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Change your (inner) conversation, change your life!

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Here’s a quote I love that (I think?) tracks back to Mark Twain:

I’m always in a conversation – and sometimes it involves other people.

Ring any bells? If it doesn’t, it means you’re probably not paying attention to your inner-voice. We all have one (or more) and once you start noticing it, you’ll be shocked at just how present it is – and what a jerk it can be!

I was reminded of this two weeks ago when I learned about WeWork’s “Creator Awards” – a contest for small businesses awarding grants between $36k-360k. Excited, I read through the information and learned that if I wanted to apply for one of the lower level grants, I simply needed to submit a 90-second video pitch for how I’d use the money. Woo hoo!

Then I saw the deadline: that same day. (Cue the sad trombone.) I was learning about an amazing opportunity on the last day of the entry window – and it was a day already booked with other commitments.

I took ten minutes before my next call to contemplate what it would look like to wing it and whip together SOMETHING for the sake of entering. Here’s what my self-conversation looked like:

Hmmm… I wonder if I could find time this afternoon and come up with a solid pitch? I’ve had an idea for ages that I just haven’t had time or money to bring to life. This could be a perfect chance to get it funded.

Don’t be ridiculous. It’s the last day. Other people have had weeks to put their entries together. You wouldn’t stand a chance.

Yeah, it would probably be a waste of time. 

Exactly. Be realistic. 

Right. But… who knows? Maybe they didn’t have many people enter so I’m crazy NOT to at least try?

That’s far-fetched. And the people who DID enter have probably put together really great videos with even better ideas, so maybe just go do a yoga class instead. 

Yeah. I hate doing things half-way. But…

This is only a small excerpt, and look at how much energy I spent ARGUING WITH MYSELF. That’s crazy! I probably could’ve whipped together a video in the amount of time I spent on this debate.

I share this to illustrate how self-sabotaging self-talk can be. Because if this voice shows up on something that really only has a potential up-side, imagine what it has to say when you’re contemplating something huge, like quitting your job, asking for a raise, ending a relationship, or moving to a new city.

Since I regularly help clients tune into that inner voice and manage it, this is a space where I actually have pretty good awareness myself; if I’m still susceptible to it, think how it likely governs people who aren’t paying attention to it as regularly. Without practice, it can be tough to distinguish between your own voice and your self-talk.

Here’s the process I take clients through to build this muscle:

  • Start by noticing. Tune into the dialogue that’s occurring in your brain whenever you face a decision or a challenge. It often starts before you even get out of bed in the morning, as you debate (with yourself!) whether you want to stay in bed a bit longer or if you want to get up and seize the day.
  • Pay attention to the tone. How does the voice talk to you? Does it vary based on the situation, or is it consistent? In other words: is there ONE voice, or many? (And no, I’m not suggesting you have multiple personality disorder!) Some people have a dominant voice that shows up consistently and for others, there are a few.
  • Give it a name.  To start giving yourself some distance from the voice so you can choose whether or not to listen to it, you’ll need it to get good at recognizing when it joins the conversation. Naming the voice is a simple way to acknowledge it (like another person at the table) when you notice it piping up. And if you noticed that you have a FEW different tones/voices, name EACH of them. Among the better names I’ve heard clients use: Debbie Downer, Fearless Frank, Mother, and Chicken Little.
  • Introduce a new voice. Think about how you’d LIKE to talk to yourself. Would you be an encouraging cheerleader? Would you be a wise risk-taker? Once you’re clear on what would serve you, make sure you invite that voice to the party the next time you’re making a decision or facing a challenge. Again, naming it just makes it easier to invite in, especially since it initially might NOT feel like a natural perspective to have in the conversation: Hey Joy, what would YOU do in this situation? 

With time and practice, you can shift the balance so you’re more quickly accessing the helpful/encouraging voice and silencing the voice that only serves to sew seeds of self-doubt.

So if you’re wondering how my story ends: I did whip together a video and submit it for the contest… and I did not win a Creator Award. And guess what? I felt GREAT about it. Not because I love to lose (ha!), but because in my book, overcoming my perfectionist tendencies AND silencing my inner-nag was a huge win. With all that to celebrate, who needs the money?!

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