There’s a voice in your mind that always has an opinion. It’s always got something to say about what you’re doing, what you did or what you should be doing. It has opinions about others and what they should be doing. It’s always there; chattering away.
The voice is part of being human.
You know that voice in your mind, don’t you?
If you’re thinking: “What voice? I don’t have a voice in my mind.”
That’s the voice.
It might start saying something like:
I really need to get out for some exercise. I’ve put on weight and half my clothes don’t fit me. I should eat better and exercise more. I’ll exercise tonight. I’ll go for a run. I wonder how many evenings per week I could fit in a run. I wonder if one of my girlfriends would be interested in joining me. I’ll ask Sarah and Clare. It’ll be more fun and I’ll probably run further if I have a friend with me. But even if I can’t find a friend, I still need to commit to regular exercise. It’s healthy and I want to set a good example for the kids. Maybe the kids would like to join me. No, they’ll probably just slow me down. I’ll wait until their father gets home and then head out for some exercise…
The voice just keeps going if you let it. It has the capacity for a never ending stream of chatter. Mostly the chatter is a distraction from the present moment and it is rarely appeased. Even if you go out for exercise that evening, it will start up again:
Should I have stayed home to help Sam with his homework? He is struggling with maths. I’ll make sure I check on him when I get back from my run. And I better make sure he has clean clothes for tomorrow. Maybe I don’t have time to run for an hour tonight. I’ll just run for half an hour so I’m not back too late. Why is there never enough time to get everything done? I don’t understand how the other parents seem to be on top of everything and they have time to go to the gym. Perhaps I should ask Peter to help me. But he seemed so stressed when he was leaving for work this morning. What is going on with him? Maybe it’s that new manager at his work. I suppose I’m lucky that my manager and I get along so well…
Occasionally the voice says things of substance and insight, but those thoughts are only a small portion of the continuous stream of chatter.
You might have noticed that the voice is never satisfied. No matter what you do. Almost as soon as you follow once piece of advice, the voice is telling you something completely different. Like when it says:
I really should give that guy a call back. I had a nice time on our date and he said he’d like to see me again. I might not feel that attracted to him now, but lots of people aren’t that attracted when they first meet, then some of them end up getting married. I should just call him.
So you call him back, arrange another date and almost as soon as you hang up the phone, the voice starts again:
What did I do that for? This guy is really not my type. I should just wait until I meet someone that seems more my type. But I can’t cancel now. Or maybe I can. I mean, I really don’t want to waste his time if I don’t think I’m interested in him…
The voice provides you with a constant monologue throughout the day. It doesn’t really care which side of the argument it’s on or whether it’s being contradictory; it just likes to provide you with a never-ending stream of opinions, thoughts and judgements.
How do you tolerate the incessant chatter?
It’s the thing keeping you awake on those nights you can’t sleep. It’s also getting in the way of you enjoying a sense of freedom.
What would it be like if you could turn the chatter off? It might be something like the experience described by Dr Jill Bolte Taylor in her 2008 TED talk. She had a stroke several years earlier, causing the left part of her brain to temporarily shut down and, along with it, the internal chatter.
According to Taylor, a neuroanatomist, the left hemisphere thinks linearly and methodically. It thinks in language. It generates the constant brain chatter, connecting your internal world to your external world. In the moment that Taylor lost the function of that part of her brain, there was total silence. At first this was shocking, but then she became captivated by the magnificence of the energy all around her. Dr Taylor described this experience as beautiful and joked that she was suddenly free of thirty-seven years of emotional baggage! All stress was gone and she felt euphoric. She felt she had been liberated and her spirit soared free. It was, she said, Nirvana.
However, Dr Taylor’s experience also provides insight about the necessity of those parts of her brain that shut down. Sure, it was blissful when her brain went silent, but with half of her brain shut down, Dr Taylor could barely function in the physical world. She couldn’t understand numbers, she couldn’t speak properly and when people spoke to her, she didn’t understand what they were saying. So the solution to all the chatter is not that you need to shut down the left half of your brain. Besides, there are plenty of cases where brains can still function – and still have chatter – with whole parts missing. The plasticity of the brain means that it can often adapt.
You need to do something about the internal chatter, though, if you want to experience freedom. Your most authentic and free self is underneath all the chatter. You know this because whenever you manage a quiet, peaceful moment, your free self speaks to you. Sometimes you call it intuition. It speaks your truth. And doesn’t it sound different from the chatter? The voice of your free self is more like a whisper – sometimes a simple knowing that seems to have no sound at all.
Your free self wants you to grow and live your potential, so it often calls you to do things you’re afraid of or have no skills at. When you listen, you hear it say, ‘Keep going. You can do it. You can survive the pain associated with growth. You can succeed.’ Sometimes it tells you, ‘Let go. You don’t need that in your life anymore. You will be okay in spite of the loss. You can set yourself free.’
Well, no wonder your chatter is drowning out your free self! The chatter is more about keeping you safe than taking risks. The chatter is often a reflection of the outdated map we discussed in the self-knowledge chapter. It’s a reminder of when you were dependent on others and unable to look after yourself. It’s connected to the fear of being wrong and leaves you constantly second guessing yourself… Should I go out for exercise? Should I be at home with the kids? Should I call him? Should I move on? Should I speak my mind? Should I keep quiet? Should I follow my heart? Should I stay where it’s safe?
There is no right answer to any of these kinds of questions. The only thing you can really count on is that if you keep giving all your attention to the chatter, you’ll go round and round in circles, usually in survival mode and on the lookout for danger. It’s a recipe for a constant state of low-grade misery which will have you incessantly striving for ways to compensate for feeling disconnected from your most authentic and free self.
There is no real sense of freedom with the internal voice constantly chattering away. While you won’t ever shut it off completely, reducing incessant chatter is the key to happiness.
This article is an excerpt and adaptation from Seven Freedom Elements, published by Morgan James Publishing (New York), released 6th Feb 2018, and available for pre-order. Click here to learn more about the book and get your copy.