The Job of My Daydreams
A while ago, I landed myself a job interview with a company that – at least on paper – seemed all but ideally suited for my interests and career goals. True, I didn’t have that much experience (to be more precise, I basically had no experience at all), but, somehow, I was sure that the spark in my eyes and the passion in my heart would more than make up for it.
I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so I planned everything out in detail the night before and got up three hours earlier in the morning. Half an hour later, I was already on the subway, headphones in my ears, my playlist stacked with so much firepower that I swear I could feel the cord burning from time to time.
In a word, I was more than ready.
The Interview of My Nightmares
I got to the offices pretty early, and I filled out the interview form with confidence and ease. But, then, as I was waiting to hear my name called (and while I was staring at a pretty bland abstract painting placed awkwardly on the wall across from me), something happened.
Namely, a few minutes before I heard the receptionist saying “they are ready to see you now,” I overheard someone else murmuring something I couldn’t quite figure it out at first. No bestselling book could have prepared me for the flash. As I listened in and started to connect the dots, I could not help but discern that this someone was talking about me – and in the most unflattering terms:
“Yet another youngblood! Just wait till you see the look on his face when they ask him about his previous experience! He probably thought he could get the job on that ‘Karate Kid’ song alone! Ha, ha, ha…”
I couldn’t get these words out of my head no matter how much I tried to be focused during the interview. When asked if there was something I’m uncomfortable with in relation to the job description, I actually said: “Nothing’s gonna ever keep me down.”
Among other embarrassing things.
Needless to add, the interview didn’t go very well.
And the minute I got out of it, I got a sudden urge to kill that guy who messed up my mojo by saying all those things. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an easy thing to do.
Since, you see, that guy existed only in my head.
How to Tone Down the Voice in Your Head
If the title isn’t a giveaway – I’m better now.
After the interview, I immediately started reading all that I could find about the nature and the genesis of our inner voices and, after a lot of effort and experimentation – by combining few of the already recommended approaches – I was able to develop my own personal inner-voice-fighting method.
One that has helped me to deal pretty successfully with my problem.
Hopefully, it will help you do the same with yours.
So, without further ado, here it is in full, step by step.
Step 1: Identify what your voice is telling you (aka: “Are you talking to me?”)
Sometimes, it can be fairly chaotic in your head.
So chaotic, in fact, that discerning what your inner voice is saying may seem like all but an impossible task!
In fact, it’s quite easy: just retreat to a dark and quiet place, listen attentively and put the things you’ll hear in writing. Underline the positive things with green and the negative ones with red. Obviously, it’s the latter that needs to be treated.
To understand the necessity of this step, think of the processes happening in your brain as multiple tabs in your browser, few of them on autoplay.
To mute the right one, you first need to find it.
Step 2: See where the voice is actually coming from (aka: “Are you my conscience?”)
According to Sun Tzu’s immensely influential “The Art of War,” “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be put at risk even in a hundred battles.”
In other words: don’t expect to win a battle against your inner voice if you don’t know where it is coming from.
I know you’re thinking at the moment that it’s pointless for me to posit such a question (“Does the word ‘inner’ have a different meaning in your dictionary?” you ask begrudgingly), but, trust me on this one: your inner voice is most certainly not you.
Just like your dreams are a strange mixture of the images of your old experiences, your inner voice is an internalization of all the reproaches, insults, and traumas of your past; or, in Freud’s terminology, it’s basically your super-ego.
Don’t believe me?
Don Richard Riso makes the same claim in “The Wisdom of the Enneagram”:
“The superego is the inner voice that is always putting us down for not living up to certain standards or rewarding our ego when we fulfill its demands . . . In fact, our superego is one of the most powerful agents of the personality: it is the ‘inner critic’ that keeps us restricted to certain limited possibilities for ourselves.” – Don Richard Riso
Step 3: Put a face to the voice (aka: “My name is Voice. Inner Voice.”)
Having an inner voice is basically like having an autoimmune disease: your own organism is attacking itself. That’s why it’s so tricky to neutralize it: you can’t drop a bomb on your own country!
Fortunately, in the case of inner voices, you can externalize your enemy.
If you’ve gone over Step 2, you’re probably already realized that the things you say to yourself are actually coming from few different sources: it’s your friend commenting on your shirt, your mother on your weight, your father on your lack of discipline…
Now that you know that not only it’s not you, but it’s also not one person, it’s time to put a face to the sound of your inner voice.
In “The Untethered Soul,” author Michael A. Singer argues for an analogous solution:
“Make believe that your roommate, the psyche, has a body of its own. You do this by taking the entire personality that you hear talking to you just inside and imagine it as a person talking to you on the outside. Just imagine that another person is now saying everything that your inner voice would say. Now spend a day with that person.” – Michael A. Singer
Step 4: Show Inner Voice the Door (aka: “Now, you get out of here!”)
Moving on from where we left.
Taking Singer’s advice and spending a day with your new acquaintance, Inner Voice, is one of the best favors you can do to yourself.
You know why?
Because only then you’ll realize how unbearably arrogant, condescending ogre of a creature is that guy!
“How would you feel if someone outside really started talking to you the way your inner voice does? How would you relate to a person who opened their mouth to say everything your mental voice says? After a very short period of time, you would tell them to leave and never come back. But when your inner friend continuously speaks up, you don’t ever tell it to leave. No matter how much trouble it causes, you listen.” – Michael A. Singer
Well, it’s time you stopped listening!
Now that your inner voice is someone other than you, it’s pretty easy to show him the door.
Step 5: Befriend your personalized Inner Voice (aka: “I’ll be there for you…”)
If you are strong enough, you can try one more thing once you’ve managed to understand and externalize your Inner Voice.
You can – wait for it… – befriend it!
I’m not joking: many famous authors – Shelley and Goethe, notwithstanding – have actually used their overly critical inner voices to overcome periods barren with inspiration, and devise more complicated book plots.
Whenever stuck, they just called upon (in their cases) their Inner Voices, and did the only sensible thing you should do when being advised by an ogre.
Sometimes, when feeling a bit sad, I like to have some fun imagining the discussions:
Goethe: Hey, Inner Voice, I’m having trouble with this final scene from Faust; what do you think should happen to him now that he has broken his promise?
The Inner Voice: He should die, be bereft of life, be an ex-Faust!
Goethe: OK, then: it’s settled: Faust lives. Hey, even better: I’m gonna write myself a sequel! Brilliant!