“Most of us,” said prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow, “have learned to avoid authenticity.” That’s a serious charge and a worthy challenge. What he meant was that many of us are trained to ignore our inner signals. We suppress our feelings rather than express them. We haven’t dug deep and gotten in touch with our own impulses. And it’s those impulses that impel us to follow our real desires and that make us excited to share our life’s passions with others.
In his work, Malsow found that connecting with our inner voice is extremely important. He said that people who are psychologically strong and healthy are “able to hear their inner-feeling-voices more clearly than most people.” They use internal not external criteria when making their decisions, everything from what to eat or wear to issues of values and ethics. They are clear on what they do and do not want. Unfortunately, he says, the way we are raised often produces the opposite effect. He uses the example of the child who says he detests spinach but whose feelings are nullified by his mother, who tells him, “We love spinach,” when she could just as easily have said, “I know you don’t like spinach, but you have to eat it anyway for such-and-such reasons.”
Losing touch with your inner knowing can be dangerous. We tend to attribute stress, anxiety, and depression to some ineluctable, fast-paced force of modern life. But those can be symptoms of something deeper—the outer manifestation of the inner tension that churns within us when we are denying our own inner impulses.
Are you listening to yourself?
I find that it takes practice to listen for what your own inner voice is telling you, especially if you’re one of those people (like me) who is better at giving to others than to yourself. One thing I’ve found very helpful is to literally listen to my voice—to listen to how I am speaking rather than what I am saying.
We use this skill all the time to read others. We know that a friend is upset or burdened when we hear her voice crack. We know that our children are happy when they are animated and speak quickly. If we call a parent and we hear a listless, dull voice at the other end of the phone, we know something is wrong. It’s not the words that tell us but the expression in the voice. The tone tells it all.
While we’re accustomed to reading others in this way, we can get so caught up in what’s happening around us that we forget to listen to ourselves. Yet that is exactly what gives us valuable clues for getting back on track. If, for instance, you catch yourself sounding grumpy, impatient, or tired, it’s probably time to ask, “What am I feeling, and what can I do to honor myself right now?” If you hear a worried or frantic tone in your voice, that may be a sign that you need to slow down and get back in touch with the present moment rather than letting speculative fears of the future spin you out of control.
Your voice holds valuable messages if you listen for them—and it’s not just the downturns that speak to us. When you catch that lilt of excitement in your voice or when you hear yourself happily whistling or humming away, take note. What are you doing or thinking about that is making your heart sing? That’s what can bring more joy into your life when you do it again and again.
>> Do you take the time to listen to yourself?
>> What is your inner voice telling you?
>> Are you in touch with your inner impulses—with what makes you excited to be alive?
>> Are you being honest about what your inner voice is saying, and are you committed to following through on it?
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