If you hear a voice within you saying, ‘You are not a painter,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. — Vincent Van Gogh
We all look at the world, and ourselves, through a set of filters. Many a times, our perceptual filters are highly sensitive to negatives in any form. As information flows through your filter, the thoughts take the form of words. It gradually becomes a dialogue, a real-time conversation that you have with yourself. It is your inner voice speaking to you – and no one but only you can hear it. This means that no one but you can control how and on what note the conversation should proceed.
I have learnt that it is very important to recognize the power of your inner voice. In fact, it can have a powerful impact on your emotional well being and motivation. When you are aware of exactly what you are saying to yourself about yourself – it can actually help you to understand why you react the way you do to events and people in your life. Whenever my son gets stuck with Maths, I hesitate to volunteer to help him out. A part of my mind keeps reminding me – “Why are you even trying to solve this? Don’t you remember how bad you were with numbers? Have you forgotten what happened the last time when you tried to help him and were not able to solve the problem on your own? Stop, stop.” Only a part of my mental energy is absorbed in understanding the question – the rest of it forms internal dialogues, screaming in my head – all my failed attempts to solve a maths problem. And I keep down the pen. I look for a reason to refuse him. “Let your father come, he will explain.” or “I have a lot of pending work. Just let me finish that first.” The internal dialogue had very little to do with algebraic equations or formulae – but a whole lot to do with my self-concept.
Self-concepts are a bundle of beliefs, facts and opinions that we have about ourselves. They are created by both internal and external factors. External factors are our own experiences from past, experiences of other people and stories that leave an impression on our minds. At times, an encounter with these factors evokes pain, fear and negativity in us. But herein lies the power – to ability to change the impact that these external factors have on our future thoughts and actions. Your external factors are what they are: they’re history. You cannot change history, but you can definitely change your internal responses to these external factors. And these factors go to determine how you perceive your place in the world and your entitlement to quality.
The key to success is to make this internal dialogue work for you. For example you are fired from your job. You can hold an internal conversation in either of the two ways –
- “Hey, I hate getting fired. But never mind. I know I did a good job and it just didn’t work out. I know I am capable and hardworking and will soon find a good job for myself. This was no doubt a learning experience for me and I’ll use it to my advantage so that I don’t mess up next time.”
- “I am such a loser. I blew it and got what I deserved. I doubt if I will be able to find another job for myself!”
In the first conversation, you are being realistic about yourself. You realize that things have gone wrong at your end but you are not suffering a huge blow to your self-concept. On the other hand, in the second conversation it is evident how much of your self-concept is based on the unfortunate incident that happened with you. It instantly labels you as a loser. This is a negative, distorted kind of thinking which will not help you much to progress in life.
What is important then, is to get honest about your personal history. Before you decide to step out of the prison of your past, you need to identify and challenge your internal rhetoric – the dialogues you have with yourself every day. If your personal truth is riddled with doubts and anxieties, so too will be your internal dialogue: you’re not smart enough, good enough, you’re going to fail, and you’ll mess it up again. These kind of haunting monologues get the loudest when you are going to make pivotal decisions of your love, life or career. When you are thinking about the qualities your would-be husband should have; you hear yourself saying, come on you are no beauty queen yourself. Don’t be putting yourself on airs. Just take what you get. Similarly, when you do not get a salary hike or a promotion in your job, your mind reminds you: Be happy that you have a job. You should know that you are just an average employee – so why demand or dream of a promotion! These kinds of internal monologues can damage us like termites and ruin our self-esteem.
A channel for behavior change – We all are in constant conversations with ourselves. Have you listened to the kind of thoughts that you exchange with your mind. The good and bad thoughts act on our mind in the same manner as the healthy or junk food works on our body system. Because internal dialogue is ever present, it can wreak destruction that is subtle but cumulative. For example, if you have an artistic bent of mind and land up with a job that is highly technical – you may be able to make loads of money and be looked at as a successful person. Your internal monologue might cause you to explain away the pain, blaming your unhappiness on your spouse, your parents or your humble background. But your frustration really comes from not being true to yourself. You have closed the door on that, so your internal dialogue kicks into overdrive, justifying the unfulfilled choice. The result: your internal dialogue steers you away from the truth and poisons your self-concept. And the frustrated, unhappy person that you present to the world is the person the world responds to, so a negative internal dialogue becomes a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Harriet B. Braiker, a noted psychologist, lists down some of the most common traps that we fall for when engaged in an internal monologue –
- All-or-nothing thinking – You see things in black-or-white categories. So, if the result does not satisfy you, you see it as a complete failure.
- Overgeneralization – You believe in generalizing things. So you see events not as single entities, driven by different set of circumstances – but as a never-ending pattern of defeats or bad lucks.
- Mental filter – You are highly sensitive to criticism and pick out any negative comment and analyse it deeply.
- Discount the positive – It becomes your habit to reject positive experiences by insisting that ‘they don’t actually count’. If you do a good job, you rush to brush off any praise saying to yourself that anyone could have done as well.
- Jumping to conclusions – You dare to interpret things negatively even when you don’t have facts to support your conclusion. Two common variations of this kind of mentality are your arbitrary judgement of mind-reading and making predictions that something will turn out badly.
- Magnification – It becomes your habit to exaggerate your problems and minimize the good things in life. This is also called ‘binocular trick’.
- Emotional reasoning – Interestingly, you assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are. Hence, if I feel guilty, it means I must be a rotten person.
- Labelling – This is an extreme form of statement. Instead of analysing incidents independently, they judge them as a whole. This kind of mentality reflects in dismissive statements like “I am a loser. I am good for nothing”.
- Personalization – You hold yourself responsible for the wrong happenings and blame yourself for the events that are not entirely under your control.
Therefore it is very important for us to monitor our inner voice, construct challenging arguments, and build positive approach towards life so that we are able to make our conversations with self to become an important force in achieving success, happiness and peace of mind.