Calming Your Internal Voice

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The crazy and glorious thing about humans is that we have way more neurons in our cerebral cortex - the part of our brain that deals with higher functions - than any other animal. This means we have more advanced thoughts than our primate cousins, elephants or even dolphins. One of the side effects of this is our internal monologue. We have a whole second voice inside our heads that can be a supportive guide or a demonic force.

That is where perspective comes from, and, while we have the ability to control our perspective and our thoughts, we rarely do so. Often we don’t even know its possible. You know people who are so “them” they can’t empathize with anyone else? It’s kind of like that. If we don’t know that we are in control of our perspective, we may assume it is fact and believe that we can’t do anything about it.

A few years ago I took a class called the Landmark Forum when I was desperately struggling to communicate with my (now ex) husband, Richard. While we didn’t end up making it as a couple, I learned a ton from the forum and my biggest takeaways were that we are in control of our thoughts, experience and perspective, and that we each have different perspectives. Each of us brings a unique set of experiences to the table that makes up our perspective, so all 7.6 billion of us bring a different viewpoint to every experience.

This was a mind-boggling concept when I first learned it in 2005. I assumed prior that 1) everyone thought about things identically to how I did, 2) my perspective was fact and 3) this perspective was unalterable.

This eye popper threw back the curtain to a whole world of possibility. If I could control my perspective could I choose it? If so, what did I want my perspective to be? What was best? Was there a best? How to decide? This led to a whole lot of questioning, thinking and growing. It ultimately helped me guide and control my own perspective as well as my emotional reactions and overall outlook. This was during a very dark period of my life when I was incredibly anxious, unhappy, and lonely. It was my “dark before the dawn”. And while I didn’t enjoy those days, I’m grateful they existed because without dredging through that sludge, I’m not sure I’d have been able to do the work to lift myself out of my existing perspective or to change the direction of my unhappy life.

I didn’t manage this all alone. I found a good therapist (after a lousy therapist) to help me sort through all of this stuff, and help me find my true North. I was floundering. I remember feeling like a desiccated leaf blowing around at in the wind, with no control over my direction.

I learned I was so caught up in what other people wanted, and pleasing them, that I had never developed my own opinions or independent thoughts. I had extremely supportive and bright parents who steered me in positive directions despite myself, but they also sheltered me from developing my own instincts. I realized I was 26 and still very much a child, and it was high time to stand on my own two feet. This meant going inside myself to my core to suss out my own deeply under-evolved instincts. It meant being my own friend and support system rather than rely completely on those around me. Most importantly, it meant giving up a lot of my preconceived notions about the world and my experience in it.

After a lot of therapy, tears, and learning, I finally earned the hard-won tools to go back into my brain and recreate my existence. I’ve continued this work ever since, striving to develop a more and more positive outlook. I’ve learned so much about how our our productivity, our longevity, impact and our very health are all directly influenced by our perspective. I’ve done a ton of study around the benefits and pitfalls of happiness. A lot of reading, discussion and learning from experts. The most impactful book I’ve read on this topic is The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. He also has a TED talk on the topic, which you can find here. The good news is, happiness is both contagious and useful. It helps us maintain good health, get more and better work accomplished, all sorts of fabulous stuff. It also helps us manage our internal monologue so that the voice in our brain helps us reach our goals, instead of standing in the way.

What are your thoughts on this topic of perspective? What do you do to manage your internal monologue?