Many people experience an inner voice, one that provides a running monologue throughout the day and into the night.
This inner voice combines conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases and provides an effective way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences.
Known as self-talk, this internal chatter can be positive or negative—and sometimes at the same time.
The Inner Workings Of Your Inner Voice
We find this voice useful when it cheers us on and supports our best efforts. It helps us regulate our fears and bolsters our confidence. This voice takes on the vocal quality of our parents, teachers, coaches, and loved ones who told us our entire lives “You can do this!”.
I’m reminded of the lyrics to the country/western song, “I Ain’t as Good as I Once Was”:
“I used to be hell on wheels,
Back when I was a younger man
Now my body says “Oh, you can’t do this boy,”
But my pride says, “Oh yes you can.”
I still throw a few back,
Talk a little smack,
When I’m feeling bullet proof,
So don’t double-dog dare me now,
‘Cause I’d have to call your bluff.”
Although Toby Keith described positive self-talk in terms of being “bullet proof” and prideful, the average person’s inner dialogue would arguably more reasonably resemble talking “a little smack.”
The greatest obstacle most face, therefore, doesn’t involve reigning in this voice; it’s silencing the negative one—the one that whispers, and sometimes yells— “You don’t deserve this.” Or “You can’t do this.”
This same voice prevents us from taking prudent risks, even when the facts tell us we should.
When we suffer from weak self-esteem, low confidence, and lack of self-worth, we develop feelings of inadequacy that in turn trigger basic negative beliefs about ourselves. We begin to feel like imposters whom others will identify and humiliate. We begin to doubt ourselves, minimize our talents, and explain away our greatest accomplishments with “anyone could have done it” thoughts.
These in turn lead to a fixed mindset that reminds us that we must assertively guard our accomplishments and arduously defend ourselves from any risk or threat.
We cleave to the poverty mindset that seems safe and abandon an abundance mentality that would encourage us to innovate, grow, and change. Humans seem prone to negative self-talk, however, and to sweeping assertions like “I can’t do anything right” or “I’m a complete failure.”
When we suffer from weak self-esteem, low confidence, and lack of self-worth, we develop feelings of inadequacy that in turn trigger basic negative beliefs about ourselves. Click To Tweet
The Emotional Toll Of Your “Inner Critic”
Some people credit their inner critic with driving them to develop self-discipline and pushing them to recognize their weaknesses before others do.
Over time, though, the negativity of a critical inner voice takes an emotional toll. Negative self-talk often does not reflect one’s reality and can paralyze people into inaction and self-absorption.
Our negativity instinct also causes us to notice the bad more than the good.
Three things are going on here: the misremembering of the past, often making it the “good old days” when it wasn’t; the feeling that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better; and we are bombarded by negative news.
(When was the last time someone reported all the airline flights that didn’t crash?)
Yet, when a plane does crash, it stays in the headlines for weeks and even months. Clearly, both inner and outer critics and negativity don’t help us.
Negative self-talk often does not reflect one's reality and can paralyze people into inaction and self-absorption. Click To Tweet
The Impact Of The “Self-Absorbed Inner Voice”
But the inner votary who worships our every thought and champions self-absorption doesn’t do much better. Many leaders who hear this voice disproportionately function like victims of the so-called self-esteem movement that began in the 1960s and continues to this day.
The movement quickly gained momentum, resulting in a 1990 decision of the California legislature to sponsor a report suggesting that self-esteem be taught in every classroom as a “vaccine” against social ills, such as alcohol abuse, drug addition, suicide, and teen pregnancy.
In 1986, former California state legislator John Vasconcellos established the “Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility.”
This prompted a three-year, twenty-five-member investigation into the effect self-esteem has on society. The task force’s records consist of five and one-half cubic feet of textual material and five cubic feet of audiovisual material covering the years 1987 to 1990. (A cubic foot is the space occupied by a cube with one-foot width, length and height).
Cartoonist Garry Trudeau lampooned the effort in his Doonesbury comic strip, calling it “the embodiment of California wackiness.”
Not everyone got the joke.
The task force, which operated from 1987 to 1990, was a serious, or at least expensive, enterprise. It looked at the role of self-esteem in various areas, from crime and violence to academic failure and responsible citizenship.
The commission’s final report, released in 1990, became the best-selling state document of all time, selling 60,000 copies.
Casual Links Between Self-Esteem And Success
Even without finding causal links between self-esteem and success, proponents of this movement advocated abolishing IQ testing, tracking in public schools, and class ranking.
The movement gave birth to the everybody-gets-a-trophy mindset that society must adopt in order, advocates said, to avoid scarring underperforming children.
Without question, a correlation between self-esteem and success exists, but no one proved causality. In other words, people who do well in school, sports, or business often exhibit signs they possess high self-esteem, but no proof exists that the high self-esteem causes the success.
In fact, evidence exists to the contrary.
Does your inner voice lie to you?
It has before.
That’s why we need trusted advisors, friends, and family members to help us separate the duck from the quack.
We shouldn’t give license to those who want to offer unsolicited feedback, but neither should we deny ourselves the benefit of alternative perspectives. Good conversations with the right people help.