GUEST WRITER INFO
Kieran Moolchan is a product manager, gamer and frisbee enthusiast, and mental health advocate in Winnipeg. He’s a charity fund organizer at A Critical Cause and is always willing to listen before even thinking about giving advice. He says ‘yes’ to less things than it seems like.
About 3 minutes ago there were about 700 words on this page about “being the best, like no one ever was.”
From that opening Pokémon joke, and went on and on about the our internal desires for greatness and how the process to achieve that greatness was blah blah blah
“Shut up, Kieran.”
I usually hate the first thing I write.
But that’s because it usually sucks.
…Or it’s because I’m conditioned to be extremely critical of any work that I do.
Many of us are conditioned to bring ourselves down. That conditioning comes from different sources and triggers, but it nags and criticizes some of us every waking second.
It’s that inner voice…can you hear it?
“Why would you do that?”
I hear that voice all the time.
When I’m writing when I’m talking when I’m driving when I’m walking when I’m buying groceries when I’m making soup when I’m running when I’m boarding an airplane but don’t have my boarding pass on the right page of my passport so then it takes an extra five seconds to switch to my photo page the attendant looks up at me and raises her eyebrows for a second and there’s sixty people behind me and they just want to get home to Trinidad because it’s February in Canada and wouldn’t we all rather be in the Caribbean?
“You’re bad at airplane embarkation.”
I was thinking about trying to put together a plan to make it my priority to find some time to allocate some personal energy to sending a message to someone I respect about offering to, if they were into it, and only if they had a minute, do some work for them for free, only if they wanted it, because I’d love to help them out.
“They wouldn’t even want your shitty help why even offer?”
There was a moment that I was putting in a resume application to a place that I have always dreamed of working but then I didn’t do it for three months because if I failed then my inner voice would win and I’d be embarrassed at…myself?
Eternally held back.
Consistently brought down.
By my own inner voice.
For some reason, I’ve always thought that my critical inner voice brought me a type of power. The kind of power that let me see my mistakes and look for a way to be better.
To be better next time.
Just be better.
But the negative aspect of that can be an inner voice that critiques with cruelty, instead of constructively.
Has my inner voice always been so destructive?
I think that when I was younger, I had a lot less ammunition to berate myself with when I tried to accomplish something. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and that was exciting, not terrifying.
As a kid, I was curious and confident, though prone to the occasional outburst of emotion that was quickly quelled by someone, usually my father, saying that it was disappointing that I hadn’t expressed my frustration first and then found a solution, instead of letting that frustration fester into anger.
My dad was pretty good at helping me feel what I needed to feel without losing control of those feelings.
I’m thankful for that.
And so, I could see what I wasn’t good at, analyze why I wasn’t good, and then improve.
But that was just something that I did, not something I felt I had a voice inside speaking out about.
I was me, and I just heard…ME, inside my head.
I think we don’t truly start to notice our inner voice until it starts to sound like someone, or something else.
In university, it was things like long mood swings, and missed classes because I couldn’t get out of bed. There wasn’t just a lack of energy. There was also something different, something other than the same inner monologue that I’d heard before, that perfectly reflected the way I felt or the way I thought I should be thinking.
It was a tired voice whispering: “why bother?”
I didn’t recognize this voice.
I’m not saying it was another person. It was just a version of me who I didn’t recognize.
But after a few weeks, that voice would perk up, and I’d sound like myself again.
Then, in 2011, my dad died.
“Feel what you need to feel” was something that only lasted so long before I was stuck in the feeling. I was past grief and into depression. I quit school, basically. I stopped doing track and field…I’d been pretty good at it and I just dropped it. There were deeper reasons than just an inner, but it was shouting the whole time.
I was acutely aware of that voice now, during that time, and it was telling me that this shitty feeling was going to last a lot longer.
I didn’t want it to.
So I went back to school, thinking I could ignore it, or function with it whispering within me.
But that was tough too.
Because, as I found out through therapy and a psychiatric diagnosis a few years later, everyone has an inner voice, but mine was supercharged with the symptoms of bipolar type 2. I’m open to talk a lot about that diagnosis, but all that means, when it comes to inner voices, is that I’ve had the experiences of all sorts of internal narratives.
Sometimes I feel so powerful and unstoppable that I have to recognize that what’s in my head is much too enthusiastic.
During the best of times, and more and more often now, through practice and self-awareness, my inner voice sounds like the one I recognize as mine: curious and confident.
But the hardest voice I have to deal with is one that is a saboteur.
The one saying: “Why bother.”
Do you ever let your own inner voice get out of hand?
I definitely do.
And the times it gets out of hand means I’m no longer going through the process of trying to be better. Instead, I’m tearing down the thing I just did. I’m tearing down my own performance when I should be building on it. The thing is, there is almost ALWAYS something good about what came before. Even if what came before felt like a disaster.
The best we can do is build on what we did before.
Our inner voice, when it’s feeling like a particular kind of jerk, holds back our will to start and our will to build. It makes us feel so bad about the million ways that we could fail that we end up paralyzed and overwhelmed, unable to begin, accomplishing nothing.
And if we do nothing; if we have nothing to build on because we never started, then our inner voice has really sabotaged us.
The good news is that through all my experience I’ve come up with three steps that are simple to say and write down (but require practice) for when that inner voice is moving from helpful to harmful:
- Don’t pick up the phone
- Don’t let him in
- Don’t be his friend
Seriously, Dua Lipa ain’t wrong.
1. Don’t pick up the phone (Or, use your inner voice caller ID)
A lot of the time I can feel when my inner voice is going to drop some trash commentary on what I’m doing.
The monologue changes from “Let’s do this!” or “Let’s do this…a little better!” to something more nefarious, like “Are you sure you’re up to this?”, “Do you even KNOW what you’re about to do?”.
And then, before I can even answer with “Yes, I’m ready!”, it wants to answer for me.
“You’re nothing. Don’t even try.”
At that point, I’m not picking up that phone.
I’m going to dive in to the thing that I was about to get a negative comment about. If I just try it, just do it, and fail, that’s better than not trying it at all because my little voice was being a party pooper.
At least, after, I have a performance to improve on. And hopefully the rush of having done something a little out of my comfort zone.
I’m not giving that mean inner voice the chance to stop me from starting.
2. Don’t let him in (When that voice comes knockin’ don’t open that door)
Once I’ve done the thing, or I’m doing the thing, I have to keep up the momentum, no matter how many internal side-eyes I’m giving myself.
I am, embarrassingly, for some reason, stress sweating while I write this.
I’m alone in an office. There’s no one around. Yet, I’m stressing OUT.
“What if you/they hate this article?”
“What if my Dua Lipa connection fails and I have to start this sucker all over again?”
Oh yeah, that’s my inner voice.
I’m not letting him in.
I’m not letting that voice stop my momentum.
3. Don’t be his friend (create a new, more constructive inner voice)
We’re almost at the finish line. Maybe I’ll go back over this post and see what edits I can make. I’ll probably engage in a little constructive criticism and then seriously question if this blog isn’t just hot garbage but what if it is hot garbage and when I read this post over the next day I realize what a huge mistake I made and that not even light edits can save it and…
Damn, I woke up in his bed in the morning.
I’d just gone over for a little coffee and critique and the next thing I knew I was fully under him.
“Come on Kieran, just charge ahead and hit publish.”
“Believe in yourself, the world won’t end if you missed a typo.”
“Most people are hopefully still on board with this extended song lyric metaphor, seriously!”
But for real, if you shack up with your hurtful inner voice, using it to justify the inadequacies that you think you might have, you won’t be able to lean into improvement and constructive habits.
That inner voice needs to change, or, if you’re feeling extra dramatic, throw it out and make it a new, encouraging and positive voice!
It takes a lot of effort, and practice to do, but that voice doesn’t have to be so negative. It doesn’t have to bring you down.
I’m not saying we should never listen to our inner voices.
I’m not saying that a constructive, cautiously optimistic voice doesn’t sometimes keep us safe.
Our voices are a part of us. They’re an amazing, powerful part of us that can drive us to do great things.
But if you find that your inner voice is being cripplingly critical, like I did, for years, and sometimes, even now, I hope that you can start the breakup process with your jerk voice.
With practice, and mindfulness, your relationship with your inner voice can become supportive and safe.
And if you need an external supporting voice, let me know.
We can practice together.
WHAT COMES NEXT FOR KIERAN
Kieran is going to keep as active as possible with ultimate frisbee, biking, and working out because one of the best ways to keep the mind healthy is to keep the body in motion. It also holds back the neverending tide of McDonald’s he eats.
He’s serious about listening and giving advice, so feel free to send him an email at http://kieranmoolchan.com or tweet in his direction.