Google the term “interior voices,” and you’ll find reams of research and information about this phenomenon.
In the article “What It’s Like Living Without an Inner Monologue,” reporter Alex Soloducha gives an excellent overview of what’s meant by interior monologues, or conversations with the self. Many people engage in private conversations—“Man, I want to go to Emerald Isle this summer!” Others converse with themselves visually much of the time, imagining the sand and waves of the North Carolina beach town rather than using words to express their desire to be there. And some “see” the beach through their feelings, recollecting, for instance, the joy they felt while watching a full moon over the ocean or their 4-year-old dancing in and out of the incoming tide.
A lot of us, of course, mix these interior dialogues. We verbalize the waves and sand in our heads—“Man, I miss the beach!”—but also splash that monologue with visual memories.
In her article, Soloducha cites psychology professor and longtime researcher of these “inner experiences,” Russell Hurlburt, who says, “It’s the most interesting topic on the planet.”
Hurlburt goes on to warn that the act of paying too much attention to how we think and process information can have negative consequences, as “it screws up your everyday inner life.”
But much of what we think, rather than how we think, can and should be controlled.
Our thoughts can be our best friends or our worst enemies. They’re often the line in the sand between success and failure.
Let’s say that a recession cuts two men out of their jobs through no fault of their own. The first guy exits the building saying to himself, “OK. I know my gifts and talents, and I need to find work.” He arrives home, opens his laptop, and begins searching for a job and updating his resume.
The second guy spends the rest of his day beating himself up. By late afternoon, he’s sitting on the back deck in a deep funk, drinking beer from a cooler, and staring into space, convinced he’s a loser.
These same interior whisperings can convince others who got the ax that they’ve been wronged. Nurtured by parents and teachers who drenched them in self-esteem, these men and women blame everyone but themselves for their failings. Their inner voices excuse their flaws with bitter comments like: “It was Havisham, not me, who was the problem,” “How was I to know Brinkley wanted that report yesterday?” or “I’m just really sick of everyone making everything my fault.”
Spiritual teachers, philosophers such as the stoic Marcus Aurelius, and scores of self-help gurus have for centuries advised against such negative thinking, urging their fellow human beings to stifle those defeatist inner voices and adopt a more realistic attitude when trouble knocks on the door.
And with some conscious effort, we can do just that. We can squelch this corrosive babble in our heads, step back a bit, and appraise our situation more objectively. If we’re the type who blame ourselves for our afflictions, we can mend our battered egos by celebrating our wins, firmly resolving to push discouragement aside, and becoming more future-focused.
If, instead, we blame others for our failings or feel underappreciated, we can aim to examine ourselves a bit more fiercely, put some ice on that swollen pride and ego, and move forward with a better attitude.
“Know thyself.” That’s one tough old proposition. But when we step into the ring and punch back at our destructive private thoughts, keeping our balance and our hands up, we can end that fight as a winner.