Today’s blog post focuses on the NEGATIVE/critical voices inside our heads. To some degree everyone has them. As cancer survivors we tend to have these negative thoughts whirling around in our heads. The slightest ailment, and our minds take us back to the cancer diagnosis and our thoughts start to tell us that the cancer has recurred. Worry begins to consume our day and then the angry and depressing feelings and thoughts begin to dominate. We need to remain vigilant in overcoming these thoughts through gratitude for all we have been given, daily affirmations and inspirations, journaling, connection with other survivors, meditation, time alone in nature that allows us to absorb the wonderful healing energy that Mother Nature provides, and prayer and faith that constantly renews the hope in our hearts.
I recently read an interesting article regarding critical/negative voices in our heads. I wanted to share it with you because it offers interesting insight and advice in how to think more positively (even regarding the negative voices themselves.) SO, it is possible, that on rare occasions even negative thoughts can have positive outcomes. Following the article, I will apply what Mr. Bregman has explained to our situation.
At 8:20 am, my twelve-year-old daughter, Isabelle, was rushing to meet her ski group. She was 20 minutes late and stressed – she takes her skiing very seriously and was training for a race in a couple of days.
Near the competition center, she ran into one of her coaches, Joey. He looked at her, then his watch. “If this were a race day,” he told her, with a disapproving scowl, “I would tell you to turn around and go home.”
His words stung and she burst into tears. A few moments later, she was greeted by another one of her coaches, Vicky, who saw how stressed she was.
“Honey, don’t worry,” she said. “This isn’t a race. It’s okay that you’re running a little late. You’ll just catch up with your group on top of the mountain.”
Two vastly different coaches, two vastly different responses. Who’s right? I bet you have an opinion.
But that’s not the point.
My advice to Isabelle? You will have Joeys in your life and you will have Vickys. They will show up as teachers, bosses, colleagues, and friends.
So, I said to her, it’s a good idea to get used to the different responses without getting thrown off balance. You can’t control how people respond to you, but you can control how you take them in and how you respond to them.
But let’s go one step deeper. The truth is, we all have a Joey and a Vicky inside, and they can both be useful. Joey might seem unkind, but his high expectations and low tolerance for failure can be helpful in driving us to be our best. On the other hand, sometimes we need empathetic support. To some, Vicky may appear soft. But her comfort and reassurance can be useful, especially during times of stress.
Here’s the key: Be strategic and intentional about who you listen to – and when – even if the voices are inside your head. In fact, especially if the voices are inside your head. Those can be the sneakiest. It’s pretty easy to call Joey a jerk and ignore him; it’s much harder to dismiss the voice in your head because, well, it’s you.
Try this tactic: when you hear the voices, give them names and personalities. Imagine a Joey on one side, a Vicky on the other.
1. Notice the voices in your head as voices. A lot of the time, most of us simply believe what we hear – either from other people or from ourselves. If your inner voice calls you lazy, it’s hard not to think you’re lazy. It helps if you imagine it’s Joey calling you lazy instead.
2. Resist the urge to judge whether the voices in your head are right. It’s impossible to know and it doesn’t matter anyway. Are you lazy? The truth is that you probably are, in some ways. And, in other ways, you’re not. But that’s not the right question.
3. Instead, think about the outcome you want and ask this question: Is what this voice is saying — and how it’s saying it — useful right now? This is the same question you should be asking if you’re confronted by an actual Joey or Vicky. Is this voice helpful to me in this particular moment? If you think it’ll motivate you, listen to it. If it will demoralize you, don’t.
This is an important skill: the ability to ignore critical voices when they’re destructive, without discounting them entirely. They might be useful another time.
The goal is flexibility. Cultivate a varied group of critics and coaches, both internal and external. Be aware of who is speaking and when you should listen.
Comfort with multiple voices is particularly important if you are a manager. You need to be able to be Joey or Vicky, depending on the situation. Sometimes, people need to feel your high expectations and disapproval. Other times, they need your gentleness and empathy. Don’t default to one or the other. Pause to assess what’s needed and then make a choice.
“It’s hard,” Isabelle told me after we spoke about the different voices and messages they brought with them, “How do I stop from thinking Joey is just a jerk? Or that I’m lame for being late?”
“He might be a jerk and you may be lame,” I said, “but not because he said so. Here’s the question: Will you be more likely to be on time tomorrow because of what he said?”
“Yes,” she conceded. “But it felt terrible.”
“And, when you feel terrible, can you hear Vicky’s voice too?”
“Yes,” she said, beginning to smile.
“Then it’s a good thing you have two coaches,” I told her.
Because sometimes, both voices are the perfect combination.
Originally posted at Harvard Business Review.
Okay, so lets imagine that Joey (or any other name, if you wish to name the negative thoughts) is the negative voice/thought “telling” you that you can’t make it through this surgery or this treatment, that the pain in your back is the cancer recurring, you can’t make long term plans for the future, etc. You get the point. Now let’s imagine that Vicki (or whomever) is “telling you all is well, that you’ll “sail” through the surgery or surgeries with absolutely no problems, treatment will be a piece of cake, you never need to worry again, there is no possibility that you’ll ever have cancer again. One set of thoughts, all negative, the other, all positive. Just as in the article, we have both voices inside. “The key is to be strategic and intentional about who you listen to.” The negative thoughts might be useful at times. Maybe because of the negative thought we will do more self-examinations, make sure our testing is scheduled on time, or just take better care of ourselves in general. But we also need the empathetic and hopeful support of the positive voices/thoughts.
So, try this tactic: When you hear the voices, pay attention to both, but only for any benefit that you might recognize. Notice the voice in your head, acknowledge it, don’t judge it right away, “is it useful right now? If it is negative, but there is a way that it can help to motivate you, i.e. get on the phone and schedule your next follow-up appointment, listen to it, act on it, breathe, and let it go. If it is positive, but your gut tells you that you are in denial regarding some symptom, listen carefully and act in whatever way is necessary. If it is positive and comforting, give thanks and move on with your day. Try not to get stuck in the negative if it serves no useful purpose. It will only drag you down and drain you of your much needed life-giving positive energy. Blessings and Namaste<3