Although having "voices" in your head is supposedly some sign of mental disturbance, in fact everyone actually has a constant chattering in their head throughout the day (and sometimes at night as you quickly discover in a bout of insomnia). Whether comments to ourselves about the people walking by... the to-do list for the day... anxiety about an ache or pain... or the multitude of other thoughts that stream through, internal voices are so much a part of us that few of us consciously "hear" this conversation. We assume that our thoughts are merely our thoughts, a barrage of things you tell yourself -- I’m late, it’s not my fault, what will my boss say, he always picks on me -- that gets you into a mood and mode of thinking. Learning to listen, however, can quite literally provide you with the opportunity to change your life. You’ll learn lots by getting acquainted with the tone and dynamic and vibe of your inner voice. Focus on what you are really like as you talk to yourself day in and day out. You may be shocked to realize you are being managed by your own voice telling you it’s okay to be lazy... lie... eat that handful of peanuts... put off calling your mother till tomorrow, etc.
Each of us is encased in a body, but we actually live in our thoughts and they are what create the quality of our lives, explains life coach and regular Daily Health News contributor Lauren Zander. She likens these internal voices to the Wizard of Oz -- a force that is hidden and invisible but really turns out to be pulling the strings. Few people realize that we are not our thoughts -- rather we create them and therefore have the power to alter them. We can choose to turn them into positive forces to help produce the life we really want.
Lauren says this realization dawned for her when she was 17 and learning to drive. "I was listening to the scared voice in my head warning me about horrible things that were about to happen," she says. "I realized it was like a crazy freak was talking in my brain... it was not helping me. I wanted it to shut up, stop being so scared... and quit scaring me." So she told it to shut up and it did. "That was one of my first realizations that we don’t have to believe everything our mind is telling us," she says.
Most people don’t even realize what they’re thinking or saying since their thoughts and perceptions come so naturally. They become the wallpaper of life -- it’s just what it is. To change it, you must start by becoming aware, Lauren says. She advises keeping a "thought log." Three times a day, take a few minutes to write down exactly what you’ve been thinking. All of it... your thoughts while sitting in traffic... watching the news... about what your spouse did or didn’t do that morning... what your neighbor said to you... how you felt about your child’s behavior... you get the picture. Don’t edit -- this is a common mistake, but you won’t learn anything unless you write down the exact words. Probably there will be a lot you don’t like. "Expect thoughts that are crazy, inaccurate, inconsistent or mean -- that is why we don’t say them out loud or admit them to ourselves," says Lauren. But these voices prompt much of what you do, which is why this exercise is crucial. Some voices are helpful -- perhaps urging you to ask for a raise or hold a door for a stranger or compliment a friend... but many are up to no good, egging you on to put off a project, smoke a cigarette or grab chips with your lunch. Writing down the words that provoke, justify or demand these behaviors provides insight into what is really in your head. So you can start to separate from them and take charge of your life.
Use a notebook, post-it notes or even a recorder to keep your thought log for two weeks, which should be long enough to reveal the true nature of your head chatter. This will also help you better understand your personality by uncovering the patterns in your comments. Make an effort to notice recurrent themes that shape your perceptions and thinking about the world. Some examples of common themes include doom ("Oh dear, I just know this won’t go well")... anxiety about terrible things that could happen ("What if they find out...I’ll be in real trouble")... anger ("I’ll just explode if he says that again")... judgments against yourself ("I look terrible, I hate getting older")... fears of many kinds, including failure, accidents, loss and more.
"These voices limit us and get us into trouble," says Lauren. Therefore, they are the ones to capture in your thought log and confront. Once you know what they are saying, you can see how childish or ridiculous or unnecessarily frightened they are (as Lauren discovered as a teenage driver) and you can use your voice of reason to silence them -- or just to turn down the volume so you can attend to the anxieties and fears that really need to be addressed.
Initially the value of a thought log is the insights it provides to your life at large, but soon it can become a tool to help you challenge and change specific beliefs and behaviors. Let’s say you would like to find a new job, but just thinking about the process makes you fearful. What is it that your thoughts say is too scary for you to do? Listen carefully, write down the words and you will know exactly what you are up against. Do you want to quit smoking? Get out your notebook and record the words your "cigarette" voice says to you -- "It’s been 10 minutes, time for another... You deserve a cigarette after that conversation... Come on, smoking isn’t that bad for you!" Your thought log clarifies how your voices command you.
By cultivating knowledge and awareness of how your thoughts can and do lead you astray, you can develop a new, more powerful voice that reflects the real wishes you hold in your heart. Make promises to yourself about specific changes you dream of -- such as being a more loving parent or arriving at work earlier in the morning. For example, plan the time you need to get up... then listen to how your "sleepy" voice will try to talk you out of it. Prepare your real voice to talk back and powerfully claim your true desire, which will drown out the sleepy voice whining for five more minutes. You don’t have to view this as a heavy burden, Lauren adds -- she advises instead that you listen to the hungry voice that wants a cookie, to the wine voice that wants another glass, the tired voice that wants to roll over instead of getting up to exercise... and enjoy telling them no. They are no longer in charge of what you do.