One Way to Silence the Negative Voices in Your Head

C.S. Lewis expressed a deep truth about friendships. He said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”

I’ve never met her, but author Anne Lamott became my friend last night.

Mice in a mason jar

In Bird by Bird, her fabulous book about writing and life, she described the challenge of silencing the voices in her head. The voices that criticize her writing. From the “Reader Lady” who doesn’t think the story is interesting, to her parents who are upset that she dares to write about their family life.

I loved her description because I face those negative voices too. Mine are a little different, of course. For me, there’s the voice of a former mentor who, in my head, is always telling me that I haven’t done enough. There’s the voice of shame telling me that I suck, that I am a failure. And there’s the argumentative voice who spends an awful lot of time and energy defending herself from others’ imaginary attacks.

This flood of negativity isn’t confined to the times when I sit down to write. No, I can battle them ALL DAY. Steven Pressfield described this phenomenon as “The Resistance.” That internal push AGAINST growth, positive change, and any action designed to help you achieve your goals.

In his book, The War of Art, Pressfield outlined scenarios when Resistance is likely to occur. His list included pretty much any kind of creative endeavor (including starting a business), actions intended to break an addiction or habit, as well as education and any action geared toward growth. He also noted that actions designed to improve your health will elicit Resistance, including “any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.”

So, chances are, you’ve experienced Resistance!

And when you do, when those voices come at you, Lamott has offered a creative and silly way to shut them up. She described an exercise that an hypnotist friend gave her:

“Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on.

“Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want…

“Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to [work].”

Ahhhhh… Enjoy the peace and quiet you just created.

Question: When do your negative voices yell the loudest? How have you been able to silence them?

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