When we come into the world, our mind, our thoughts, and the voices in our head are quiet because they don’t exist yet. Our body and spirit have entered the world, but our mind and our filters have not. We’re like an expectant empty tank waiting to be filled with what we think and feel about all of the experiences we’re about to have. It’s as if the nobody is home up there. In fact, the only one home is the essence of who we are. We don’t have any beliefs, or judgement or anxiety or feelings of worthiness or unworthiness and here is why: we haven’t created them yet. As an infant, our mind is like a blank canvas, or better yet, it’s like a wide open, welcoming grassy field that stretches forever and ever and ever. Anything is possible.
Then LIFE happens and we experience something: maybe it’s a sour taste, or a soft touch. Still, at this time, our body doesn’t read it as good or bad; rather it’s still just something that has happened. If it warms us, we delight in it and do it again. If it frightens us we pull back and may not. We still haven’t attached a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ judgement to it, it’s simply ‘do it again’ or ‘don’t do it again’. With each experience we like, we usually repeat it and with each repeat, our wide open, pristine grassy field changes. What we repeat becomes our first footprint in the field. The more we experience and the more we repeat our actions and reactions, the more our grassy field develops footpaths, and over time our footpaths deepen and then entrench into habits, which lead to well travelled trails, then into busy thought sidewalks, into thought roads, and then into the mighty “know it all” highways. It is true that we become that which we repeatedly do, though still, it does not define who we are. Who we are is who we came into the world as. Our essence doesn’t change.
So who are the voices in our head and what can we do about them?
Here is a glimpse at most people’s usual suspects:
Debbie Downer (remember the SNL Sketch?): She says things like: “Forget that, it’ll never work. You may as well just give up now” or…
Muddled Mike: “Well, there’s too many choices, I don’t know what to do. Whatever, it’s better to not do anything”
Loser Larry: “You suck, what’s wrong with you?”
The Maniac Mom: “You’ll never amount to anything with an attitude like that” or the…
Bossy Best Friend: (not really a friend btw) “I told you so, I told you so, why don’t you ever listen to me? I know so much more than you”
I’m sure you have a long list of your own, and first things first, this is totally and completely normal. You are not the world’s worst ‘self-talker’, I promise you. Remember, these voices are all extensions of you. You created them. You allow them to be there. You let them move in. There are some potentially positive voices too, however, in recovery (and in everyday life) these positives can also be double edged swords if they aren’t grounded in reality. Here’s a few you probably know well:
No Matter What Nelly: “No matter what I am stronger than any crap that comes my way”. This is a great thing to tell ourselves until it’s not. Sometimes we need to let go and surrender and recognize that we are human beings and not above it all. That said, it’s that momentum behind No Matter What that often propels us forward in our recovery.
The You Can Do It Mice: (Remember Cinderella?) These are the voices that tell us “yes you can, you can do it, you can totally do it, no problem”. Again, this is a great voice to listen to when we’re laying under the covers wondering if we can get up, but this is a dangerous crew to listen to when we think we can just use a little… just for today… We can’t.
Confident Charlie: “No worries, we got this” – again a great way to fake it til you make it, but sometimes you fake it so long you forget you’re faking and you need help.
And there are so many more. So who are these characters who keep thinking they know more than you? Well, they are like the ‘city workers’ of your mind. You built roads right? Well now you need road workers, a construction crew, managers and directors… Yup, these guys and gals have a vested interest in maintaining the roads and highways you’ve created over time. These characters and what they say grew out of your opinions and the opinions of others about your reactions whether good, or bad, easy or difficult, dangerous or peaceful, misguided or clear.
So What Can I do About Them?
Great question, have you heard of neuroplasticity? Dr. Shad Helmstetter Ph.D., is an international best-selling author of 16 books in the field of personal growth including his breakthrough book “What to Say When You Talk to Your Self”, and his latest “The Power of Neuroplasticity.” Shad Helmstetter is the pioneering dean in the field of self-talk. He is the first behavioral researcher to focus on the role of self-talk as the primary programming source that directs our life path and personal success or failure, and he identified the self-talk words and phrases which most impact our individual programming. “The Power of Neurplasticity” suggests that the human brain is designed to be physically rewired based on the messages we give ourselves. He suggests that we can rewire our brain to change our life, and we can make friends with the voices in our head. In fact, with new actions and thoughts we can lay new footpaths, new sidewalks and new recovery and success highways. Helmstetter goes on to say that “No one is truly born Republican or Democrat, destined to be rich or poor, or one religion or another. Every belief, opinion, and truth or untruth we hold, is the result of the programs we received and physically wired into the neural pathways we created in our brains.”
What if we could rewire our brains for recovery? Where would we start?
The reality is that most of us are only conscious of one tenth of the choices we make each day, and the rest we make by the unconscious neural circuits that we’ve wired into our brain. Here are a few things you can do to get started:
SLOW DOWN ENOUGH that you can LISTEN to what goes on up there before you make a decision to do something. What are you telling yourself?
LISTEN TO WHAT YOU REPEATEDLY say out loud. E.G. “I must be crazy because I can’t find my shoes…” – how many times do you tell yourself you are crazy in a day?
CREATE A TODAY MANTRA like “Every day in every way I get cleaner and healthier” as a way to start the rewiring process!
NOTICE WHAT YOU WAKE UP saying to yourself, notice what you say as you are falling asleep. Take note if it makes you feel good, bad, hidden, or exposed (how else does it feel?)
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO speak life around you. Notice what others around you think and say. Consider asking yourself if what they say brings you energy, or if it drains yours.
Recovery requires your focus, energy, and an alignment of what you think, do and feel. For some of us the gateway to getting started is through the mind. If this sounds like you, perhaps neuroplasticity is a great place to begin.