Do you have a voice inside your head—a constant companion that narrates your life? Or maybe you have multiple characters sitting in your balcony opining on your triumphs and failures? Regardless of the exact cast, I want you to take a moment to interrogate your narrators and decide whether they are the voices you want on your personal advisory board.
I’m raising this issue because two different sessions this past week left me questioning the caliber of our inner voices.
Bad Advice–Why You Shouldn’t Trust the Voice Inside Your Head
The first was a strategy workshop where I was teaching entrepreneurs how to build their business strategy. We started with each person defining the purpose of their organization. During the working session, I wandered over to a table with six interior designers and asked how their businesses were unique from each other. The voices in their heads had been telling them that they were all the same. Their narrators had told them that there was nothing special or unique about their businesses—“we’re just designers.” Because they hadn’t defined how they were special, they felt that could only succeed by working harder than anyone else. That’s bad advice.
Another group I spoke with last week was preparing for a restructuring in their business. They had a room full of narrators chattering about whether they would be good enough for their new colleagues. Their inner dialogues were focused on the risk of not measuring up, rather than on the opportunity to contribute something new and valuable. They were being told to question everything—even the clothes they were wearing. That’s bad advice.
In The Good Fight, I talk about my misguided angels. My grandmother telling me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My grade four teacher insisting that I, “Mind my own business.” My inner voices are conflict avoidant and they are constantly trying to get me to stop rocking the boat. It took a long time to realize that they were leading me astray and to wrangle them into submission by calling them my Itty Bitty Shitty Committee. Now when they advise me to zip it, or look away, or back down, I tell them, thanks but no thanks—that’s bad advice.
You are Not Your Narrator
You might feel like you got a crappy narrator. How come athletes get the narrator that tells them “you got this,” while your narrator tells you the opposite? What if your narrator is naïve, biased, wimpy, critical, or risk-averse? Or what if he never got past being an impetuous 16-year-old boy who’s frequently hostile, or lazy, or disinhibited? Well, Maybe your narrator is a perfectionist who goads you to work yourself to the point of exhaustion. No matter what the voice in your head is telling you, it’s reflecting something important. Listening to your inner voice can be valuable. It gives you diagnostic information about all sorts of things.
Remember your narrator is not you. It’s just a part of you. You are not your inner voice. You can choose to disagree with the narrator in your head. You can provide it with alternative evidence. You can acknowledge its concerns and proceed anyway. Listen if it’s saying something important about your values, or the risks in the situation. Listen, but don’t follow blindly.
The important thing is to question your narrator every once in a while. Ask yourself, if you were interviewing candidates to be your most important and intimate advisor in the world, would you hire your inner voice? If not, stop trusting it to tell you what you think.