by Allison Post Harris
What Cami calls “The Voice”—cue the vampire music—other people have labeled “gremlin” or “saboteur.” Regardless of what you call it, this Voice has always been there for me when I least needed it. Before I divorced my ex-husband, my Voice said “you should stay married for your toddlers. You should be ashamed of getting a divorce. You are too old to remarry. You will never find another life partner.” My rational brain knew that every member of our family would thrive when my ex-husband and I lived in separate households, but my Voice kept speaking up until I acknowledged my fears.
Like other attorneys, my Voice is quite robust. Pessimism is a desirable quality for lawyers. It enables us to envision the many possible ways that a deal could go or has gone wrong. It can also paralyze us from acting on our otherwise well-thought-out plans.
Eeyore is the classic saboteur. In A.A. Milne’s The House At Pooh Corner, Eeyore is caught in an eddy of the river in “Eeyore Joins the Game.” While Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and Roo scheme about how to pull Eeyore to shore, “‘I’ve got a sort of idea,’ said Pooh at last, ‘but I don’t suppose it’s a very good one.’ ‘I don’t suppose it is either,’ said Eeyore.”
Later in the story, Eeyore morosely tells Tigger “‘[i]t isn’t as if there was anything very wonderful about my little corner [of the woods]. Of course for people who like cold, wet, ugly bits it is something rather special, but otherwise it’s just a corner.”
Every time I read this story to my children, we laugh at Eeyore’s words, but those words resonate deeply with me as well. My Eeyore Voice ebbs and flows. It shouts especially loudly when I’m making life plans.
Recently, I have been navigating a career change from law to coaching. Knowing my vulnerabilities, my Voice often starts with: “You can’t start your own business! You don’t have an MBA or any education in finance! You can’t afford to take risks! You are a single mom! You won’t have enough time or money for your family if you do this.” This is all ridiculous. I’m smart, I work hard, have a good support network and community. I also adore coaching. My heart would wither if I denied myself this opportunity.
My Voice loves me. It is scared for me. Starting a new business in a new industry involves all sorts of challenges that my Voice wants to shield me from.
Through my coaching education, I have learned that Cami’s commitment to altering the vocabulary used by our Voices is well-founded. Instead of merely being a tedious exercise in semantics, shifting our internal dialogue benefits our psychological well-being. When people express their thoughts about themselves in a loving way, they improve their relationships with themselves, improve their health, and often their relationships with others.
When I hear my Voice begin its loop, I acknowledge the Voice, thank it for trying to keep me safe, then remind myself that, for myriad reasons, I chose this new career. I also remind myself that over the preceding 5 years, I have walked through fire and come out on the other side. Battle wounds have made me stronger and more confident in my ability to feint gracefully when obstacles appear on my path. This doesn’t mean that they are easier to overcome. I just challenge the Voice more often when it speaks up.
Teaching myself to replace “I should,” and “I can’t” with, “I choose,” “I want” and “I would like to try,” has been an iterative process. Like most people, I am not always conscious of the “shoulds” and “can’ts” until a friend or coach points them out. A couple of months ago, a thoughtful friend asked, “do you realize that in the five minutes that we have been talking, you have said that you ‘should do’ about twelve different things?” I had not heard myself at all. While navigating this shift in my voice, I have learned to embrace my humanity and forgive myself for these frequent linguistic missteps, while slowly becoming more aware of my internal (and external!) dialogue.
To reframe my subconscious dialogue, I have also learned to pause occasionally, and ask:
• How do I choose to perceive this situation?
• What can I do about it?
• What do I want for myself right now?
These questions help me take ownership of the situation and move out of victimhood.
I have also placed colored flashcards throughout my house with the words “I WANT” and “I CHOOSE” on them. Both of my children are budding readers. My goal is to shift their internal dialogue early. The ultimate triumph would be for them to learn now how to side-step the unconscious prison that so many of our Voices have built for the rest of us.
Allison Post Harris is a co-active coach in Sacramento, California.