We all have a little voice in our head. You know the one. It’s the voice that tells you that you’re wrong, that you are too slow, too fat, too lazy, too dumb, too clever, too young, too old, too tall, too short, too hairy, too bald, too underqualified, too overqualified, too experienced, too inexperienced, and so forth. It’s the voice that beats you up when you make a mistake.
Psychologists often call this voice the Inner Critic. It sits in judgment of you all the time. But I think that gives it too much of a sense of authority, which is partly why people get pushed around by this inner voice. They think it’s in charge.
I like to think of it as the little voice of your fears. It comes from past pain. It comes from all those times when life has hurt you. It’s actually a voice of compassion because it wants you to avoid feeling pain again. It associates change with pain because you have experienced pain in the past when change has randomly been imposed upon you.
So, when you decide you want to make changes, it says, “Whoa, wait a minute. Are you sure about doing that? It would expose you to possible failure, and that hurts. Wouldn’t it be better that you carry on doing what you’re doing now? You know what that’s like. It might not be what you desire, but at least you know what you’re going to get.”
Sometimes the voice will do a good job and keep you from getting into trouble. But it can also keep you in a situation that you would be best to move on from, because it tries to persuade you to stay with what you have, even if what you have is not what you want.
The voice tells you to stay in the same uninspiring job, stay at the same weight, stay with a partner who is hurting you, keep consuming things you know are bad for you, or stay in the same neighbourhood although you hate it. The voice argues the case for staying with what is familiar, rather than experience something new.
Working with clients, I find one of the biggest difficulties in my job is that I am competing with this voice of their Inner Critic. During the hour that I spend with a client, we can get a lot of things agreed, and the client goes away with a course of action to make positive changes to their life. But once the client leaves the room, the voice of the Inner Critic starts in their head, and it has all week, until the client next sees me, to sow the seeds of self-doubt in the client’s mind.
A week is a long time for the voice to do its worst. And that’s what the voice likes best, time to work with. So, it will intrude on your thoughts while you are at work, or when you are watching TV. Its favourite trick is to wake you up in the middle of the night and start you worrying.
Clearly, if you want to make changes in your life, you need to get the upper hand on the voice, or it will sabotage your plans every time. Here’s how:
Take some action immediately. Don’t wait until you think you’re ready - that gives the voice time to sabotage you. You will never be 100% ready, anyway. Make a start. You will take the voice by surprise because you will be taking yourself by surprise. And that will give you something very valuable:
And momentum will crush the voice of your fears.
So, if you were planning to study for a new qualification, get online and sign up now. If you intended to start a healthy eating plan on the first day of next month, start now instead, today. Clear out the cupboards of all your junk food and donate it to the food bank.
When I tried to give up smoking in the past, I always tried to start on a date and time I had decided in advance. It never worked. Then one day, at about eight o’clock in the evening, I suddenly decided to stop. It was so sudden, 10 seconds earlier I had no idea I going to quit. My Inner Critic was completely taken by surprise and kept quiet.
It was one of those random moments in life that I hadn’t seen coming. I could have ignored it, and carried on smoking, but I decided to go with it. The following morning, when the cravings started to give me a hard time, my Inner Critic had time to get over the shock of my sudden action, and it tried to persuade me to smoke. But, by that time, I had already gone 12 hours and I had momentum. I thought: let’s get this done. I haven’t smoked since, which shows the power of not waiting till you’re ready and using randomness in your life to your advantage.
When I wrote my first book, a similar thing happened. At the time, I had been carrying out a lot of counselling work at a hospital out-patient facility with problem drinkers. The results had been excellent and I believed that I had valuable research that I should share with all drinkers in need of support, not just the ones in my town.
I decided to write an article about my work to submit to a magazine. But I quickly realized that I had so much information to share, that I was writing the introduction to a book instead of an article. I decided to carry on and get it done quickly. Three months later, my book “Alcohol and You” was selling on major online platforms, and I was receiving messages from people about how life-changing they had found it.
If I had delayed, if I had thought, “I’ll start when I have more time”, I would probably never have written the book. The voice of my Inner Critic would have had a chance to plant doubt in my mind. It would have said things like: “Who do you think you are? Are you sure you’re qualified enough? Perhaps you should do another five years of research? Why do you think you can write?” And so on.
But because I got on with it immediately, my voice of self-doubt got trampled as I ran down The Path to my goal.
A few years ago, my wife was very unhappy in her job. She was a teacher. She was working ridiculously long hours, had a long commute to her school, she was coming home late, exhausted, with work she still needed to do at home. Her doctor diagnosed her with stress. Something had to change. It would have seemed sensible for her to start applying for other jobs, but it could have taken months to organize a suitable new post. She couldn’t wait. Her happiness and health were on the line.
She quit her job, with no other job to go to. At this point, her Inner Critic could have gone crazy, beating her up for doing something so reckless. But it didn’t have time, as she took immediate action.
Antonia had always loved animals. Where we lived at the time was in the countryside. Our garden backed onto hundreds of acres of quiet country lanes and fields. She loved nothing more than taking our dog on long walks, as it was perfect dog-walking country. She announced she was going to start a business looking after dogs.
Right away, she started putting out adverts on cheap or free web sites and social media. I designed a small, business web site for her. She bought business insurance. The phone started ringing. She had momentum. Within a few days, she was in business and the dogs started arriving. In her first month, she earned nearly as much as she had been earning as a teacher, doing something she loved.
The important thing to grasp is that change happened on the very first day. That’s why this book is called Change Your Life Today.
If you want to find out more about having a Path and the philosophy behind this piece, take a look at "Change Your Life Today"