For the last 12 years, I have kept a binder full of advice from friends and mental health professionals. After every doctor’s visit or coffee date, I would scribble down notes of what they said so that I could access their words when I needed them. Similarly, I kept a self-esteem file, full of positive comments from readers and loving notes from friends to pump me up when I needed reassurance and validation that I was a decent person who ought to stick around.
We all need to rely on doctors, psychologists, and friends to guide us. The gems inside my binder and file afforded me great reassurance in times of darkness. However, I filled my head so full of feedback from others that there was little room for my own thoughts.
During the last six months, I have been trying to reduce the noise inside my head so that I can recognize my own voice and honor my truth. Here are a few ways to begin to listen to what YOU have to say.
- Put down the self-help books.
They serve an important purpose, but are best digested like Belgian chocolates … in small bits. Even a short hiatus from the psychology aisle of the bookstore can reduce the static that may prevent you from arriving at your own truth.
I’ll always remember the session with my doctor 12 years ago when she strongly urged me to stay clear of books that make lofty assertions: 10 Days to a New Brain, Eliminate Anxiety Forever and Become a Secure Human Being In Your Sleep. Their simple directives hook you into a false promise that can often set you up for disillusionment, at which point you pick up 6 Easy Steps to Not Believing Everything You Read.
- Be still.
Rumi once said “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” It’s practically impossible to hear your voice if you never stop to listen to it. Designate a place as your “wisdom spot”: a quiet corner in your home or a nature location, where you can begin to hush all the babble inside your head that is interrupting the whisper of truth.
I visit the woods nearby my house a few times a week. The trees and the creek echo what resides in my heart. As I sit among the leaves, I can begin recognize my voice among all the advice that I have been given.
- Feel the pain.
If your experience is anything like mine the initial attempts of hushing the noise might trigger some unexpected and uncomfortable feelings. You’ve essentially taken off the dish gloves and are letting yourself feel the warm water, along with the gunk on the plates. Just like some nausea indicates that a pregnancy is “sticking,” some awkwardness is a good sign. Stillness leads to the heart of the human experience, involving a range of emotions: grief, anger, confusion, depression, anxiety, joy, and excitement.
Stripped of the protective buffer that your busyness provided, you are feeling everything in its intensity. As tempted as you may be to fill the emptiness with activity, moving through the difficult emotions is an important step along the journey to your unvarnished self.
- Stay in the present.
Your truth is more accessible when you stay in the moment. If you are like me, 90 percent of your thoughts are based on regrets of the past or anxieties of the future; however, wisdom is seldom found there. In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
When I participated in the eight-week, intensive Mindfuless-Based Stress Reduction course at the local hospital, I learned about the changes in the brain that occur when you shift your attention to the present moment. You have the potential to go from panic to calm.
- Quit your addictions.
Back when I was drinking heavily, it was very difficult for me to hear anything — even the drunk in front of me. I got sober and the reception improved significantly. Any addiction — nicotine, shopping, people, booze — affords you a temporary anesthesia from the pain, which is why I grab for them in times of anguish and why I’m still struggling to let go of some of my addictions. I recognize that addiction clouds your vision and simply postpones the inevitable work that has to be done. Some of them substantially alter your brain chemistry so that you don’t have the cognitive capabilities and agility to decipher fact from fiction, opinion from truth.
- Limit your exposure to unsolicited advice.
Until hearing and following your inner voice is intuitive, consider limiting your conversations with persons who want to direct the course of your life or whose voice is so loud that you have difficulty hearing your own. We all need input from others, of course, but just like there are dogmatic self-help books that are dangerous to pick up when you’re vulnerable, there are also personalities who make it easy or tempting to stop the process of identifying your truth.
- Write yourself a letter.
Penning a letter to myself is one of the most powerful exercises I have done lately to identify and strengthen my voice. With gentleness I name those things that have prevented my self-awareness in my past and express my commitment to moving forward as a woman armed with self-compassion and a deep understanding of herself. Articulating a mission statement for yourself is another way to express your truth, a succinct summary of who you are and what your purpose is.
- Create and use your mantras.
Create a mantra that reminds you of your truth. Then, when the noise of the day starts to suppress its message, repeat the mantra over and over again. Lately my mantras all promote self-compassion and encourage me to believe in myself: “I am enough,” “I am loved,” “I am wise,” and “I am brave.” I repeat them as often as 10 times a minute. They are useful anchors whenever I’m tempted to give in to my learned instinct to value someone else’s assessment over mine.