Here’s how to break free.
Have you ever found yourself scrolling through your Instagram feed and hopelessly comparing yourself to the people you see there?
I look at them and think, I’ll never look that good while I’m working out. Or I’ll never be able to afford that kind of vacation with my family.
The problem, I think, isn’t the people on Instagram. But it’s one way the noise around me fuels my negative self-talk. Those Instagram posts lead to harmful, negative thoughts that I dwell on for the rest of the day. If I wake up to a video of a CrossFit guy doing one-armed pull-ups with a weight vest on and three bags of flour tied around his waist, that’s going to make me feel a little self-conscious. Next thing I know, I’m not comfortable in my own skin, and that insecurity follows me to work, into meetings, and back home again.
That’s how the voice inside your head works. It snowballs the negative things you hear and say throughout your day in powerful ways. But here’s the good news: the reverse is true as well.
Why There’s Hope
While the voice inside your head has power over you, you also have power over the voice— and our lives get better when we learn to filter the noise around us. When we control the noise, we can better control the voice in our heads. And when we limit the negative and let in that which encourages us, our outlook on life will improve.
Start by acknowledging that the voice inside your head is there. It sounds simple because it is. A good example of someone who was excellent at this is David, one of the writers of the biblical psalms, poetry that was often set to music. Look at what he wrote in Psalm 42:5:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. (NIV)
Notice two things here. First, David was hyper-aware of his inner self. He knew the voice inside his head, and he wasn’t afraid to talk back to it. In Psalm 42, we see that he was downcast. Something was wrong or something had upset him. And not only did David know himself well enough to recognize this, but he took the time for some introspection. He paused what he was doing, filtered out the noise, and said to himself, “What’s going on here?”
But he didn’t stop there. He acknowledged the negative self-talk and did something to change it. He reminded himself of truth, and he reminded himself of what was good. Many of us can realize when something is off. We can recognize when negative self-talk is happening. But we don’t always know how to change a pattern of negative self-talk into positive self-talk. Learning this skill has powerful repercussions for our emotional intelligence.
David gives us the key to positive self-talk—reminding ourselves of truth. For David, that truth was found in remembering who God is and why God is the source of hope, obviously a great truth to remind ourselves of every day. We’ll also benefit from reminding ourselves of specific truths that counter the lies perpetuated by our negative self-talk. This skill is known as self-regulation.
The Key to Getting Inside Your Head
An emotionally intelligent person is adept at self-narrating their life. Author Daniel Goleman points out that this is not an unusual skill. It’s something we all do to some extent. We all have a voice inside our heads telling us what to do, and whether we’re paying attention or not, we’re listening to and ignoring that voice at our own discretion. The voice in our heads is often listening to other voices—other people around us, things we read or watch, and even reflections we might have on our experiences or memories. Just considering how many possible voices we let speak inside our heads can be mind-blowing.
The main way to regulate your inner voice is to filter out the noises that aren’t adding value. Whether you’re reading books and articles, watching shows and movies, or surfing the web, all these sources are saying things that the voice inside your head is communicating to you. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of noise.
Odds are, too much information is coming into your head for you to continuously self-regulate. How are you going to hear the voice inside your head if you’re not filtering the voices that are talking? The reason good ideas come to us while we’re driving or taking a shower or trying to fall asleep is because those might be the only moments of the day when other voices aren’t allowed in. When you’re alone, you’re alone with the voice inside your head—for better or worse.
If we aren’t talking to ourselves, other voices are. And if we aren’t regulating what’s coming in, then we have no reason to expect to control what’s going out. Self-talk is happening inside your head whether you like it or not. But you want to make sure your desired self is included in your self-talk. You know the kind of leader you want to be. Self-talk can be the way you remind yourself of your goals, while helping you reach them at the same time.
And the only time you’re going to be able to talk to yourself is when no one else is. So it’s important to give yourself the time and the space to be alone. Sounds weird, I know. But self-talk happens in places like the shower—places where we’re quiet and alone and nothing is trying to take our headspace.
So how do we make this happen? It starts with creating pockets in the day for self-talk. You need to create openings where not too many things are vying for your attention.
The First Habit for Fostering Positive Self-Talk
Set up your day the night before. This simple idea makes a big difference. Remember—self-talk snowballs. If the first thing you do in the morning is check your email, add things to your calendar, and mentally go over the meetings you have coming up, you’ll be overwhelmed before you get out of bed.
That’s when thoughts of I can’t get everything done today and I don’t have the ability to make this happen start. And from there you’re sucked into a downward spiral of negative self-talk.
Plus, when the first thing you do is mentally go through your calendar, you’ll already have so many voices inside your head that you’ll never have a chance to hear yourself think.
Scheduling your day the night before gives you the power to control your self-talk from the moment you wake up. Instead of logging in the moment you’re awake, you can go through a normal routine of brushing your teeth, working out, showering, getting dressed, or whatever it is you do with your mind free. This is the space where you’re capable of having a conversation with the voice inside your head. When you know the day has already been taken care of, you have the freedom to take care of yourself before you begin the day.
Discover more helpful habits for bringing joy and calm back to your work in How to Lead in a World of Distraction.
— Adapted from How to Lead in a World of Distraction by Clay Scroggins.
How To Use This Book
You can bring joy back to your work and maximize your influence by turning down the noise. This new book by pastor and author Clay Scroggins is for leaders and influencers of all stripes; it will help you discover four simple habits that create space for emotional evaluation and exploration. These helpful practices will empower you to replace the chaos of your busy days with emotional competence and awareness that leads to a calmer, more fulfilling life.
“Such a valuable resource—not just for leaders but for anyone longing to make a difference in the world.” –Dave Ramsey