Sometimes, I wish I would just shut up. My inner monologue always has something to say, whether it’s helpful or not. And, often, it’s not. Making a piece of PB on toast this morning began with: is it too early to eat? Do I need breakfast? It continued down a well-worn groove: is this going to fill me up? Is it really healthy? And ended on one of its favourite conclusions: I feel so fat. All between 6.59 and 7am.
You may already know this, but it was a revelation to discover that my inner voice is not actually me. “You are not your thoughts or your feelings or your behaviours,” says behaviour change expert Shahroo Izadi, author of The Kindness Method: Changing Habits For Good.
When you start thinking about it, it becomes obvious. “Before I went into spinning class this morning, I was annoyed about a bunch of stuff,” she says. “Now, I’m not thinking about any of that, or feeling it. So, which one of those is the real me? When you tune in, you’ll start noticing how flaky your thoughts are and how they change all the time.”
There are two reasons our inner voice can be a downer, Izadi says. First of all, in evolutionary terms, we have a natural negative bias that looks for danger. “We are wired to look for our deficits and the risks around us.” And, secondly, that voice is mainly created when we were were children or young adults. So, the more negative criticism your young ears absorbed, the more negative that voice will be.
If you want to really tune into your inner voice, says Izadi, put yourself into a position of discomfort. This can be a plan of any kind where you have to change your habits. Think of something challenging enough so it will feel like an accomplishment but not too impossible. “This will turn up the volume on that inner voice, that you might find says to you, for example, ‘You’re lazy you'll never do this.’”
Once you’ve tapped into that voice, start listening in on it; realise how frequently it’s happening – and the futility of it. It makes you feel, frankly, shitty. “Start to have intelligent debates with it,” says Izadi. Ask yourself: would I say this to someone else? Is it fair? “Changing your negative self-talk isn't a matter of turning into a new person – it’s about undoing, about going back to the person you were when you thought you were the coolest person in the world.”
Turn up the volume on your positive voice. You can consciously create a positive inner voice, your cheerleader
Oh, and one thing to watch out for: “When people stop beating themselves up by speaking in a cruel way, they often start beating themselves up for how long they were doing it before. What you can do is think, ‘It’s understandable I turned out this way, and that’s OK. Whether it’s my fault or not, I forgive it.’”
This isn’t an overnight process, but it’s worth doing, she says. “It does takes ages to get rid of the voice. All you can hope is in the end the kinder voice wins.” Here are Izadi’s ways to get started:
1) How are you showing yourself kindness? For people who want to take better care of themselves and meet their own needs, I ask them to write down what they want most from a partner or a mother or a friend. People will write things like generosity, support, unconditional love, presence. Then I ask them: are those the things you’re doing for yourself?
2) Think about yourself as a child. Remember: you’re the same person as you were then, so you deserve as much consideration and care.
3) The right kind of affirmations will help. Most of us are so far behind with speaking to ourselves kindly we can’t affirm the things we want to become. Instead, start by writing a list of things you have proven you are over and over again – maybe strong, confident, hard-working. Make these your affirmations, speaking to yourself as someone who’s achieved them. I am strong, I am confident, I am hard-working.
4) Turn up the volume on your positive voice. You can consciously create a positive inner voice, your cheerleader. Try to listen more every day to her. She says what makes you feel good: “Of course you can do that” or “We’ve got this!” These are the helpful, useful, kind and true messages that have your best interests at heart overall.
The Kindness Method: Changing Habits For Good by Shahroo Izadi (Bluebird, £12.99) is out now