Nice To Meet You, Voice-In-My-Head

In my blogpost, We Were Born Complete, I wrote:

At our core, we are fundamentally full of OK-ness, peace, and freedom. Sometimes, those things get veiled by a lifetime of conditioning, beliefs, and concepts. But the who-we-are beneath the veils is made of perfect strength, resilience, and peace.

So, who is this who-we-are beneath the concepts, beliefs, and conditioning?

Maybe it's easier to begin with who we're not: Who-we-are is NOT the voice in our head.

A few weeks ago, on the first day of my new six-month coaching class, I had to give an introduction of myself to about 30 fellow classmates and our instructor. "No big deal," the little voice in my head said.

One by one, classmates with extraordinary credentials, degrees, and accomplishments presented themselves to the group. My mind—as all minds do—quickly assessed and categorized each brilliant participant. Then, that same mind calculated where I fit into this mix of 30 colleagues. Its conclusion? I didn't measure-up. At all. I was at the bottom of the barrel.

Then it was my turn to speak. By that point, the voice in my head had created a pretty compelling and dramatic story of "not good enough." My nervous system naturally got in on the action with its racing heart, dry mouth, and difficulty swallowing. After all, the voice in the head and the autonomic nervous system tend to work in tandem. They make a great team. So, I found myself struggling to string together more than two coherent sentences.

I ended my introduction as quickly as possible and then waited for that little voice to evaluate and judge my performance. You can guess what the voice said: "Well, THAT was awful! How am I going to come back from that?"

Thankfully, I've learned a thing or two about the voice in my head, so the recovery from that moment was fairly swift and effortless. In fact, after the initial embarrassment, I had a pretty good laugh about the whole thing. The rest of the day was spent making meaningful connections with 30 truly beautiful human beings.

Like me, you're probably already keenly aware of the voice in your your head—the one that narrates your entire day in your voice, using the kind of language you use. It speaks in first-person point of view so that it's nearly impossible to extricate yourself from it. And, thanks to evolution, it's bent toward saying negative things like "I shouldn't have had that third drink" or "I bet they noticed how anxious I was."

The voice in your head tends to begin speaking as soon as you open your eyes in the morning and keeps a steady flow of commentary going until you fall asleep at night. That's its job, and it does it very well.

Because of the human mind's proclivity for negativity, the voice in the head has gotten a bad rap over the centuries. We've invested billions of dollars trying to tame it, silence it, hypnotize it, and reprogram it. We curse it when it wakes us up at 3 a.m. to tell us all of our worst-case scenarios. We blame our ulcers, migraines, and insomnia on it. We call it the enemy, the bully, or even the devil.

But what if it's not any of those things? What if there has been a simple misunderstanding?

What if that voice in your head has always been doing its best to protect you and keep you alive?

Best of all, what if you really don't need to manage it, control it, or reprogram it in order to be deeply OK?

As you may already know, the modern human brain is about 150,000 to 200,000 years old. In the grand scheme of things, that's actually not very old. The magnificent brains we have today are remarkably similar to the brains that continuously scanned for and predicted immediate threats to life and limb thousands of years ago. There was an evolutionary advantage to having a hyper-vigilant brain that could spot danger a mile away. Brains needed to be predictive and efficient. This kept our ancestors alive. The thing many of us today call generalized anxiety is the thing that allowed your ancestors to live long enough to procreate.

Brains also evolved to draw instantaneous conclusions about the environment. Accuracy has never been a priority. It was better for a brain to scream "TIGER" every time it heard a rustling in the bushes, even if there was only one real tiger out of a hundred rustling bushes. Again, this had a tremendous evolutionary advantage. These hyper-vigilant brains, bent toward negativity, prediction, efficiency, and over-generalization allowed our species to survive and thrive.

Even though our brains haven't changed that much in the past couple of hundred thousand years, our environment has changed dramatically. We no longer need brains to protect us from immediate bodily danger in the way our ancestors did. Most of us don't worry about what is prowling around in the bushes or waiting over the next hill. We don't fear for our lives in the way our great-great-great-great-grandparents did.

And yet, the brain still continuously scans for potential danger in much the same the way a submarine sonar scans the ocean for potential obstacles. That's still its job. The modern-day brain, in its best attempt to keep you alive, still makes fast but unreliable predictions and draws wildly inaccurate conclusions.

Since we no longer face constant threats to our physical bodies, our brains have efficiently found something new to protect: our identity—our image, worth, OK-ness, and sense of security.

The voice in your head has no real need to chat about what might actually kill you. So, instead, it talks about what might embarrass you, humiliate you, diminish your image, overwhelm you, or leave you penniless and broken. And it talks about it with the same urgency as it did 200,000 years ago.

Since there is rarely anything you can do about these stories of potential humiliation or brokenness (like running away from an actual tiger), the voice in your head behaves like a dog chewing endlessly on a bone. It spins and spins, chews and chews. It tells you that you have a worry problem; you have an anxiety issue. But what you have is a very efficient little machine that is always doing its best to protect you.

That protective voice is doing what it has been programmed for thousands of years to do. The only problem—and it’s not even a problem—is that we have innocently mistaken that voice for who-we-are. We have become so identified with it that we buy-into its evidence and feel compelled to listen to it. And most of all, we believe that the images and identities it has constructed for us are who-we-are.

As a result, we naturally resist that voice. In our innocent identification with it, we try to twist it and manage it in hopes that it will start telling nicer, more positive, less dramatic stories. We forget (or we've never even considered) that it's just a little machine doing what it's evolutionarily designed to do. I often compare this to wanting your refrigerator to wash your clothes or your car radio to boil your water for tea. It's a recipe for exhaustion.

When we begin getting curious about who-we-are beyond that little narrator in our head, we begin working with it, not against it. Almost immediately, we feel lighter, as if someone just removed a boulder from the imaginary backpack we've been carrying around.

What if who-you-are is fundamentally full of OK-ness, peace, and freedom? What if you are made of strength, resilience, and peace?

Imagine the possibilities of showing up in the world as who-you-are rather than what the voice in your head tells you.

And this is where the fun begins. We'll dive a little deeper