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#sowhoknew: How to shut down your annoying ‘inner voice’

In his book ‘10% Happier’ author Dan Harris claims that he originally wanted to call it “The Voice in My Head Is An As*hole” which I reckon is a much better (and more accurate) title. I don’t know about you but the alter-ego on my own shoulder is callous, cruel and cold-hearted so I’ve made the pivotal decision to simply block him out.

My Inner Mini Me

When I think about it, my inner mini me is consistently more negative than he is positive.

Occasionally he is positive and perky: “Hey you did a pretty good job there, buddy”

But then he then follows it up by being thoroughly hateful: “Seriously Steve, is that the best that you can do?”

Actually, I’ve been tracking all of his encouraging comments alongside all the disagreeable ones and they roughly run at a ratio of about 5:1 in favour of the pessimistic. If this were a friend or a colleague then I would, without question, place them in the ‘too difficult bin’ and cut them out of my life.

steve inner voice 2

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

So why do I find it so difficult to ignore the siren call of Little Steve? Well because I guess he is, quite literally, a part of me and I have to face the fact that I can never fully eradicate him from my life. Whether I like it or not, he is the subconscious Mr. Hyde to my physical Dr. Jekyll. Whenever I have managed to block him out for a short time he always manages to resurface like the proverbial bad penny. Sometimes he even wakes me up in the middle of the night and then he won’t let me get back to sleep again:”Oh it’s that big presentation in the morning isn’t it? I really hope you have rehearsed enough.”

Or he tries to distract me when I am in a meeting or on the phone: “See, I told you there would be talk about the McKinsey Loop again and that’s not exactly your strong suit is it mate?”

Weird. My Inner Voice Sounds Just Like Me

Now, don’t get me wrong, what I’m not saying here is that you should ignore your intuition or gut feeling. When you ask your rational self a pertinent question and you embark upon a journey to better understand your feelings or if you have to make a tough decision, then that’s fine. By all means, learn to trust those judgments. The voice that you speak to may sound exactly the same (it is YOU after all and so it would be a bit strange if it sounded like someone else) but even though it sounds identical it isn’t the same as the inner voice which arrives uninvited and is invariably critical of almost everything that you do.

steve inner voice 3

5 Simple Tips

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to shut this irksome individual up and have discovered five things that I absolutely love to do (which is handy) but (bonus) they are also surefire ways to shut him up:

1. Writing – whenever I’m immersed in penning an article for LinkedIn, the alter ego voice in my head is entirely displaced by the sound of my own voice which mentally mouths out the words as I tap them out on the keyboard. As I play with different combinations of headlines, sentences and phrases that slow methodical process of mentally whispering the text completely drowns out his contemptuous chatter.

2. Reading – it has much the same effect as writing albeit with one key difference. My voice is downgraded to the role of narrator with the various voices of the characters taking centre stage. And that cacophony of communication serves to muffle the inane ramblings of my inner voice.

3. Running – actually any kind of exercise is a powerful way of exorcising the demon inside your ear but my preferred method is running. I’m not sure why but the combination of activity and listening to music makes me switch off entirely.

4. Talking – certainly not to my inner voice (he isn’t much of a conversationalist anyway) but to someone close to you. Your partner, a friend, the dog, a counsellor or whoever it is or whatever it takes to share your fears with someone who is a good listener and cares about your welfare. Bottle it all up and the voice of your inner as*hole will simply get louder and stronger, so it’s best to get it out.

5. Listening – it’s cathartic to listen to others and hear how they also have an inner voice who they can’t stand. When others honestly share with you how they are feeling, it makes you realise that you are definitely not alone. Most, if not all, of us have to put up with this loathsome internal troll at some stage in our lives and a recognition of that is one way of trying to eliminate the power it can have over us.

And one final technique that I learned from a Harvard professor at Babson on the Omnicom University course a few years ago… when you wake up in the morning and take a look at yourself in the bathroom mirror the first words out of your mouth should always be, “My inner voice is an as*hole”. Wash, rinse and repeat it 3 times. Trust me, it will banish that irritating inner voice for the entire day and equally put a wry smile on your face.

So what do you think? Is your inner voice as much of a pain in the butt as mine? Or does he / she actually help to motivate you? Is it a positive driving spirit that you welcome in or does it try to undermine you? As ever, I am fascinated to hear your comments…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.