Seven simple tactics to tame your negative inner voices

All too-often we are distracted from making a big decision by the opinions of people around us. But more dangerous are our own, self-limiting inner voices. Learn seven simple ways to tame them for good!

How many times have you decided not to try something new or avoided making a big decision because a negative inner voice has put you off?

Coach Amanda Cullen explains why our inner voices can be so limiting, and how you can tame yours and make the right decisions.

We all need peace and quiet to think

In today’s busy lives we have many roles. We may be mums, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers, employees, leaders, teachers, cleaners, chauffeurs… the list goes on and on!

So no surprise that it’s often hard to get some peace and quiet to stop and think. And even if we are able to escape from external distraction, the noise is often replaced with our own inner voices, telling us what we should or shouldn’t do.

Whether we are trying to make huge decisions (moving house, changing jobs, or going back to work after a career break) or smaller but still important ones, it can be hard to find space to think calmly and clearly.

But this is important, because what we really need at such a time is clarity, focus, objectivity and the scope to be really single minded about our purpose – what it is we really want to do.

What are your inner voices stopping you achieving?

Recently I was talking to someone about her desire for a change. She said she had spent so much time thinking about it, weighing up the pros and cons, discussing it with her husband, her friends and pretty well anyone who would listen, that she was now completely confused.

As she said, “I have so much noise in my head, I’m over-thinking everything. Plus I’ve heard so many other people’s views on what I could and should do that I’ve lost sight of what I want. I don’t know who the real me is any more.”

This fear of losing sight of the ‘real me’ is particularly common when we are trying to make changes that aren’t completely clear to us. We know that we’re not satisfied where we are, that something needs to change, but we aren’t sufficiently in touch with what’s important to us to work out what we do want.

So we ask other people for their input, and pay attention to the little voices in our head that usually try to sabotage any move we make towards something new. These voices may say things like:

  • It’s too risky.
  • It’s selfish/greedy.
  • It’s too difficult.
  • Not now, maybe later.
  • And my favourite – It’s irresponsible! 

While it may be true that the big decision we are trying to make involves risk, uncertainty, challenge and appropriate timing, it is also true that going for it may be the best thing you could ever do. So finding a way to cut through the noise to the heart of the decision is really key.

Seven simple tactics to tame your inner voices

If you have a big decision to make, but are finding it hard to ignore a persistent, negative voice in your head, try one of the following techniques to deal with it. 

1) Listen to it and take note

Sometimes the little voice has a useful point to make, and it’s worth listening to identify what the point is and then to take it into consideration. Set time aside to do this properly, paying real attention to the underlying message and getting clear on whether it is a valid worry or just an excuse to put off your decision.

2) Ignore it

If that little voice is just bugging you, but without any useful purpose, it can sometimes work to simply plough on regardless, and stay focussed on the real issue at hand.

3) Personify it

Attribute a personality to your little voice – for example, a threatening voice may be a school bully, a whining voice may be a spoilt brat, or a strict voice may be a head teacher.

Spend some time fleshing out what this personality is like – what they wear, how they stand, how they speak, their gestures. Then when the little voice starts talking to you, you’ll recognise it as the gremlin it is, and treat it with far less attention.

In fact you can even consciously send it away from you. Try physically pushing it out of the room and shutting the door, or giving it a metaphorical kick out of your way.

4) Embody it

Notice how your little voice turns up. Does it sit on your shoulder whispering in your ear? Does it lurk behind you like a shadow looming over you? Or scamper around your feet waiting to trip you up?

What physical reaction does it cause in you? Does it make your shoulders hunch, or make you feel sick, or weigh you down? As you objectively identify what it does to you, it may lose its power over you, or again you can choose to send it away.

5) Write or speak to it

Sometimes sitting down and writing a letter or email to your little voice is a useful exercise. After all, if we remember what we said at the start, that your little voice is designed to keep you safe, then it may be helpful to think through and respond logically to the message it is giving you.

If writing is not your thing you could also record a message or video to it on your phone or computer. Often you will find that your decision becomes easier once you can get out into the open the message your little voice is giving you and your considered response.

Or if the message is not useful, use the letter, email or recording to hurl abuse at your little voice! Really let it all out and tell it how annoyed or upset it makes you. Just remember to tear up or delete the message afterwards, or at least put it somewhere safe!

6) Make it an appointment

If your little voice keeps distracting you throughout the day or whenever the external hubbub of the day quietens down, try setting a time when you will give it full attention, and then focus completely on it for a set period of time – perhaps 10 minutes, half an hour, or longer if it has something useful to say.

Sometimes this enables you to stop worrying the rest of the time, or at least to be less distracted, secure in the knowledge that you will give the concern proper attention in due course.

7) Give it a job!

Finally, it sometimes pays to give your little voice a specific job. For example, you could give it permission to ponder who you need to talk to and when, or what information you still need to get to make a considered decision.

By setting it a particular task, often the other negative messages it is giving out reduce or even fall away.

How will you tame your little voice next time it invades your space?

Which of these diversionary tactics appeals to you? Or maybe you already have a different technique for managing your internal distractions? Don’t forget to use it next time that little voice threatens to take over!

Amanda Cullen helps small business owners to run their business better. She runs Business Made Simpler, which offers 1:1 coaching and runs monthly workshops in London.