As I was driving into work today, I turned off the radio and just drove in silence. But it wasn’t quiet.
In the stillness of the cab of my truck, I could hear the voices. Not the crazy voices. The ones that form the the messages that flow out of my thoughts. They all masquerade behind the sound of my own voice in my head. The intensity and tone of these messages vary. Some are reflective, instructive, and encouraging. Others are discouraging, negative, and accusing. Each type of message, carried by my own voice, vies for attention.
I guess this is why people turn their radios up so loud while they’re driving. They are trying to drown out the voices.
There’s a long held belief that the crazy people of the world are the ones who have the voices in their head. But when you think about it, hearing the voices has nothing to do with one’s sanity. It’s what you do with those voices. It’s our response to those voices. It’s the way we process the voices that creep into our consciousness that determines just how much craziness we choose to live with. It’s not a question about whether or not we hear our own voice in our head…we all do.
The question we have to wrestle with is this: How we will respond to the messages our thoughts send our way?
For the sake of this post, I’m going to oversimplify a bit and categorize the messages into two groups: negative voices and positive voices. I could just as easily label them helpful or unhelpful. Either way, my hope is to encourage us to be intentional with the voices we hear. Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned. They help me to control the voices rather than allowing the voices to control me.
1. Don’t feed the negative voices.
There are a number of ways we can feed the negative voices in our heads. We may get caught up in comparing ourselves to someone else. We may hear an insult that we can’t seem to shake. Someone’s criticism might have cut us to the core. In each of these instances, we begin to find ways to validate what has been said or observed. We take one comment and begin to add other things to it. As we feed the negative voice, it grows from a whisper of suggestion into a deafening attack on our identity.
We need to starve these negative voices in order to keep them from consuming us. Take what has been said or what you’ve observed and let it teach you. But don’t keep adding to it so that it continues to terrorize you.
2. Don’t dwell on the negative voices.
In the silence we might hear the voices that tell us we’re not good enough, smart enough, or capable enough. Each of these voices has the power to sap our strength and leave us headed down the path of self-pity. They can become even more debilitating when we continue to give them the floor in our thought processes. How many times have you and I laid in our beds in the stillness of the night and allowed the same negative script to play itself over and over again in our heads?
We need to put a time limit on these negative voices to keep them from draining our confidence. There are voices that will help us to move forward in our growth and maturity and there are voices that will keep us trapped in the past.
3. Don’t believe the negative voices.
Just because someone has criticized or insulted us doesn’t mean it’s true. I learned a long time ago that we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. I’ve also learned that there are certain voices that you simply can’t trust. Don’t believe every negative voice that pops into your head. There will always be negative voices that aren’t helpful. The trick is for us to discern where that voice is coming from. When I encourage one of my students to find a mentor (someone who will speak into his or her life) I tell them a mentor needs three criteria: 1) They have expertise in a given area; 2) You trust them; 3) They care about what’s best for you. Out of those criteria you can receive messages that you can believe…messages that are helpful.
We need to acknowledge the source of these negative voices to identify which ones are lying to us. We want to surround ourselves with as many voices that can speak truth (even difficult truth) into our lives as possible.
Here’s my strategy…
One of the best ways to combat the negative voices in our lives is with the power of the positive voices. Every day is an opportunity to intentionally invest in the positive voices. In my own life, the positive voices flow out from friends, from my faith, from podcasts, from books, from music, from trusted advisors, and from my own positive thoughts. If you know where to find the positive voices in your own life then the strategy is simple…
Feed the positive voices.
Dwell on the positive voices.
Believe the positive voices.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
– Steve Jobs
In the comment section below, tell us how you respond to the negative voices in your life?