Managing our time effectively is a challenge which many of us wrestle with on a daily basis. There are many strategies to doing this which I cover in other articles including creating effective boundaries, learning to say no and a wide range of techniques to save time and ensure you don’t duplicate effort. Once you master these techniques you would assume that you have cracked the issue of managing your time well, yet many people find the time they have free is dominated by that voice in their head.

The voice comes in a variety of guises.

There is the voice which constantly nags about things you have done or said which you realise, with hindsight, it would have been better if you hadn’t. Why didn’t you bite your tongue and remain silent? Why did you behave in that way when you knew there would be negative consequences? “Why did you……?”

Then there is the voice which harangues you because you failed to say what you really think or you wish you told someone you loved them or were sorry while you had the chance. It tells you that you should have stood up to the work place bully. “Why didn’t you …..?”

There is the voice which brings work home and endlessly reminds you about all the jobs which need to be done, discusses all the options, gets you planning marketing strategies or rehearsing the interview you are going to attend in a few days time. “And then there’s …. And don’t forget ….”

There is the voice which constantly tells you that you are never good enough, that you have failed yet again and that it is no surprise because you have so little worth. “You are stupid…. worthless….. fat…… “

Personal experience and the work with clients have demonstrated that the size and significance of the perceived issue appears to have little, or no, significance in relation to the volume and persistence of the voice in our heads. The voice is often at its quietest when we are busy. It only begins to be a real problem for the majority of people in their personal time and for many of those is at its loudest in the dark lonely hours when they are desperately trying to sleep.

Do we simply have to put up with this voice? Are we destined to be victims to the broken down record which goes around and around in our head? The answer is No! In all things we have a choice. If you choose to deal with the problem, there are many things you can do. You will need to experiment as different things work for different people in different circumstances.

If the voice persists or if you find your personal time or sleep is being affected you may find that working with an experienced coach can be really helpful

What is that voice? Many say that the voice in our head is our unconscious mind. It can be useful to think of it in this way, as there is usually an underlying reason which explains why we are hearing the voice and for what it is trying to say. Deal with that and the voice is easy to manage. Create a dialogue with your unconscious mind, it may feel strange but it can work really well.

The strategies fall into several categories:

The Mountain or Molehill Test

The passage of time makes a huge difference to the way we feel about things. An incident which feels like the end of the world can appear insignificant after a few hours, days or weeks. If you have something which is really getting to you, one quick way to silence the voice in your head is to consider the following questions:

In the grand scheme of things is this a mountain or a molehill situation?

Will this incident feel as significant tomorrow? In a weeks time? Six weeks? Next Year? If you were at the end of your life looking back?

At what point will you be able to look back and laugh or at least smile about this?

How long will it take before this becomes a great story to tell a mate over a drink or dinner?

If it is going to become a molehill in a while why let it be a mountain?

Why not give it molehill status now?

Interrupt the Flow

The brain works rather like a record or CD. Thought patterns work like the patterns engrained into the disc. Even though vinyl records have now become a collectors pieces we still use the expression “going on like a broken record” to describe how thoughts seem to stick and constantly repeat themselves in our head. If you wanted to stop a record or CD delivering its usual pattern of sounds you simply need to interrupt the pattern on the disc by scratching them with a sharp object. We can interrupt the constant stream of negative thoughts or sounds. There are a number of ways to do this:

Do something very different. When you can do something different which also changes your physiology the results are far more powerful. The results are even more profound when it is something which makes you laugh. Next time you are feeling low, when the voice is at its most insistent, get up and try a variety of silly walks around the house. Clients report that having physically done this a few times, not only does it work really well but that, just the thought of doing it becomes enough to break the pattern as it makes them smile.

Exercise can be really helpful. The change of activity and release of endorphins which exercise releases can help put things in perspective. Asking your unconscious mind to find a solution or to undertake the mountain / molehill strategy before starting to run or cycle can be incredible helpful too.

Watch or listen to something which makes you laugh, go and cook or make something, work in the garden. Changing your physical state will change your mental state too.

Tell It To Shut Up!

For some, simply telling the voice that it is not being helpful, to visualise a large switch or dial and imagine turning it off is all it takes. Making the decision to take control is what makes the difference for them.

Learn the Lesson

When the voice is nagging you for things you have or haven’t done, one strategy is to ask yourself what is the underlying lesson behind the voice? What learning could I take from this situation which would be helpful in the future? Think about what situation has given rise to that nagging voice. Recreate that situation in your mind with a different behaviour; one which you know would lead to success. What would that look and sound like? How would it make you feel? What could you learn from this? Thank the voice for giving you the opportunity to learn and let your unconscious mind know you have taken the learning forward so it can now stop.

Compartmentalizing

Learning to compartmentalise can help you manage the voice. Visualise putting work issues into a brief case or a box which you will pick up again on the way to work.

Using the journey to demark what is work time and when the time becomes yours can be useful. Create a point in the journey where you always make the change over. Some find they need a neutral space between work and home. Use a section of journey like the air chamber in a submarine which acts as the buffer between the sea and the inside cabin can help.

Change Your Perception

Perception is everything. You filter everything which happens in your life and interpret it according to your values, belief system and prior experiences. Understanding that your personal perception is not a guarantee that you are always right can be very helpful. How you interpret another person’s response makes an incredible difference to how you feel and to the voice in your head. Be open to the possibility that there are alternative rationales to the one you have created. It is not always about you.

Do Something with It

You are being kept awake, that voice in your head is constantly telling you about all the things which need doing or is bursting with ideas. It is far better to get up and capture the ideas, create a list of all things which need to be done, or write the letter saying sorry or stating your case. Once you have done everything which can be done practically at this time you are far more likely to be able to sleep. You can take any actions needed the next morning.

It’s too Late

A number of clients have talked about the voice which constantly regrets that they didn’t tell loved ones, who have died, how much they loved them. Writing a letter where they can say everything they need to can offer a positive way forward. Actually verbalising how they truly feel to someone else can also be helpful. I believe that learning the lesson so that we take the time to value loved ones and friends and to thank people for the difference they make to our lives (even though it may feel embarrassing) can have a profound effect, on not only silencing the voice in our heads, but the quality of our lives.

There are any numbers of strategies you can use. The important thing for us all is to realise we don’t have to be a slave to that part of us which wants to take over and destroy the precious time we have by being a negative and persistent voice.

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Author's Bio: 

Gina Gardiner is one of the UK's leading Leadership Coaches.
Gina supports people at individual or organizational level to develop confidence, leadership and people skills. Gina is the author of two books “Kick Start Your Career” and “How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively and is also a Neuro Linguistic Master Practitioner and a qualified coach.

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