Have you ever had a conversation with yourself that took place inside your head? Some people listen to their internal dialogue every minute of every day. For others, it fades in and out depending on their distractions. And others claim to have no inner voice at all. In today's blog, we'll learn about those inner voices and how they tie to our healthspan by exploring the following:
For those of us with an inner voice, it's not so much about learning to "listen to your inner voice," as many self-help books advise. It's more about learning how to toggle back and forth between the emotional voice and the strategical voice. It's knowing when to discount a monologue as inaccurate or unhelpful. In terms of making important decisions (and sometimes even small ones), you must be able to discern the two. Please think of the emotional voice as a fear-based response, which can be traced all the way back to our evolutionary reptilian brains. And the strategic voice is our capacity for rational thought and the ability to analyze the pros and cons to make the best decision.
Buddhist monks train their entire lives to direct their monologues away from emotional, reactive responses to strategical proactive thoughts. In contrast, we see athletes competing to the point of emotional meltdowns. We may witness an athlete on the brink of dehydration and, thus, no longer cogent. We empathize with someone on a weight loss journey who repeatedly fails due to poor emotional food choices. The emotional voice can sabotage outcomes. There is a constant power struggle going on within each of us. It's human nature. We can fortify ourselves by learning about our voices or continue to fall victim to them.
Throughout today's blog, the red and green scale demonstrates where you may be along the emotional–strategical scale. If you are struggling through a situation, stop and think about your inner voices. Expand your awareness of what's going on inside your head.
To illustrate our inner voices, I'll use a tennis player's progression as a crude analogy. But the process of moving along the scale is appropriate for any life challenge.
We all start somewhere. Our inner monologue's 'beginner' level is based heavily on the emotional realm. This inner voice is frequently negative. It is said to be the undisciplined mind, a place of confusion and uncertainty. It is hard to discern what is accurate or false in this state. This monologue consists of second-guessing past actions or critical feedback about ourselves. This voice is driven by emotion.
In tennis, all players start as beginners. As novices learning to play the game, they enjoy low-pressure activities. Even lower-level players who have no aspirations for moving into more competitive levels continue to play for the social aspect. These tennis enthusiasts are usually not zoned into off-court training, mental preparation, equipment research, or endurance fuels. These players love the game and the social connection it provides. Having fun with friends and laughing at goofy shots are the norm. These players often don't possess the strategical savvy to 'think' through tactics, nor do they need to. Uncertainties and inconsistencies are part of their play. Social comradery is most important and is also conducive to improving if they so choose.
Those inner voices that start to transcend from confusion to a state of learning can be called intermediate monologues. While intermediate inner voices are still plagued by negativity, higher levels of accuracy within thought streams are discovered. You move from being in a highly emotional space to entry-level strategical thinking. You are beginning to reach a more balanced space between emotions and strategical thought.
In our tennis example, intermediate players start to take the game more seriously. Strategy becomes more significant, and skills are acquired. The love of the game, coupled with the ongoing desire for improvement, brings clarity. Intermediate players begin to study the game intentionally. They embrace off-court training, mental preparation, the need for superior equipment and performance gear, and endurance fuels. This player's monologue is now taking on a more strategic thought stream in this learning mode.
The advanced monologue comes from the neocortex. It's much less emotional. This inner voice is predominately strategic. It shows a healthy self-awareness and the ability to analyze. An advanced monologue enables self-control, allows better thought clarity, performs competently. It can boost self-regulation and unleash cognitive capability. Advanced self-talk puts the brakes on emotions that narrow our possibilities. Negativity is replaced with belief and confidence. At this level, our perspectives are widened, and our defensiveness is lessened.
In our tennis progression analogy, the advanced player is 'all-in.' The seriousness of the athlete's play and practice results in championships. These players check and double-check all details surrounding their performance: optimal nutrition and hydration, recuperative sleep, off-court training regimens, endurance fuels, dedicated practice drills, mental toughness, compression gear, specialized and customized equipment, injury prevention, etc. The slightest edge is carved out in every area. The governing law is strategy expansion. It's all about evolving, improving, and excelling. These players are scrutinizing their craft, honing skills, and competing with high physicality. Advanced players are focused on the process instead of results and are highly disciplined. Errors in their strategies can result in inferior performance or, worse, injuries.
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An inner voice that can escape from the emotional grasp will bring healthspan benefits. A more strategic thought path is an effective stress reduction tool. Other bonuses of strategic monologues are a healthier immune system, improved self-esteem, increased vitality and even reduced pain.
I hope the tennis analogies helped illustrate in a small way how internal monologues can change, grow, and evolve. As you continue your quest for progress – whether advancing in a specific sport or improving your overall health – your self-talk will develop. As a beginner, you will not yet have the disciplined inner voice of a champion. The stories you tell yourself will change over time as you gain experience.
Your mind is capable of miraculous thoughts. Regrettably, deep thought is a vanishing skill in today's world. And unfortunately, many people who are utterly tied to electronic devices are continually triggering their emotional, dopamine-like responses. Practice this: When a thought comes into your conscious mind claiming you are unworthy, incompetent, or any other pessimistic message, pause and acknowledge that those thoughts are from your emotional monologue. Realize that you are, in fact, willing to work hard and develop your talents to the utmost of your ability. You are a brilliant, sentient being with incredible abilities. You are amazing!
Learn. Share. Inspire.
Be well, my friends,