“We are what we think about all day long.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I talk to myself.
All day long there is an internal chatter buzzing along.
Last week it was as if I had given the voices in my head a shot of double espresso. They were on a high, in overdrive, on full-volume, and they were keeping me up at night.
Luckily, it was mostly positive chatter, even if it was cutting into my beauty sleep.
I had a series of positive events occur. I was excited and in planning mode. But, there was a voice in there that wasn’t so nice; that wanted to bring the party down; that wanted to sabotage me and kill my vibe.
I was able to quiet my Negative Nancy, but not before a few hours of lost sleep. (I’ll have to talk about the importance of sleep in another blog, sorry Arianna Huffington.)
Lack of sleep aside, it made me think about the quality of our thoughts - about what we say to ourselves on a daily basis.
We all have these internal “voices”, our mind chatter, and it’s the quality of these voices and the words we use that influence our beliefs, the actions we take (or don’t take), and ultimately the results we get.
All of it starts with the voices in our head!
Most of us let these voices run on autopilot having a field day in our minds as they go about saying whatever they please. Which is awesome when the things we say to ourselves serve us like, “you’ve got this,” or “keep going” or “you’re amazing!”.
It’s when our inner bully shows up, scowl and negative words to match, that we can run into problems.
“We can more or less easily distance ourselves from the unfounded accusations of others, but we’re much worse at distancing ourselves from the accusations we launch every day at ourselves. After all, if we think them about ourselves, they must be true. Right? Wrong. What we say to ourselves when we face a setback can be just as baseless as ravings of a jealous rival. Our reflexive explanations are usually distortions,” says Martin E.P. Selligman, Ph. D. in Learned Optimism.
It’s normal to have an inner bully. We all have one. Our inner bully is really just there as a way to protect ourselves and works as a self-defense mechanism.
As Tara Mohr points out in Playing Big, we’re wired for an inner critic (her term for inner bully).
“We don’t need to have had a particular life experiences to develop a harsh inner critic, we’re hard wired for it. The inner critic is an expression of the saftey instict in us, the part of us that wants to stay safe from potential emotional risk, from hurt, failure, criticism, dissapointment, or rejection from the tribe...What the inner critic says... just isn’t true. Being accurate isn’t the aim of the inner critic, getting you to avoid emotional risk is...The inner critic is like a guard at the edge of your comfort zone. As long as you don’t venture forth outside of that zone, the inner critic can leave you alone, like a guard taking a nap.”
Some of us may be wired to have a particularly loud inner bully, but the good news is, we can learn to work with our bully and quiet it down. Our bully might still be lurking in the playground, but we can teach it to play nicely.
There are many tools and techniques I share with my coaching clients when their inner bully decides to join the party uninvited, but for any of these to be effective, you first need be aware of the negative self-talk.
Awareness is always key.
The first step in quieting our inner bully is paying attention and catching it in action. Simply being aware and noting how many times this type of self-talk comes up is a giant step in shushing the negative and self-defeating “voice”.
Don’t try to avoid thinking or having negative self-talk. Anyone who has ever been on a deprivation diet knows how strong something becomes as soon as we think we can’t have it or try not to think about it.
Our inner bully is just like a pint of Ben & Jerry's we're trying not to think about. It won’t be forgotten.
Once you’ve become aware of these voices, here are two of my favorite ways quiet them:
- Play a little make believe. Give the voice a persona. Yes, seriously, we’re going from talking to yourself to giving the voice a persona...name your voice. Flesh it out. Give it a personality, a face. This helps us to see the negative voice as a different point of view and allows us to create a dialogue with a different viewpoint. This also allows us to see the negative thoughts as coming from a different perspective, instead of interpreting them as true and coming from ourselves. Which, I know, I know, they really are. Semantics.
Compassion. Yup. It’s counter-intuitive, but try telling that inner bully you just gave a persona how thankful you are that it’s looking out for you, since after all, it’s coming from a self-protection place. Let it know you appreciate it having your back, but that you’ve got it under control. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on this in Big Magic where she says to fear (which, is what our inner bully is operating out of), “I recognize and respect that you are a part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still your suggestions will NEVER be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. DUDE, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But, above all my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
My inner bully? Her name is Tara. She can be a bitch, but she means really well. Sometimes when I'm floating around on cloud nine she feels neglected and likes to come for a visit. She also likes to pop in for a chat whenever I'm about to do something new.
Dealing with our inner bully is ongoing work. Anytime we get to a new level in our life, it's bound to wanna come out and play. With a little awareness and practice, we can learn to live with our inner bully and even use its presence as a sign that we're onto a possible breakthrough.