Silencing Your Little Voice(s)

Last week, in an exchange with a newly met friend on Facebook, I let slip that I had not explored writing before because of a small little voice in my head that always asked me: “Who do you think will read your stuff?”. It got me every time. This little voice always waited for me to have a new and exciting idea before it reared its ugly head. Like the one time I wanted to take up running a couple of years ago, it simply asked me if I knew anybody in my family who ran. I was stumped. Got me again. I could never win against this ugly little voice. I know what you are thinking, why didn’t you just ignore it, I ignore mine all the time. Or as some people would say, I don’t have strange voices in my head telling me what to do or what not to do. You do, but you may be part of the blessed section of the population that has a positive little voice, one that tells you nothing is impossible, that you are always in charge and you are the captain of your own fate.

Let me start with a disclaimer before going any further, I am not a psychologist or trained as such. What I’m going to share here is based on my own life experiences, what scientists would refer to as anecdotal evidence. The reason I want to share this is because over the past year or so I have come to learn that the little voice I referred to above may actually be so much a part of you that you cannot overcome it without either the help of others or without accepting its presence.

We all know that as children the adults around us put a lot of things in our heads. Things that should have been preparing us for successful adulthood. Some adults are just plain mean or bitter and put things in those innocent little heads that should be punishable by a jail sentence. Some adults just don’t know any better. So they poison the little minds along with their little spirits. Unfortunately, in some cases, our emotional make-up is such that we internalize the negative to such an extent that the little voice in your head only makes sense when it’s talking negative.Also, in certain cases, such as mine, the little voice is able to take a negative comment or experience and magnifies it such that it overshadows everything else. This little voice can grow so big it can form a couple of other little voices like itself. A committee if you like (Martha Beck’s invention not mine). Before you know it you cannot do anything new without consulting it even though you know the answer will be negative. And it grows more powerful still, it reinforces every answer it gives you with evidence. Real-life evidence. So you want to take up running, it says. Remember you were always last in your school runs? The humiliation you felt inside, the laughing classmates, really? Do you want to go through that again? Nine times out of ten you’ll back down. Or at least I did.

That little voice can actually be the most cruel voice you know. It’s one thing to be dissuaded from doing something new by evidence from your past but it’s quite another for that little voice to agree with all the negative people you’ve ever met. Those mean relatives who told you it’s ok that you can’t do something because you are not the same as everybody, the teacher who asked you why you think you could ever be a pilot, that boss who asked why you are interested in career planning, do you want my job one day? The little voice that says each one of those people were right, I mean look at you, you can never do anything right. That’s just plain cruel.

Perhaps the cruelest thing it can say to you is every success you have achieved could be achieved by just about anyone, so yes, forget it, you’re not special. You got an A+ in that test, it was a fluke. You’re in the top ten of your class at school, wait till your final exams they’ll sort you out! Oh you passed, with a distinction? Varsity will show you. And sure enough in your first term of varsity you fail that crucial test, disaster! That little voice was right after all. What was I thinking? What made me think that I could defy ‘my’ little voice, it’s been right all along.

I read or heard somewhere that ‘my’ little voice is referred to as my “generalized other” in psychology, an audience that you have that you are always aiming to please, or failing to please. The thing is, this generalized other is part of you, part of your make-up as a person and until you learn to answer back when it talks you are in for a very sad ride this side of heaven.

I’m learning to deal with my little committee of voices one day at a time. One warm day in January last year I laced up my three-year old running shoes, which still looked new because they’d been underused. My little voice said are you really going to do this? I said yes but only in the evening when nobody’s watching. I ran and after about 500metres I stopped, my chest was burning, those five or six strangers that I ran past were looking or watching I thought, I continued walking and started running again after a short rest. More burning in the chest. The little voice said I told you so, I deliberately ignored it and continued. That evening I did about five kilometers. The following day every muscle that could hurt in my body did hurt and the little committee of voices seemed to be celebrating in my head.I ignored them and followed that run with another run two days later. I subscribed to a running magazine and started referring to myself as a runner, at least in my head.I bought Tim Noakes’ Lore of running. My little voice was cowed, for probably the first time in my life I could send it running for cover. Three months later I did my first 10k race and I haven’t looked back.

The trick that I’ve discovered is I need to actively talk back to it. To do that I need to to be aware of it. This little voice is so crafty it can talk to you in whispers, especially if it thinks it’s found its own little corner in your being. So I’m finding I have to consciously work at replacing it. Yes, it’s possible. Otherwise I would not be telling you about the eight half marathons and a full marathon that I’ve completed since talking back to that cruel little voice in January 2012. And when it said my first 10k race was a fluke, I was driven to do more, to run further. Instead of wanting to go back to my childhood and confronting all those adults and my former bosses, I get back at them by talking back to this little voice. I enjoy taunting it, ok maybe that’s a little bit more information that you need right there but yes it’s possible to overcome it. I’m still a work in progress. There are still numerous little members of that committee of voices that I need to confront.

Like the ones that keep telling me that celebrating my birthday is perhaps just a little too inwardly focused. Those little voices made it impossible to enjoy simple things like birthday gifts or even compliments. If like me, you feel every compliment you receive is undeserved, and people are being insincere when they compliment you then perhaps it’s time you started talking back to your own little voice. Tell it, like I do, that you are special because God says you are.

It’s a journey that I’ve started and know I must see to the end. I have no idea what the end looks like but I know the only voice in my head will be that of God telling me I did well in replacing that committee of voices with his. I end this with a Facebook status update that I made earlier this month. This status update represented me silencing yet another member of that little committee of voices , the one that kept me from writing, the one that asked me: “who do you think will read your stuff?”: Thank you so much for reading this far, you just helped me put that little devil to flight!

That Facebook status update:

I got back on the road last week after a long break from running. Damn, I missed the feeling. Yesterday, I started thinking about why I run in the first place. When I run, I get to know that I am more than the world has led me to believe. More than anybody can declare me to be. See, there’s a person that God intended for each one of us to be. A person not afraid of anything or anyone, rather, one looking to live life, and live it “more abundantly”. After six or seven kilometers on a good run, that person comes out and takes over my being. He’s free from fear, he dares the distance to come at him and he knows he can be anything he wants or desires to be. At that time, I know that God lives and I’m praising him through my running. The run, in essence, becomes an exercise in praise. For me, every run still represents a triumph over everything and everyone who ever thought I cannot achieve more than they set out for me. The most amazing thing is that in conquering ever-increasing distance I become bolder, with my body and intellect knowing that I can run further. Whilst the mind knows there is a limit to how much more I can cover in terms of distance, my being, that’s the inner me, the real me enters a realm where anything becomes possible. That is the realm of possibility not based on what anyone else thinks or wishes, rather based on what I’ve achieved in a field I never even thought possible. From zero to 42,2km in fourteen months. My Redeemer lives.

(Phew! I can write, and a few kind people read my stuff. What more do you have to say for yourself? Never mind this, it’s just me talking back to that little voice)

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