«Darn, I forgot to call her back. That’s two days in a row! She’s going to be pissed. Maybe I should try her now. No, it’s too late right now. I’ll do it tomorrow.»
«Shoot, I can’t remember his name. Here he come. What is his name? Dave?… Don? He told me yesterday. Why can’t ever remember this stuff? Ugh, this is going to be awkward.»
«God, I just want some chocolate right now. Maybe I should go out and get some before the store closes. But once I start I won’t stop. No, I’m not going to do that again tonight. I always end up eating way more than I want to… I really want some chocolate. OK, I’ll get some tonight and tomorrow I’ll eat really well all day, no sweets.»
«I just ate 2 large chocolate bars in one sitting. What is wrong with me?! I feel so ugly and fat and disgusting and useless.»
In case you haven’t noticed already, you have a voice inside your head that never stops. It goes on and on. No matter what the situation, it has something to say. Have you ever wondered how it decides what to say and when to say it? Have you ever wondered if what it’s saying is important? Or if its even true?
And if right now you are hearing, «I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a voice in my head.»… THAT’S the voice I’m referring to. Notice that this voice takes both sides of a conversation. It doesn’t care which side it takes, it just keeps on talking. It rationalizes, it makes decisions and justifies, it rambles.
When you’re tired and trying to fall asleep, it’s the dialogue that’s running around saying,
«Wait! I forgot to send that email! I can’t go to sleep yet. I remembered that earlier this evening but I didn’t send it. If I don’t get up and write it now… oh, geez. It’s really late. I mean, honestly, what’s the difference if I send it now or first thing in the morning? It’s silly to turn on the light, get up and type that out right now. I’ll just do it tomorrow. I need to get to sleep, I have a lot of things to do tomorrow. It’s so hard to fall asleep right now.»
If you spend time observing this mental chatter, you’ll quickly notice it never shuts up. If you watch it closely, you’ll notice that it’s just trying to find a comfortable place to settle. It will change sides in an instant if that seems like it’s more comfortable. If it realizes it’s wrong, it will adjust it’s perspective and take on the opposite side and keep on talking. Once you start noticing the mental chatter, if you keep at it, you’ll begin to notice repeating patterns around certain things. These are the thoughts or chatter that come up again and again. The mental conversations or debates that you have with yourself that you’ve been having for as long as you can remember.
An interesting thing to discern when you find these repeating conversations is what feelings you have as the dialogue is rambling away.
If you’re thinking, «I’m such a pig, I just eat so much food all the time no matter what I do,» this creates a feeling. You may not have noticed or made the distinction between the thought (what I’d call an «invisible script») and the feeling created by it. For me, making the distinction between my thoughts and feelings initially took some practice. I had them collapsed as the same thing, all part of the endless dialogue from the voice in my head.
It occurred to me like the voice was reality, talking about what was true.
Then I began to watch the voice and realize how fickle it was. I noticed that this voice would often rationalize things and change sides, depending on what was comfortable. I realized that it was actually silly to believe what it was saying was true, since it would flip around so quickly.
That’s around the time I also realized that there were two parts here: there was me, listening to the voice, and then there was the voice. I sometimes refer to the voice as the «animal brain». It can also be called the «ego». Whatever you want to refer to it as, it’s the part that chatters… and then there’s you that notices this part chattering.
Once I was identifying this voice and it’s patterns, what became fascinating was seeing how the voice created feelings.
At one point I journaled about this, writing down my thoughts in one column and my feelings in another.
I was noticing how powerful my thoughts—that voice in my head—were in creating the way I felt. And since the voice in my head is so fickle, when I’m not aware of it, my feelings resulting from the voice are at its mercy.
If the voice is being particularly nasty due to being triggered by something, I feel worse and worse. If I’m not aware, then when the voice says harsh things, I believe those things to be true. The voice may say something nasty about me, my behavior or my appearance, or it may say something gossipy and mean about someone else. Either way, my feelings are affected.
It becomes a snowball effect: something triggers the voice (or my «animal brain» or my ego), the voice starts saying harsh things, I feel bad, the voice keeps going, I feel worse, and that affects my behaviors, actions and words.
A great example of this is if I look in the mirror and the voice says something nasty about my appearance, then I feel ugly, shameful, weak, etc. How likely is it that I’m then going to go nourish myself with the best, most delightful food that I can find and eat only the amount that feels comfortable?
More likely is that I’ll beat myself up, restrict my eating all day because I deserve to starve, then cave in and eat a whole bunch in rebellion. This is a very likely outcome if I’m not aware of this voice and not noticing how it affects me.
So what’s there to do with this voice? If you try to ignore it or tell it to shut up, it’s only going to become louder and more insistent.
The best way to liberate yourself from this incessant chatter is to zoom out and watch it. Become an observer of it. Notice it as a mechanism that has the ability to appear like it’s speaking the truth and sounds like someone is in your head talking to you. Don’t think about it, just notice it.
No matter what that voice says, nice things or nasty things, it’s all the same kind of chatter. It doesn’t matter if it’s saying superficial things or spiritual things. It’s still just a voice in your head. If you are observing it saying things, it’s not actually you—you are the one that’s hearing it. You’re the observer.
When you begin to realize you’re not this voice, you’re just the one that hears it, you’re making an extraordinary leap of growth.
The more you watch it objectively, the more you’ll start to see that the voice is meaningless. No matter what the voice is saying, life will continue to unfold as it always has. The voice may hate it or may love it, but life goes on.
So, if this voice is so meaningless, then why does it exist? The answer to this lies in understanding why it says what it says when it says it.
This is when your skills of becoming an observer of the voice come into play. When you can observe the voice, you can start to become interested in why it’s saying what it’s saying. It might be because there’s a buildup of energy inside of you about something that needs to get out. The voice often gets more active when there’s a buildup of anxiety, fear, challenge, or desire. The voice also runs even when there’s nothing in particular bothering you. It mostly acts as a narrator of your world. It says things like,
«Look at that. The flowers really look good in front of that house.»
«Oh, there goes a basset hound. I love those kind of dogs.»
«Geez, look at that dress she’s wearing. It’s not exactly the color I would have chosen, but it looks pretty good on her.»
This narration is a way of helping you to feel secure. You’re noticing the world around you, so you must be a part of that world. If you’re noticing the world around you, then you are having a direct experience with it. The voice is validating your existence.
So this voice goes about validating your existence, then mixing that in your mind with all your other thoughts based on your past, your impressions, your perspectives, etc. As this soup of thought mixes together, you then internally interpret your world. (So what you end up experiencing is actually your personal understanding of the world according to you. It’s not the unfiltered, raw experience of what’s actually out there. But that’s another conversation for another time.)
The voice exists to help you survive in the world based on how it’s interpreting things. It will adjust however it needs to in order to feel comfortable and validated.
The more you can notice the voice, the more you can use it as an indicator.
If you notice that it’s getting nasty or loud or obsessive, you can become curious. If you notice that you’re feeling low, watch what’s coming from the voice that’s creating the feeling. So rather than reacting automatically and reaching for more food because you’re feeling low, or bored, or lonely… you can listen to the voice. You can give it space to run it’s course.
Watch the voice urge you to eat more, or chastise you for losing control or whatever it wants to do. Acknowledge it as mental chatter. Then look for why it’s saying what it’s saying. Appreciate it for trying to express something that’s going on for you, and then let it go if it’s not serving you. It might get louder. It might try harder to convince you. Keep appreciating it for doing its job by indicating something that it wants expressed, and keep letting it go.
The more you practice this, the easier it will be to be to identify as the observer and not the voice. It’s the doorway to having the power to create anything and everything you want in your life.
If you learn how to listen to the voice and use it effectively, this same voice that has caused worry, anxiety and neurosis can become the launching pad for getting you where you truly want to go.