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I Hear Voices

I hear voices …
  • “That was a great trade; so what, it’s over.”
  • “Yes, we won but I struck out 3 times.”
  • “The only trade that matters is the next one.”
  • “Oh no, I’m doing it again, trying to make up for the last bad trade by making a great trade. What is wrong with me?”
OK, I don’t actually hear voices that other people don’t.

Years of experience have taught me how to distinguish between harmful and helpful voices, between my critical voice and my intuitive voice. As a result, I now understand that we all can learn to make better decisions.

When I started my mental skills journey, my inner voice babbled with relentlessly brutal chatter, all in the name of progress. It felt like if I took time to enjoy success, I would lose my edge and become lazy and lackadaisical – basically resign myself to the couch.

I have heard similar trepidation from my clients who say that they feel if they enjoy anything, they will lose the magic of their performance. Many of us regularly spend time searching for a metaphorical stick with which to beat ourselves.

How can we better understand ourselves so that we are more accurate and in turn get in our own way less often? Below, I will walk through some ideas about self-talk and how we can improve it. I will first look at critical self-talk. What does it feel like? Is it useful? How can we understand it? Then I will address how can we use an observing process to get some control over our critical self-talk?

After that, I will look to address intuitive self-talk. What does this feel like? How is it different from critical self-talk? How can we use intuition to become more in touch with our true selves?

The Critical Voice

Our critical inner voice feels like a demanding, never-ending, never-satisfied force that makes us think it is crucial to our performance. This voice doesn’t give up easily. It has an impulsive feel that demands to be heard. Its effectiveness is grounded primarily in the comfort it tells us it provides. Even though it is pushing relentlessly and is never satisfied, a part of us feels validated and in control with the companionship of the critical voice.

To move past the automatic decision-making that the critical voice prompts, we need to create an observation process. The first step: Observe the thoughts and feelings. Then, take a moment to decide what is the most useful next step. Staying vigilant with the process of recognizing, analyzing, and choosing the most helpful action allows us to get useful information from the thoughts and feelings.

Our brain is a prediction machine, always taking information that is coming in and using our memories to predict what will happen next. Understanding this we can start to see where our brain makes an automatic incorrect prediction. By paying attention to the combinations of thoughts and feelings and when they come up it will help to allow for awareness to make better decisions.

When we ask ourselves what we are feeling and why and put those feelings into words, we create awareness [in ourselves]. This awareness creates a buffer between our feelings and our actions. That buffer affords us more options in the moment about what action to take or what decision to make.

The Intuitive Voice

As opposed to the critical voice, the intuitive voice is calm, smooth, soft, and subtle. It will bring up a point or idea one time and if it isn’t recognized it fades away. The critical voice is demanding and insistent; the intuitive voice fades in and fades out if not heard.

The intuitive voice often comes from the body – or at least has a multi-sensory feel to it. It is typically a combination of thoughts and feelings, usually incorporating physical sensations as well as emotions. When we hear and recognize our intuitive voice, we can really be in the flow of what is happening because we are fully present. When in this state, we feel calm and confident, while also being totally open to being wrong. We hold onto thoughts and feelings in a very loose way.

Self-understanding usually happens after we spend the time looking inside ourselves to recognize and understand our shadow-selves (the storylines we expect based on our past experiences) and our past actions. As self-knowledge increases, we alter our behaviors which creates new experiences to draw on. In turn, the present moment is less influenced by past situations. We see those moments for how they are rather than how we would expect them to be. The more the intuitive voice can be recognized, validated, and cultivated the more we can use our whole selves and all our experiences to make the best decisions possible in any situation.

Here are a few ideas to help develop your intuitive inner voice, and to put thoughts and feelings into words to analyze, understand and vent the energy of the old or irrelevant feelings.
  • Collect “random” thoughts by understanding that our mind is always trying to help us work through issues. Thoughts that “pop up” should be written down especially if they are relevant to an issue that is processed.
  • Meditation as a means of spending quiet time alone so as to be attuned to thoughts and feelings.
  • Journaling with no judgment. Be your own best listener.
  • Talking to someone who will understand your point of view without trying to correct your feelings and do so without judgment.
We will investigate these practices in the next blog post, which will discuss how to cultivate both the self-observation process and the intuitive voice. Consistently doing one or more of the above will help move from being stuck and reacting automatically to having choices about how to respond.

Freedom to know what we feel and why and then being able to make a choice about what is the most helpful way to act will help us get more of what we want and less of what we don’t want.
  • “Yes, that was a great trade; I recognized the feeling and trusted it!”
  • “Yes, we won and I made a diving play in the fourth inning that saved two runs.”
  • “This is the feeling that I need to pay attention to.”
  • “Something feels off time to exit this trade”
Those are some examples of where my mind goes now. I come from a place of curiosity rather than from a desire to stop myself from making mistakes. Paying attention to the intuitive voice leads to less angst and struggle.

This is a journey, but it is well-worth taking.

“John has imbued in me a previously missing consciousness and awareness in my trading. This has all but solved my inconsistency problem and has turned wild swings up and down, to calm orderly taking-of-profits. He has helped me leave behind what were ingrained bad habits, like revenge trading and panic selling, and I have had no slumps nor major drawdowns since beginning my work with him. My account balance now very consistently and repeatedly reaches new all-time highs.” – MT.

Author: John Burns, Senior Consultant, Performance Advisor

John’s life passion is optimal human performance. He joined the ReThink team in 2018 after being one of the most consistently profitable options floor traders at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. John has also been ranked as a top-20 Illinois amateur golfer for more than 5 years. In addition to his role with ReThink, he trades several portfolios across multiple global markets with double-digit yearly returns. He thrives on sharing his knowledge and experience with others and knows how to connect high-achievers — and those that want to be — to the emotions that will embolden their achievements.

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  1. Jacques

    Great piece John, I have read many books on the subject, at least 6, and your article summarizes them perfectly. 20 years of neuroscience and emotion research in a few paragraphs. It puts in context and in an actionable manner, how emotions affect our behavior, and how we can begin to get a hold of them for more balanced decision making process and well being. Well done.

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