It’s a common truth that most of us believe we’re great at giving advice to others - whether they want to listen, or not - yet we’re not so good at advising ourselves.
While we may get irritated with the recipients of our wise counsel when they don’t do what we think is best for them, it’s generally the case that nor do we listen to our own reasoning, when, if we did, we’d make life much easier.
So, how can we learn to listen to our own advice?
The thing that I’ve become aware of, recently, is that we have two distinct ‘voices’ in our heads, when we think: one is the unconscious, unruly noise of the overactive mind (which is more of a mad gibbering than coherent speech), whereas the other is conscious, precise and much more sensible.
At least in my experience, it feels that this conscious voice is at the front of my head, in the area of the forehead, and the unconscious thoughts come from the back of the skull.
When engaged, this conscious voice drowns out the flitting, critical over-thinking of the unconscious, egoic mind – the illusionary, phantom ‘self’ that first causes, then exacerbates all our emotional pain. In the extremes, the ego can literally destroy you… more commonly, it causes anxiety, depression and other related, miserable mood disorders, so it’s in our interest to silence it as best we can.
You may think I’m talking out of my bum-hole by now, but here’s how to recognise these two voices and two very different ways of thinking…
Firstly, cast your mind to an event in the past that still troubles you, today. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly traumatic – it could be just a lost wallet or purse, or perhaps an exam that you didn’t study hard enough for and failed.
This is unconscious thinking. Your ego is telling you a story about how stupid or useless you are, because it feeds off negative energy. The more down and depressed it can make you, the stronger it becomes.
Now, after listening to your mind telling itself this sad story for the umpteenth time, try engaging your conscious voice.
I think the best example of finding this is ‘speaking’ to yourself, though without actually making an outward sound. Without uttering words, it becomes a voice in your head, but unlike the ramblings of the ego, you can actually make this conscious voice make sense – even if you’re a man.
You can use this sensible voice to offer yourself advice, as you would advise a friend who was experiencing trouble in their life.
If you’re stuck in traffic, late for work and your mind is racing, stressing you out more and more, engage the conscious voice and say: “Hey, don’t worry. You’ll get there when you get there. There’s no point beating yourself up about it.”
If you look in the mirror and your egoic thinking becomes critical, not liking what it sees, engage the conscious voice and say: “You’re just who you are. Don’t listen to your brain. We both know it’s an idiot most of the time.”
You can also use this conscious voice as a narrative over your life, overriding the clawing thoughts of the ego. Say you’re out for a walk and you feel yourself being drawn into dark memories, lift yourself out of it by describing the world around you. Focus on every detail and tell yourself what you’re seeing – sounds, colours and shapes.
It’s a very simple practice that all of us can engage in, and it gives us the ability to actually be a good friend to ourselves, as we should be.