myriad of voices are fighting for attention. Sometimes the voices are kind and nurturing. But all too often it’s the negative voices that make the most noise.
I read in an article recently that humans can process inner speech 10 times faster than verbal speech, an average pace of 4,000 words per minute. Whoa. That’s a crazy amount of chatter. It’s particularly concerning when you think about the unfriendly self-talk in your head. Struggles with hearing loss can bring a litany of negative voices to the forefront. It’s so easy to beat ourselves up when we bungle a conversation or can’t follow a story in a group setting. For me, it seems as if the pessimistic voices are more believable. Maybe they’re just louder or more strong-willed. Even more, they know how to precisely pinpoint that soft vulnerable spot in my psyche. I have several voices that constantly chime in. The most prominent are the two super annoying play-by-play sprts annoucers that chat endlessly about my hearing issues. They’re cranky old men that have nothing good to say about me.
“Look at this, Bob. Pete’s going into the conference room where he has a dismal track record of understanding his coworkers.”
“That’s true Stan. Look at the slumped shoulders, the utter lack of confidence. Even if he does speak up, he’s going to come across as a dimwit.”
“He’s sitting in the back…again. Trying to be invisible. That’s not a good strategy for being a valued teammate.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s fired by the end of the day.”
“And in a familiar turn of events, the conference room phone line is barely audible and full of static. Look at the stress on his face.”
“We’ve seen him badly embarrass himself in this situation before, Bob. Let’s see if it happens again.”
Boy, I hate these guys. So much. That’s why I had to do something about them.
We all make mistakes in life, but dwelling on our mishaps and believing the negative voices that prey upon those moments is a slippery slope.
“Your thoughts greatly influence how you feel and behave, which can cause negative self-talk to be downright self-destructive,” says psychotherapist and best-selling mental strength author Amy Morin.
The more we focus our attention on what went wrong or how bad we feel simply gives more power to those negative feelings. Difficulties are no doubt going to happen in life, so we all need a way of talking to ourselves that doesn’t make things worse.
Even though I write and speak about the challenges of being hard of hearing, and relive those expereinces in my stories, I make sure to give power to the core me. The real me. The powerful and unstoppable me. The me that says things like:
“Being hard of hearing is a blessing. It gives me a unique perspective of the world that others might not have.”
“I’m incredibly lucky to be living at a time where really smart people can create an amazing product such as the Phonak Audeo Marvel hearing aid.”
“For a 50-year-old dude that’s losing his hearing, I’m ‘living more loudly’ than ever before. And I have a great head of hair still.”
When it comes to being hard of hearing, there are countless so-called “can’t do’s.” You can’t converse in large groups. You can’t have certain jobs. You can’t learn a musical instrument. But what if you ousted those fearful little naysayers? Who says you can’t do any of those things? The human mind is more powerful than we can ever imagine. We are creative machines capable of endless achievements. If only our inner critics were more supportive. Well, guess what? There are ways to better manage that internal dialogue.
As you can see by the sports announcers I talked about earlier, I like to give the voices in my head names and personalities. At one point, I thought those voices were part of my core persona (i.e. the real me). But then I named them, gave them occupations, and even gave them a backstory.
Stan Doltface is a has-been baseball player that never lived up to his own expectations, and somehow lucked into a career inside my head as a Color Commentator for a network called My Life TV. His cohort, Bob Bonehead, is as angry and cantankerous as all the voices in my head. He hates everything about me. He’s old and cranky and smells of moldy cheese.
Once I put these voices in the third person, and became aware of them, they turned into entities “other than me.” Occasionally, they try to start a broadcast after I goof up. But now it’s super easy to unplug their microphones when I need to. You can do this as well. Separate yourself as much as possible from the negative voices in your head. Only then can you put them in their place. I firmly believe that positive self talk has the potential to create magic in our lives. We only have to remind ourselves that the negative voices are not us.
By focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do, you become more aware of the possibilities that can help you hear in specific situations. For example, if you agree with the voices in your head saying you’re going to have trouble hearing at a dinner party, then guess what, you’re going to have difficulty hearing in that situation. But what if you said something like, “I can do this. I’m going to be positive, and try my best to hear?”
“By focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do, you become more aware of the possibilities that can help you hear in specific situations.”
By focusing on the positive voices in your head instead of the negative ones, you might notice more ways to understand better. You might notice that the person next to you is more than willing to help you out with the conversation. You might be more confident asking for clarification when needed. Your focus and positive attention on the situation might help you notice verbal cues and gestures you might overlook if you’re in a negative state. It’s this awareness of what’s possible that makes a big difference in our lives.
Obviously, thinking positive doesn’t automatically make you hear better. But according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, focusing on the positive voices instead of the negative ones helps you better manage stress, which has added health benefits such as:
- A strengthened immune system
- An increased lifespan
- Lower rates of depression
- Decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
With that kind of evidence, it’s worth monitoring our inner critic, making sure the cast of characters in your head are all playing nice and not stressing us out on a regular basis.
- Make the voices in your head characters: This way you can distance yourself from them, and tell them to “shut up” when they need a time out.
- Do an activity: Go for a run, read a book, visit a friend. Ignoring the inner critic is the quickest way to quiet it. Without attention, it will get bored and fade away for a bit.
- Give power to the positive voices: The negative ones don’t get to rule your life. The go-getting, uplifting ones should. Notice the optimistic chatter in your head and move towards that as much as possible.
- Meditate: Quieting the madness helps calm the mind and the body, so you can more easily present more helpful inner dialogue.
- Remind yourself that your thoughts are not always your reality: Just because you think and feel angry, upset, anxious, or frustrated doesn’t mean you are those things. They come and go depending on your mood. Remembering that gives you hope that “this too shall pass.”
What kind of creative ways do you use to manage the inner voices in your head?