How To Find Your Inner Voice
I’ve always thought that the idea of an inner voice was a little bit over the top. When I was at the peak of my religious phase in 8th grade, I read the book Conversations with God. The idea of this book, if you don’t know about it, is that a man gets really mad one day and starts to write a letter to God, and to his surprise, God writes back… through him, by manipulating his arm and forcing him to write a response.
Of course, after being in kind of a wondrous phase with the book, I came to understand the truth which is that this guy is delusional or perhaps a great con-artist and is writing religious fan fiction. But Oprah and Barnes and Noble and everyone else ate it up. Even my freakin’ Grandmother read Conversations with God.
If I were to look at it through a lens of optimism, perhaps I’d conclude that he was simply hearing his inner voice for the first time, and thought it was God.
Have you ever attempted to access your inner voice? Mine will sometimes emerge when I’m alone with no reading material, like in the shower, or sometimes on a long car ride (of which I take many for my job). It’ll say all sorts of wise things and calm me down if I’m anxious. And it’s super reassuring because, since the voice is coming from within, I believe it when it says everything is going to be okay. It’s a weird sort of duality, but it seems to be an efficient mechanism for self-help.
But I hadn’t been successful at just accessing it whenever I felt like it – until my therapist taught me how to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
It happens in five steps. First, you have some thought or event that makes you distressed (I failed a test). Then, you state your belief about it (I’m stupid and will never get anything right). Then you state the consequence of believing that (feeling depressed and stupid and negative toward myself). After that, you dispute the belief (maybe I’m not stupid, maybe I just didn’t study well enough or it was just a tough test). And finally, the way the dispute made you feel (well, that makes me feel better and not so dumb for a minute).
I see this process as two voices taking turns. Imagine a wise old version of me, talking to day-to-day me:
Wise Zia: Your boss didn’t like your work.
Zia: I’m a failure and will never live up to my boss’ expectation. I feel low key shitty all day thinking about it.
Wise Zia: What about all the times you succeeded and your boss noticed and acknowledged you?
Zia: True. That makes me feel slightly better, thanks.
Maybe the inner voice isn’t really an inner voice at all. It’s just the voice that kicks in when you start to dispute the negative beliefs about yourself and your life.
If so, perhaps wisdom is simply the ability to give ugly thoughts a beautiful makeover.