Don’t avoid the voices in your head


The goal is not to eliminate them; learn to observe them distantly, and not believe their story

The goal is not to eliminate them; learn to observe them distantly, and not believe their story

In these years of my work as a coach, across my clients, a few barriers have recurrently shown up as saboteurs to clarity of mind and positive change. Saboteurs are the voices in our heads that generate negative emotions about the way we handle everyday life. They represent automated patterns in our minds that influence how to think, feel, and respond. There is definite truth in the saying that man can be his worst enemy; the mind is our strongest ally and our worst saboteur. 

The mind itself is not the enemy; it is saboteurs disguised as friendly emotions, often fanning the ego and managing to pose as lofty ideals to be pursued and perfected. As long as we do not detect them, they act uncontrollably to undermine us.

The Judge: the universal saboteur

“How could she score more than me? Well, she often tends to please the teacher. No wonder she always manages to score the highest.” This is the Judge, the master saboteur. When you think that your teacher is a fool, or your peer is not skilled enough to do the task, it is the ‘Judge of Others’ at work. Think of how often we attribute someone’s success to favours earned, privilege, money or fortune. Now, consider whether the success could be because of the intelligence, hard work and diligence that was peculiar to them, albeit some luck.

Even more common is ‘The Judge of the Self’. Our insecurities, the voices that tell us that we are not good enough, our feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and guilt of being lucky rather than competent make up this category. Every human being has encountered the Judge in them. We have been roadblocks in our own path of exploring or experiencing something life-changing.

‘Judging the Circumstances’ is the third Judge that makes us procrastinate, leaves us indecisive and frustrated, and leads us to externalise responsibility. 

Beat the Judge

When you hear The Judge talk inside your head, identify and label it accordingly. This is saboteur-interception. You will notice an impact on the credibility of its voice inside your head. For instance, instead of saying “I won’t be able to do this”, reframe it as “my Judge tells me that I won’t be able to do this”. By applying this interception technique, the Judge’s voice loses potency. You could talk back to the voice: “You think I can’t do this? Now, watch this.” 

As you notice and call it out, you will sense your rational mind or, your cognition switch on. The cognitive process that alerts attention and allows judgment, evaluation, reasoning, problem solving and decision-making will enable rational choices.

Once we intercept the saboteur Judge and experience, it loses its hold on our mind, and the process is clear. The interception process shows how the habit can be built. Sustained change towards positive growth requires laying down neural pathways to form new habits, both cultivated and practiced.

Other saboteurs

The Judge activates the other saboteurs and works with one or more accomplices such as the Victim, the Pleaser, the Avoider, the Controller, or the Perfectionist to hijack the mind and cause setbacks. Consider these as tricky characters out to harm us. For instance, the Avoider is the character that often rears its head in learning processes — procrastinating, postponing, and not keeping up a study routine. Until it tells us ‘there is no point in continuing’. Then perhaps the Judge tells us that we have failed, and the Victim agrees. And so we stop learning. This collusion makes a learning journey challenging.

Simply being aware of saboteurs as voices in our heads can make a big difference. The goal is not to eliminate them; learn to observe them distantly, and do not believe their story. 

The writer is an executive and life coach, mentor and writer.

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