Is Your Inner Voice Cruel or Kind?
Take the Two Jar Test to Find Out
Although there is a myriad of reasons behind any pattern of thinking we may have, at the heart of the majority of them is our level of self-esteem.
If we have low self-worth, our thoughts, especially regarding ourselves, will reflect that; the likelihood is that your inner voice is a nagging, critical harridan. If you tend to see yourself more positively, your inner monologue will be less harsh and more forgiving: You believe you're a good person, so you get a voice supporting that view.
However, the impact of how we view ourselves isn't just limited to the inside of our heads - it becomes a reality.
For example, the way we speak to ourselves sets the tone for all of our relationships, be they personal or professional. If we have low self-worth, we tend to flock towards relationships or careers that reflect our crippling lack of confidence. Our inner voice has told us for years we're not deserving of love, or happiness, or success, so we get trapped in a cycle of draining unfulfilling situations.
Having a more healthy view of yourself doesn't mean you will never find yourself in such situations. But, if you do, you're more likely to see that you are worthy of more, will extricate yourself faster, and search for more meaningful encounters.
We are what we think. And what we think will manifest itself in an untold number of concrete ways.
None of that may appear shocking - it's almost so obvious, so quantifiably provable, that it doesn't even need saying.
However, there's a catch, a big one.
Despite 'self-aware' being a buzzword of modern self-help gurus, as a species, we lack this ability. As individuals, we are fantastically inept in being able to view ourselves accurately and honestly. As a test, ask 3 people you trust and know well to describe you. I did this and I genuinely didn't recognize the person being described.
However, that's not uncommon. It seems to be a fundamental part of the human condition: We often understand others better than we do ourselves.
The problem is that your inner voice, which reflects your self-worth, will in turn impact your physical reality. And, if you're not aware of what that voice is genuinely saying, then you can end up incorrectly evaluating your mistakes, and where you can grow.
If you believe you have a healthy level of self-respect, but your inner monologue is one of loathing and pessimism, then you are only doomed to be stuck in an ever-repeating cycle of misery. You can only change that inner voice if you know what it is truly saying.
You simply have to KNOW what your inner voice is telling you. Once you do that, you can begin to alter it depending on what you need it to say in the future. And how do you do that? Easy - you listen.
Here's a simple way to test what you tell yourself:
The Two Jar Test
Take two jars. Fill each one with 25 coins, or buttons, or pieces of dry pasta… anything works. Mark one 'Positive'; the other 'Negative.' Feel free to mark them with '+' and '-' if needed.
During the day, every time you have a positive thought about yourself, move one item from the 'Negative' jar and put it into the 'Positive.' However, every time you have a negative thought about yourself, take one item from the 'Positive', jar, and move it to the 'Negative' receptacle.
At the end of day one, count the contents of the two jars.
And then repeat this for a week.
Why a week? Because that takes into account the natural vagaries of everyday life. Even if your natural, default mindset is one of unalloyed optimism, you'll still have days when you feel a bit 'meh.' If you just perform the experiment that day, you'll have a skewed set of results. Likewise, if your mindest is ordinarily pessimistic, you'll still have the odd day when you feel on cloud nine. Again, only counting the coins that day will skew the data.
Doing the experiment over a week takes such variables into account - you might be able to fudge the results one day, but over seven? The chances are that the extended period will give you a fair reflection. Namely, that week should give you a pretty clear indication as to whether your inner voice is cruel or kind.
Now, there is no metric here - there's no hard and fast rule along the lines of 'if you have (on average) 70 coins in the 'Positive' jar every day you have a life-affirming mindset: If you have 70 coins in the 'Negative' jar you should see a mental health professional.' But, then again, life rarely has such easy to grasp certainties anyway.
It's all about drawing attention to what you're saying to yourself. And, in my case, that was downright shocking.
An Olympic Standard of Self-Hatred
I have always known I struggle with my self-worth, but, after doing this experiment myself a few months ago, it only emphasised the size of the problem. I had (on average) only 2 coins left in my 'Positive' jar at the end of every day. Two coins; that's an Olympic standard of self-hatred. I'm amazed I've ever been able to achieve anything in my life given that the majority of my day-to-day existence seems to have been spent criticizing myself.
And, in short, that had to change. How?
Surprisingly, you've done the hardest part - acknowledging the truth: Once you're aware of the problem, you're already on the home stretch. Just being aware that my inner voice was a raging pessimist and needed to be challenged was half the battle. Instantly, I automatically stopped taking everything it said to heart.
However, one technique that really worked for me was 'thought catching' - every time I had a negative thought, I caught it, and questioned it, asking myself, 'Is that fair?' If it wasn't, and was just my naturally low self-esteem talking, then I could dismiss it. If it was fair, and my inner voice was actually (for once) pointing out something I had genuinely fallen short with, then I had something tangible to work on.
Another thing that helped was exploring just where this voice had come from, as it's not a default setting. Evolutionary-speaking, it serves no purpose to have a negative inner voice - we're pretty uncomplicated creatures and our driving motivations haven't changed in thousands of years: Survival. How could we propagate the species if we're constantly questioning ourselves? Being cautious is one thing; that stopped us from taking on woolly mammoths single-handedly, and... well, being killed. But detesting yourself serves no purpose.
And, although mental illness might play a part, that doesn't account for the sheer scale of one's potential self-hatred, especially considering that genetic determinism has been devalued over recent years. In most cases of mental illness, it is nurture over nature - environment over genes. In short, that voice came from somewhere; you weren't born with it. Therapy is the best place to explore just where it did come from. And, the chances are, you'll find the original sources of that voice. Once you do, you'll find it far easier to challenge it.
Adjusting my inner voice isn't easy - it's been telling me I'm a useless idiot for nearly fifty years. However, being aware of just how critical it is, and where it originated from, means I can now question it more readily. That awareness is vital: The biggest step in solving a problem is often being aware you have one.
If my life is slowly improving, then a big reason is that my growing awareness of how I see myself (negatively) and how I'm gradually challenging that mindset.
I repeated the two jar experiment a few days ago: 25 coins in both. An improvement that even my ordinarily harsh inner voice had no choice to commend me on.
We can all change our inner voices, and very often need to. But first, we need to be aware of it. Listen to yours and see what's it's saying: It's a huge step, and your future life will thank you for taking it.
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