After months of plugging away at your ground breaking proposal, you have been invited to present it to the board of directors prior to sign-off. You know your stuff inside out. The board has been receptive to your ideas on those rare occasions when you could sound one or two of them out. Your line manager is pleased with where you’ve taken the proposal. Your collaborations with colleagues have been good to great. You should be skipping down the corridor, but somehow you are not. Your inner nemesis is rearing its ugly head: incessant mental chatter. That little voice in the back of your head telling you not to get ahead of yourself. Those nagging thoughts that pop into your head at the most inopportune times to inform you that you are probably overlooking something crucial. The self-doubt that pushes away the evidence that your hard work is about to pay off.
It happens to the most accomplished of us.
Career success is no guarantee that we have mastered our mental chatter. In fact, many of us discover that we have built a successful career in spite of being constantly assailed by it. I certainly hear a lot of clients describe theirs and how destructive it can be.
Here are three ways other people deal effectively with mental chatter.
1. Give it airtime
This may sound counter intuitive, but it works for many people. Rather than wait for the voice to start up, invite it to speak when it suits you. It is a way of acknowledging the concerns that you have deep down and working with them. Here are some techniques to try: Pick a time when you can reflect undisturbed on what your chatter is about. Jot down everything that comes to mind, bullets are great. When you have exhausted supply, look through the list and decide which items are baseless; which ones have some truth to them but are sabotaging distractions and which ones are valid concerns and need you to take action. Be sure to take those while there is still time. To clear your mind just before an interview, presentation or other performance demanded of you, find a quiet moment to write down some key phrases about your worries. Think back to everything you have done to mitigate them. Question the validity of what is left on your list, then tuck it away. If your chatter keeps you up at night, keep a notebook and pen handy to write down what it is telling you. The knowledge that you are keeping what it is saying safe helps to quieten it so you can go back to sleep.
2. Turn down the volume
Imagine your mental chatter has a volume button that you can turn up or down. Decide how much you want to hear and use that volume button accordingly. This can work beautifully for people who have started to listen to their mental chatter ‘on demand’. They have taken control of that voice by listening to it and taking away some of its power by recording what it says and taking action. For a cheeky twist on this technique when your chatter is starting to annoy you, give it a funny voice. How seriously can you take its arguments when they are delivered in the voice of Miss Piggy?
3. Cherish your mental chatter
This too can sound like the opposite of what you should do to deal with chatter. Don’t we just want it to go away and never come back? Although understandable, we are probably stuck with our inner voice for life. And perhaps that is a good thing. Although it can be hugely undermining if you allow it, mental chatter has an important role to play in keeping us safe too. It can share important information we have been willing to overlook. Sometimes we confuse intuition with chatter: that is a discovery in itself. Our inner pessimist can also serve as a counterbalance to confidence we have not (yet) earned. It would be foolish to declare it a Bad Thing and make it a rule to ignore it altogether.
Learning to listen to chatter
Sometimes our mental chatter is right on the money and we should simply listen. It’s knowing when to turn it down or give it the day off that is an art to perfect. There are many ways to do this – what works for one person is ineffective for the next. Try some for yourself and see what happens. What’s your chatter like, and what are your best ways to deal with it?