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Are you the voice in your head?

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 23 · Issue #227 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: We all talk to ourselves incessantly. But have you ever stopped to objectively listen to the voice inside your head? Where does it come from? Does it say anything useful? This issue offers a few views on your inner dialogue.
(~5 min read)

#1. You are *not* the voice inside your head
Author and journalist Michael Singer writes in his book Untethered Soul that:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind—you are the one who hears it.”
You have a mental dialogue going on inside of your head that never shuts up. 
Maybe the following example sounds familiar: 
“Shoot, I can’t remember her name. What is her name? Darn, here she comes. What is it… Sally… Sue? She just told me yesterday. What’s the matter with me? This is going to be embarrassing.”
Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? Or where that voice comes from? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? 
If you’re reading this and you hear: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have any voice inside my head!”
That’s the voice.
Here’s the thing: if you watch the voice objectively, you’ll notice that much of what it says is meaningless. Most of the talking is a waste of time and energy. 
As Singer puts it: “It’s like sitting down at night and deciding whether you want the sun to come up in the morning.“
But if so much of what the voice says is meaningless, why does it even exist?
For Singer, the key to answering that question is understanding why it says what it says, and when it says it.
He offers two explanations: 
Reason #1: To release pent up energy 
When energy builds up inside, you want to do something about it. 
“That voice talks because you’re not okay inside, and talking releases energy.”
Singer compares this to a tea kettle whistling on a hot stove. There’s a buildup of energy that needs to be released. 
And if you watch the voice objectively, you’ll notice that it gets especially active when you’re scared, nervous, or feel some strong desire. 
For example, it’s easy to see when you’re angry with someone and want to tell them off.
“Just watch how many times the inner voice tells them off before you even see them.”
Reason #2: To make you feel more in control
Perhaps you can relate to this scenario: you’re walking outside during winter, you start to shiver, and the voice says: “It’s cold!”
Now, how did that help you? You already knew it was cold. You’re the one experiencing it. So why is it telling you this?
As Singer notes: “You re-create the world within your mind because you can control your mind whereas you can’t control the world.”
If you can’t get the world the way you like it, you internally verbalize it, judge it, complain about it, and then decide what to do about it. 
This makes you feel more empowered. 
When your body is cold, there may be nothing you can do to affect the temperature. 
But when your mind verbalizes “It’s cold!” you can say, “We’re almost home, just a few more minutes.” 
And then you feel better.
Constantly remembering that you are not the voice inside your head but the one who hears it is a key step on your path of personal growth. 
“It is a doorway to the depths of your being. To be aware that you are watching the voice talk is to stand on the threshold of a fantastic inner journey. If used properly, the same mental voice that has been a source of worry, distraction, and general neurosis can become the launching ground for true spiritual awakening.”
#2. Most of what you hear is nonsense ...
Not all thoughts are created equal.
Have you ever meditated? 
If so, then you know what it feels like to shift your consciousness to more of a witness, where you watch your thoughts arise, float across your awareness, and then drift away—to be replaced by the next thought, and the one after that.
Author Steven Pressfield writes in his book Do the Work that those “thoughts” are really just “chatter.”
As Pressfield admits, “I was thirty years old before I had an actual thought.”
Everything else was what Buddhists call “monkey-mind” chatter, or the regurgitation of what his parents and teachers said, or something he heard on the news or read in a book. 
These things are not your thoughts. 
They’re chatter. 
Chatter is your parents’ well-intentioned expression of caution, seeking to shield you from hurting yourself. 
Chatter is your teachers’ equally well-meaning attempts to socialize you and train you to follow the rules.
Chatter is your friends’ “regular-Joe buddy talk,” trying to make you like them and follow the rules of the pack.
Chatter is also what Pressfied calls “Resistance”: fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, and other internal forces that keep you from doing the work you know you need to do. 
“Its aim is to reconcile you to ‘the way it is,’ to make you exactly like everyone else, to render you amenable to societal order and discipline.”
So, then where do our real thoughts come from? How can we access them? From what source does our true, authentic self speak?
As Pressfield puts it: “Answering that is the work you and I will do for the rest of our lives.”
#3. ... but sometimes the voice gives you gold
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, author Robert Greene says that given the way the human brain works, “your best ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them.”
Reflecting on his own work process, Greene explains that when he’s not writing he chooses to take naps or watch mindless television.
Letting his mind wander results in better work: “Things are going on in the brain, and then when I am showering or shaving, great ideas come to me.”
For Greene, if you’re constantly doing other things in addition to your work—going out every night, incessantly checking your phone—you’ll likely miss out on the benefits of a wandering mind.
Your brain won’t have the mental space to unconsciously process ideas.
Quote of the week
“The mind should be a servant and a tool, not a master. It’s not something that should be controlling me and driving me 24/7.”
- Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant in an interview with Farnum Street
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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