A Simple Tool to Disarm Those Bad Voices That Are Shouting in Your Head

Do you like to invent projects in your mind but never get motivated to carry through and DO them? Are you the dreamer and never the doer?

A while back, I got an email from my brother, Jeffrey. He and his wife, Christine, restored a 1920’s wooden boat, which they use to offer high-end cruises to Alaska. Winter is their off-season, and there’s always plenty to do on the boat for the next summer. Jeffrey’s email really made me think about that gap between ‘dreaming and scheming’ and the hard work that follows.

Cynthia, I realized this morning that I’m not excited about doing the projects that I’ve been thinking about all winter because now I have to do the actual work. I’ve already done the projects in my mind, thinking through each step, and they came out really nice.

The problem is that now I really have to do them. I can’t just dream about how good they’re going to look. I’ve got to get to work. And what about the fact that they’re probably not going to look as good, or work as well as I have been imagining? Plus, it’s going to take more effort, more time, more work, and hurt my back more when I actually do them. (I can do things really quickly when I daydream–I’m really speedy and don’t make mistakes.)

Christine taught me about the concept of “inner-skiing.” You ski the run, over and over, in your mind, until you can do it perfectly when you do it for real. I’ve just got to move from inner-projecting to real-projecting.

Yeah, it can be hard to go from dreaming to doing, but when you stop and think about it, every single human-created thing, whether it’s an object, an endeavor, an event, or a discovery, goes through this process. Jeffrey’s boat remodel, that trip to France you want to take next spring, the jewelry pieces I want to finish this afternoon, the coaching program for finding your spirituality that I want to create, they all must pass through this process. First comes the idea, then maybe more ideas, then the decision to move forward, then the work.

So why is it sometimes so very difficult to transition from dreaming to doing? What’s stopping you? Could it be your faithful companions, the Bad Voices? Do you know the Bad Voices? That’s that peanut gallery that endlessly spouts off in the back of your mind, saying things like, ‘you suck,’ or ‘you’re gonna fail,’ or ‘who do you think you are to attempt this?’ If Jeffrey was a client I was coaching, I’d want to know what his Bad Voices were saying to him, especially the phrases that had the most emotional charge. Then I’d do some thought dissolving work with him, so that he could become the witness of his thoughts, and not attach to them.

Hey, I wonder what Jeffrey’s Bad Voices really do say to him? I think I’ll call him.

04 David B Launch, March 2006

Ring, ring…

Cynthia: Hey, Lil’ Brother, can I interview you for a couple minutes about that email?

Jeffrey: Sure, what do you want to know?

Cynthia: What do your Bad Voices say about that gap between the imaginary thing and the real thing you’ll actually create?

Jeffrey: Part of it is about the amount of physical effort it’s going to take. But it’s also that the project is all well and good when you’re working on it, until it’s about 80% done. Up until when it’s almost done, you can imagine it coming out perfect. Then in the 11th hour, it gets really scary because it isn’t coming out perfect.

Cynthia, turning all coachy: What are you making it mean about you if it doesn’t come out perfect?

Jeffrey, being ridiculous and giving the ultimate answer every coach is looking for: I might die.

Lots of laughter…

Jeffrey: No really, in my head I’m so worried that what if I don’t make it perfect – then I’m gonna be disappointed with myself. I can picture it and it’s awesome, but what if I can’t make it come out as perfect? Am I gonna be able to do this as well as everyone is expecting me to do this? Do I really have the skills to do this? Every year, there’s day in the spring where I think to myself, do I really know how to do this? [Their boat doesn’t leave the slip from the end of October until about now, each year, so he hasn’t driven it for 4 or 5 months.] Do I really know how to run this boat well enough to back out of the slip, and back into the slings in the boatyard? And every year I get into a semi-panic about it. I know I know how to do this – but the day before, I’m like, shi-it. [He’s been driving boats for 19 years.]

Okay, so Jeffrey is talking about a physical act that involves safety risks. But you know what’s really funny? When I was working on my second novel, and trying to write 15 minutes a day, I noticed that every single day, right before I sat down at my desk, I’d think to myself, ‘I’m scared.’ I triggered an actual, physical, fight-or-flight fear response in my body just by thinking that what I wrote might not be as good as what I was imagining. Aren’t we humans pretty amazing that we can trigger a physical fear response in our bodies just by thinking! And it doesn’t even have to be thinking about something physically dangerous.

So here’s a tool to help you disarm the thought that your Bad Voices are trying to get you to attach to. First, say the thought out loud, and allow yourself to feel all the emotional charge it carries. Jeffrey might say, “I’m gonna disappoint myself,” or however he phrases it in a way that holds the most pain or shame. The next step is to repeat the phrase out loud, but at the beginning of it, add the words, “I’m having the thought that…” So Jeffrey would say, “I’m having the thought that I’m gonna disappoint myself.” Stop and see if you notice a difference in how that feels. Perhaps it will be a very slight sense of distancing yourself from the emotional power of the thought. Then, the next step is to say it again, this time with the words, “I notice I’m having the thought that…” in front of your sentence. Once again, see if you feel a little less attachment to the thought, a slightly greater sense of distance from it. Finally, sing the words of your thought to any tune you like – Happy Birthday or that dang jingle for the used car dealer that’s stuck in your head. Sing it loudly, with gusto, until it becomes ridiculous enough to you that you can see that the painful thought your Bad Voices are feeding you is just a collection of words, just another one of the 60,000+ thoughts we humans think most days.

Jeffrey, I hope that was helpful. I love you, Lil’ Bro’! And for the rest of you, give this trick a try the next time those Bad Voices start shouting.

With so much joy,


PS.  Check out Jeffrey and Christine’s boat, the MV David B, on their website: NorthwestNavigation.com. Christine has written a book, called ‘More Faster Backwards,’ telling the story of restoring it.


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