Inner Dialogue: An exploration of our beliefs and how it affects our reality

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The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” – Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie.
The Single Story Folders
We all have a single story in our mind which creates stereotypes and which we believe to be the truth. It does not occur to us to explore it and look at its other facets. The problem with single stories and stereotypes is that they do not give the whole picture. Our minds are filled with these single stories. These little single stories that we have, create our inner dialogues like, “I’m too fat; I’m not good enough or I’m not good at mathematics.”
There are little folders in our minds, which we keep accessing, like we do when we read books. We keep accessing the same books, the same games or the same clothes. It is the same thing with the single stories in our minds.
Chimamanda Adichie, in her TED Talk, says that when she came to the US from Nigeria, they asked her, “What tribal music do you listen to? How come you speak English so well?” Even from India when we go abroad, people ask us how we speak English so well. The reason we operate from the single stories is because of a lack of knowledge about something and therefore we believe it to be true. Sometimes, there is a lack of compassion. We don’t care enough to understand what it is like to be in another person’s shoes. We may lack empathy. Sometimes, it is because of a lack of courage. We don’t really want to move out of our comfort zone.
Your Personal Brand
Products are physical. We are all products–products of marriage, of parents, of education, of career and of circumstances. We are products of something which force us to perform or act certain roles, but that is not all of who we are. There is far more to us than just this product. Brands stir emotions. We are all brands. Each one of us is unique, completely authentic and different from each other. Each of us stirs an emotion in a completely different way. Somebody may be helping people to feel calm, some may help people feel inspired and some may help people feel energised.
Each of us stirs an emotion and it is that emotion that is remembered. If we think back to our school, we may remember a teacher. It is the emotion that they have evoked that helps us to remember them. It could be fear or joy or anything. In that same way, our inner dialogue constantly stirs up an emotion.
Understanding the Dialogues
Emotions create little stories in the little folders in our mind, which make us operate in different ways, react to different situations and respond in different ways. How do we understand, listen, acknowledge and understand our inner dialogue?
Otto Scharmer talks about 4 levels of listening in conversations. We can apply his theory to a conversation that we have with ourselves. He says that all of our little stories come from different times in our life. Some of them leave us feeling so good. That is great. Some of them come from our past or our subconscious mind, which is far more powerful than the conscious mind.
As part of our upbringing, we have learnt how to be mature enough, operate from our conscious mind and make conscious decisions. Because, that is the semblance of somebody who is in charge and in control of themselves. But the fact is, the subconscious mind is huge and overpowering and has the loudest conversations.
Part of being emotionally resilient or finding inner peace is not to operate just from the conscious mind but to become completely aware of the conversation going on in the subconscious mind and then taking conscious decisions. There are so many messages going into our mind in a day. Some of it, we get rid of and some of it, as we sleep, get sorted into a filing system.
All of us have a unique filing system. The way I arrange clothes in my cupboard is very different from how you do. It does not make anybody right or wrong, but we create these little folders in our mind and we file our single stories into these folders. We have a folder called Me, Success, Marriage, Career, Religion, Finance, Authority etc. We have folders on everything. We keep feeding these folders and all our inner dialogues are based on the content of these folders.

Reframing the Dialogues
Very rarely, do we go back and re-examine the folders. You may have a folder that says, ‘success means coming first.’ That is fabulous and it worked through school and college and it helped you to get a fabulous job. When you reach mid-management, you can’t keep coming first. The inner dialogue of ‘success means coming first,’ may now make you become risk-averse. You may become a micromanager, as your fear of failure becomes huge. So somewhere along the way, you need to relook at the dialogue that is going on inside, look at the folder and reframe, as it is not going to work for you in the future. You can reframe it to say that success means having an opinion that is respected or sought after.
I may have a folder that says marriage is about having a husband or spouse who is taller than me or earns more than me. But that may not happen. I have to look at my inner dialogue, look at the folders and keep re-evaluating them, without judgment.
While the positive inner dialogues are great, the negative ones bother us. We have conversations with ourselves about the past which may cause regret like, ‘I wish I had done that, I wish I had studied this, I wish I had taken that job opportunity.’ We keep replaying that we are not treated fairly. A lot of our inner dialogue comes from regret, resentment and replay from the past.
We also have conversations that evolve from the present like ‘I am an introvert; I don’t look good; my hair is too thin, my feet are too big and so on.’ We start looking at ourselves. Just as in that single story, we get into a tunnel vision and do not get to see the rest of the story that is around us.
The Three Loud Voices
Some of the noisiest conversations that go on in our minds are from our three voices:

  • Voice of Judgment
  • Voice of Cynicism
  • Voice of Fear

Voices of judgment come from regret, resentment and replay… ‘I should be like this, but unfortunately, I’m not like this.’ We have conversations from voices of cynicism with which we get emotional. (Eg: It’s all their fault; it is not my fault; I’m helpless.’) The voice of fear comes from our worries. These three voices are having constant dialogue and conversations with us. Our whole purpose of having an inner dialogue is to recognize the voice of judgment, cynicism and fear.
These voices are not always bad. For instance, it is good to have a voice of fear when you see a lion or a snake that makes you run.
Taming the Three Voices
Overcoming the voice of judgement: It is really about saying, ‘Can I show curiosity for my internal folders? Can I inquire about myself? What are my triggers? What are my single stories? Do they need to stay? Can I explore different ways of reframing my ideas of success?’
My mom always tells me, “Eat some more.” That’s her way of saying, ‘I love you.’ So I had this single story that moms cook well and feed their children.’ I cook well, but I don’t like to cook. Does that make me a bad mother? No, I had to reframe. I had to look hard at this conversation and explore. I did not sit in judgment on myself, on whether I am being a good mother or not or a good parent. It does not matter whether it’s male, female or anybody. This is applicable to everybody.

Overcoming the voice of cynicism: We can overcome this with pure compassion. How often do we acknowledge our feelings? I had a young lady who came to me and said she was having problems with some relationships. During the course of conversation, we came to the fact that she was feeling jealous of certain people and felt very bad about it.
Why is it so difficult for us to just acknowledge how we feel? I told her, “You’re feeling jealous. That’s fine. It doesn’t make you an evil person. It’s okay to feel jealous. It’s not going to be there for the rest of your life. When you acknowledge your feelings, it goes away much faster. Its toxicity leaves you.”
Sometimes it’s okay to say, ‘this is how I feel,’ and that’s fine, because we have to replenish that energy of acceptance. No car can run on zero fuel and if we are going to be strong, we must replenish our energy. A lot of that comes from just acknowledging how you are feeling and to be able to be quiet in that voice of cynicism.
Overcoming the voice of fear: It requires courage to step into the future. You don’t know about that. But it’s about saying, ‘Look, this belief or single story is not working for me. I need to change it. I need to think about how I feel and how I leave people feeling.’ If you’re nervous, you’re going to leave people feeling nervous.
So it’s really important to be able to recognize our voice of judgment, explore it and understand it; recognize our voice cynicism, have compassion for it and acknowledge it; and recognize that voice of fear and say, ‘I’d like to reframe and move ahead and this is how I want to feel.’ This, in effect, is that inner dialogue.
Emotions are the loudest part of our inner dialogue. It comes from these voices of fear, cynicism and judgment. What we need to do is to tackle them with the 3Cs namely, curiosity, compassion and courage. This is easier said than done.
Then explore your mental folders and about what is stored in them about marriage, career, parenting, authorities, collaboration and networking. Explore those folders and beliefs. The first time I did a session on beliefs, participants from a certain organization said that women don’t get to network as much as men do. “But that’s a folder, a belief,” I said.
We often hear people saying, “I feel miserable because my colleague got a promotion, but at least I still have a job.” We keep excusing and pushing the emotions down. We don’t listen to our inner dialogue. Instead, we say, “No, you’re too loud. I don’t want to hear you, because at least I’ve got something else.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t work because the buzz becomes louder and more toxic. Instead, show curiosity. Explore where this feeling comes from? What little single story started this? Have compassion.

Look at yourself and say, “Today, I am the best that I can be, with the knowledge and wisdom I have now. Tomorrow or in ten minutes, I will be somebody different. But today I am fabulous.” We repent throughout our life saying that we have not reached our full potential. What is this full potential and who knows about this? We have a folder about this that stops us celebrating from who we are.

Celebrate Who You Are
We always think about how we need to fix our weaknesses and improve ourselves. We just do not acknowledge and celebrate what fabulous people we are and what brought us here. Look at yourself and say, “Today, I am the best that I can be, with the knowledge and wisdom I have now. Tomorrow or in ten minutes, I will be somebody different. But today I am fabulous.” We repent throughout our life saying that we have not reached our full potential. What is this full potential and who knows about this? We have a folder about this that stops us celebrating from who we are. Nurture yourself. Look after yourself. Listen to your inner dialogue, be comfortable with that and explore the inner dialogue.
Focus on Outcomes
I firmly believe that we all are valuable. We second-guess ourselves so much about courage and sacrifice. Every Mother’s Day, we see on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, tons of posts about ‘how my mother sacrificed herself.’
Do mothers want to be remembered for all the sacrifice, as somebody who could have lived a better or fuller life or do they want to be remembered for what they gave us, what they were, who they were and for their outcomes and the results of what they did? Think about it from the positives, from the results and then work towards getting it. So your inner dialogue should always be: ‘What do I want as a result? How do I want to feel as a result of that? What is the purpose of what I want to do? Why do I want to reframe my single story?”
Reframe what doesn’t work for you anymore. When you reframe, reframe it to something that the conscious mind will believe. For example, when you reframe what success means to you, you can say, ‘I bring a lot of value and experience to the table.’ Then you will start working on how to make that value and experience relevant to the people around you. You are no longer worried about not coming first always.
Ask, say ‘no’
Give yourself the freedom to ask. Recently, someone in my team was really stressed out for quite some time. She said, “I need help. I need a bigger team.” Within two weeks it was done. The only thing that had not happened was that she had not asked and it didn’t occur to us either. The minute she asked, she got it. So sometimes, you just need to ask, not necessarily for yourself but for others too.
Learn to say no. Our single stories don’t allow us to say no, because we have this image of the perfect employee, perfect child or the perfect parent. We give energy to others without replenishing ourselves. People will remember how you made them feel more so than what you say to them.
Listen to your inner dialogue and inspire You.

Ms Supriya Padmanabhan,