Our inner voice tells us stories to help us make sense of the world and the people around us. Those stories may be helpful or unhelpful, and sometimes even destructive. In fact, the origin of most unhealthy conflict are the negative stories we tell ourselves about others.
We are at highest risk when we ascribe a voice to someone else and have a “conversation” with that person in our minds. Almost invariably we ascribe a negative voice to the other person.
For example, during a staff meeting, one of my colleagues complained that some teams were not following a process her team managed for our organization. While speaking, she looked straight at me. Knowing that my team was guilty, my inner voice told me she was talking about my team, and I became combative toward her. Later, I apologized to my co-worker, and she told me that she wasn’t looking at me during the meeting. In fact, she didn’t even know that my team was not following the process.
In the previous example, I let my guilty inner voice tell me an untrue story about my colleague. Thankfully, I eventually made peace with my co-worker and found out the truth. Often, we don’t even make an effort to find out the truth. We assume that what our inner voice is saying is true, and we go on holding grudges and escalating conflict. Many families, organizations and nations have been split, and even gone to war, triggered by baseless stories told by one or more of the parties’ inner voices.
A negative, cynical or destructive inner voice can ruin relationships, careers and entire lives. Most people have figured out there is no power-off button, or even a pause button, for the inner voice. Other people try to drown out that little voice in their heads with unhealthy and destructive habits. However, there is no need, and there should be no desire, to turn off the inner voice. That little voice in your head can be your strongest asset if you train it and fine-tune it with that purpose in mind.
For example, your inner voice can help you maintain healthy relationships. If a co-worker or your boss says something that you perceive as negative toward you, your inner voice should remind you to practice self-control so you won’t become combative. Your inner voice can also remind you to assume good intent and move on because harboring resentment will only serve to damage the relationship, and may even destroy your career if the other person is your boss.
You may also train your inner voice to combat negativity in your own life. This is especially important if you have a tendency toward destructive self-talk. For example, I am especially hard on myself when I make mistakes. I have a bad habit of telling myself that I am stupid whenever I make a mistake. However, I’ve been training my inner voice to build me up instead of tearing me down. Now, when I think to myself “I’m so stupid,” I’ll remind myself that making a mistake does not mean I’m stupid.
On other occasions, I use my inner voice to calm my own anxiety. For example, when I’m walking in (or logging on) to work, I sometimes get a sudden rush of anxiety because my job can be so emotionally exhausting. To counteract that, I’ve trained my inner voice to remind me, whenever I feel that anxiety rising up inside, how blessed I am to have that job. As a public servant, I have the opportunity to help other people every day. That self-directed change in perspective usually nixes the anxiety attack.
Lastly, you can also train your inner voice to keep you focused on your goals. For instance, I have a terrible predisposition toward procrastination, so I recently started setting daily goals along with corresponding rewards. I’m not talking about “stretch goals” here. For serious procrastinators like me, the goals must be reasonably attainable. The real goal is to develop a strong desire to check things off of my list. I use my inner voice to remind me of the reward that awaits after meeting each goal.
In summary, your inner voice plays an enormous role in how successful you will be in your relationships, career, and life itself. The great news that I shared with you today is that you can train your inner voice to help you strengthen your relationships, bolster your career and succeed in life.
Michael Folkray is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is developing the next generation of world-changing leaders. After a decade in private industry, he chose to dedicate the rest of his career to public service. Michael’s major areas of responsibility in the Federal Government have included adjudications, quality assurance and customer service. Since 2003, he has served in various leadership positions in Dallas, TX, and Washington, DC. He is the founder and leader of a leadership book club for his office’s management team. Michael earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram.