“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
One of my favorite books from high school was The Old Man and the Sea. What struck me at the time about the book was about how the Old Man talked to himself — he used talking to think out loud, and ponder his situation. He talked to the enormous marlin he was trying to land, too. At the time, I thought the Old Man was seriously odd. But over the years, and especially as I do executive coaching, I’ve come to appreciate the value of talking to oneself. Wait — I know what you are thinking! Let me explain.
A piece of my mind, for example, is often turning to what could go wrong in a situation, and I call it Fear. I often get value from inquiring with it to understand exactly what it’s afraid of. Once I’ve done that, I say, wordlessly, “Thank you, Fear. I’ll take it from here.” It’s my way of saying to the part of me that is afraid, to thank it, that it’s done it’s job; it’s alerted my conscious mind to an issue. The neat thing is, when I do it right, I can feel a physical response: a lessening of the pit in my stomach, a relaxing of the shoulder muscles.
That bit of internal talk helps because the fearful part of the brain (the limbic system and the amygdala) needs management. It evolved hundreds of thousands of years ago to help us deal with immediate physical threats to our survival — such as an attack by a predator or hostile tribe. When the fear system senses a threat, it readies our bodies for physical exertion — fight or flight — and skips over and partly disables the conscious part of our brains (we literally become a bit more like dumb brutes when this happens, with lower IQ).
But this fear system is not the right decision maker for 99% of issues we face in modern life. Our challenges are usually interpersonal interactions where we need to use a careful combination of thoughts, words, and emotions to get the result we want — not something where physical strength is useful. That’s why I thank it, and tell it that I (the conscious part of me that is) will take it from here.
My Approach to Executive Coaching
As it turns out, the art and science and talking to those internal voices we all have has something of a following in the world of executive coaching. There’s even a method called “Internal Family Systems theory” dedicated to discerning and benefiting from the different voices we have. (The “internal family” in the name refers to the those internal voices we have.) This theory makes total sense, and I put it to work in my coaching.
My fear circuitry is one of those voices. Creative people are familiar with another voice they hear: a harsh inner critic or judge that never likes their work and discourages their efforts. Successful writers and artists know how to manage it or silence it. Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art does a particularly good job of exploring and defanging this monster. He calls this part of our minds “resistance.”
Bottom line: it’s possible to discern different voices in your head, and sharpen your ability to hear what they are saying. And as you become more able to do this, you will be able to move forward faster.
EXTRA MATERIAL – DO NOT USE
Ways to build story into this
Parable – related to a common situation
My own experience
Inner critic experience
Reasons why talking to yourself should be viewed as normal
How can you get better at decision making if you are not in touch with different parts of you?
What do I want to say?
Talking to yourself is a good idea, because it helps you build self knowledge
We all have multiple facets, and getting to know them is key to self knowledge and success in life
Allowing your multiple facets to have a voice is healthy and useful
Listening to yourself and talking to yourself are productive
Here’s what I think is valuable: when you are experiencing a doubt or a worry, take a moment to address that part of you verbally. Ideally you can find a private place where others can’t hear you; if not, just do it non-verbally, or in writing on the screen. Ask yourself, “What are you saying?” and listen to the answer.
As it turns out, the art and science and talking to those internal voices we all have has something of a following in the world of executive coaching. There’s even a set of methodologies called “Internal Family Systems theory” dedicated to discerning and benefiting from the different voices we have. (The “internal family” in the name is the family of internal voices we have.) I am so curious about this theory – because it lines up so well with my own personal experience!
How does this relate to the challenge of making a good talent decision? Well, it’s important to note that how someone shows up externally is probably in contrast to how they show up internally, and the extent to which you are able to create a context for mutual trust, you are more likely to see the full range of internal selves going on. We are all trained and socialized to not reveal many of our internal impulses and thoughts, but make no mistake, everyone has them. If they say they don’t, then be worried – because they may not be telling you the whole truth or worse – may not be connected to the
A significant portion of the psychological community has already embraced the insight that our emotional brains include multiple sub-components that feel a bit like distinct personalities, and I think of