Stare at this box for one minute. No, really. Set a timer on your phone and try it. All will be revealed (you’re allowed to blink, this isn’t Magic Eye).
Did you manage to stare at the box for a whole minute?
The picture itself is pretty uneventful, as images go. But did you notice your internal thoughts starting to accelerate? Maybe even in surround sound?
Thoughts like ‘Why am I looking at a box?’, ‘Is there a hidden image in here?’ or ‘I must go to the Post Office on lunch’.
If yes, welcome to your internal dialogue.
If you’re not sure whether your internal dialogue came out to play, you’re either a Zen Master or it’s sneakily operating below the conscious radar. Why not go back and check again? See what you notice this time, write down what comes up if you want to. You may be surprised by what’s lurking in there.
So, who is this internal dialogue and what’s the big deal?
Our internal dialogue can be our inner cheerleader or our inner critic. It’s the voice that tells you ‘go for it, you can do it, you’re the best!’, and the same voice that says, ‘urgh, pull yourself together you idiot’. So, yeah, it’s… changeable.
Here at Synergy, we genuinely believe in the power of people – so let’s focus on the ‘negative’ internal dialogue for a minute, the one that’s more likely to be holding you back. Once you can harness your internal thoughts, you might find it easier to be the best version of yourself.
The word ‘negative’ alludes to an internal dialogue that produces results that don’t seem useful. But actually, the seemingly ‘negative’ inner voice might still have a ‘positive’ intention.
For example, Charlie sits in a meeting and notices a question arise in his head. His inner voice says:
‘You have a question because you weren’t listening. It’s already been covered in great detail, everyone will know that you’re an incompetent idiot and it’ll be really embarrassing.’
Charlie starts to feel uncomfortable. The thought of asking the question becomes daunting. He feels sick as his heart starts to race, his vision becomes cloudy, palms get sweaty, adrenaline surges. What started as a thought, turns into a full-blown physiological response.
The primal part of his brain activates the fight or flight response, because it doesn’t know the difference between fighting a lion or being embarrassed in front of his colleagues. As far as his amygdala is concerned, he’s in serious danger, and there needs to be an intervention. Cue internal dialogue. It pipes up even stronger this time:
‘It’s a really stupid question. You’re stupid, keep quiet and work it out as you go along!’
By this point, Charlie is feeling so insecure about the whole thing, it’s easier to just keep schtum. As he does, the physiological effects subside. His brain recognises his state as ‘safe’ again. The intention behind this self-talk was actually positive – he kept quiet, so no longer feels like he is under immediate threat of death.
The outcome of him feeling too uncomfortable to take a small risk, however, is not useful to him at work.
Rather than labelling the inner dialogue as negative or positive (and potentially creating further issues by arguing with yourself), it’s more compassionate to understand whether it is useful or not useful.
Remember – a mean sounding inner voice is probably just trying to protect you. So don’t hate it, thank it for its effort, but make a decision to dismiss it and choose something more aligned to your desired outcomes. For Charlie, this could be him thinking to himself:
‘Thanks for your feedback, inner voice. I know that you’re trying to protect me, but I’ve got this. I’m more than competent, and if I have missed something, then that’s ok.’
So he goes on to ask the question, which hadn’t been covered in the beginning. Or maybe it had. It doesn’t matter – questions are cool.
What matters is being able to:
- Identify the internal dialogue
- Consciously and kindly dismiss it
- Choose a more empowering message
- Get into the ‘stretch’ – keeps us out of our comfort zones and pushes us into growth
Wonderfully put by Susan Jeffers, we should ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. This approach will help us all feel more aligned with our best selves. It’ll promote learning. It might even get us promotions.
What matters is that the goals get smashed and the stupid questions get asked.
Do you ever feel held back by a strong internal dialogue? Do you avoid things at work like public speaking or going for a promotion? Our Strategist Jodi can help. For a chat about how to work with your internal dialogue and boss life, get in touch today.