Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Learning To Master Your Inner Voice

Image courtesy of Jim Tsinganos

Have you ever found yourself saying these things –

“This isn’t going to work.”

“I don’t deserve this attention.”

“I hope they don’t hate it.”

“No one is going to listen to me.”

On the surface, these comments seem fairly harmless, which is probably why many of us have said it either out loud or inwardly to ourselves. However, the problem is that such comments can not only have a negative impact on how we see ourselves, but also in how we present our abilities to others.

To give this a proper frame of reference, consider the examples of business leaders Jack Welch and Ursula Burns. When they attain the goal they set out to reach, their response is not one of boasting or grandstanding over the accomplishment. Instead, they merely view it as being a given outcome for the efforts they helped their organization to attain.

Similarly, when things don’t go the way they wanted it to, there’s no put-downs or dismissive remarks, that they were being too ambitious or over-extending themselves. Rather, the talk is more about trying to figure out what went wrong and what they can do to address the problem so that they can get back on course.

In these cases, we see that it’s not just a matter of how they view themselves; it’s also a result of them having about them a sense of purpose, a sense that they’re attempting to do this because it’s within their abilities to reach it and thus, succeed. They weren’t just removing any negative self-talk from their minds; they were also believing what they were telling themselves.  Subsequently, they were able to convince their employees that they could indeed reach that goal working together as a team, following the lead of this person who both believed in their collective abilities as well as their own.

Of course, many businesses and their leaders would like to mirror the accomplishments of Welch and Burns and as such, much time and effort has been spent pouring over their strategies, approaches and decisions to understand their recipe for success.

And yet, if we simply look at how they communicate with others, we’d see that one key to their success is the fact that they’ve silenced that inner critic which expects us to fail at every turn and in its place nurtured an inner voice that compels them to push ahead, to get up when they fall down, and ultimately to become the kind of leader we’d all like to work with and in some cases, become.

So how can we master our inner voice so that it can be the source of encouragement and strength that helped propel leaders like Welch and Burns? Here are three steps to reassert control over your self-perception:

1. Take note of when you engage in negative self talk
As with any change in behaviour, the first step is making a conscious effort to recognize when you’re doing it and work at putting a stop to it. In the case of your inner voice, you need to become more aware of when you start saying these negative things about your abilities, regardless of whether it’s to yourself or others.

In those moments, you need to replace the “I can’t” feeling with “I can”. For example, say you’ve been assigned a task you’ve never done before by your boss. While the task itself might be something you personally can’t do, you certainly can ask your boss or others to help you to get the work done. In this way, your focus moves away from your weaknesses toward your strengths and using it in a collaborative fashion with others to achieve the goals at hand.

2. Don’t let your past determine your future behaviour
Another important point to remember about our behaviour is that it is a result of influences from our surrounding environment and from events based in our past. As I discussed how environmental influences can affect our behaviour in my piece, “Changing Our Behaviour – A Lesson From The Birds”, I’ll focus here more on those behaviours that stem from what we’ve learned from the past.

While past events can offer us insights into why we didn’t succeed at a particular task or role, what we often get wrong is assuming that it’s also a good indicator of what will go wrong either in the present or future. Although there’s nothing we can do to right any mistakes made in the past, we still have the opportunity to ensure that the present and future turn out differently from what we previously experienced.

A good place to start is to review why things didn’t go well in the past and use those lessons in the present to make sure it doesn’t happen again. These days, there’s a lot of talk about how failure is a good thing. What we need to realize, though, is that this statement is true only if we’re willing to learn from those mistakes in how to address these problems head-on, as opposed to running from them when we face them again.

3. Perseverance is key to making the change
As with any habit, it’s going to take a good amount of time and effort to change your inner voice and with it, how you communicate and interact with others. There’s no question that it’s not going to be easy and at times, you might fall back to your old negative voice pointing out how this isn’t going to work.

And yet, if we look at any example of individuals who represent models of personal or professional success, we’ll find one trait they share in common – they persevered despite the setbacks they faced because they believed in the end outcome. As much as athletes need to train hard if they want to be the best in their sport, being able to re-train our inner voice to focus on where we can go and on what we can accomplish is hard work that requires a firm commitment on our part to see it through.

Without question, the inner voice that resides in all of us plays a critical role to our successes, both now and in the future. With this in mind, it becomes all the more important that we master this voice in order that it encourages the use of our abilities to succeed, instead of holding us back out of fear that we might repeat the mistakes of our past.

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  1. On April 8th, 2010 at 9:57 AM Heather Stubbs said:

    This is excellent, Tanveer! We can only give to others what we have, ourselves. I point out in my "SPEAK UP!" workshops that the very first step to becoming a good public speaker is to value yourself. That can be challenging, especially if we have been trained from childhood, as many of us have, not to think highly of ourselves. Yet, we humans have a far greater ability to focus our thoughts than we give ourselves credit for. It's possible to focus on the goodness of ourselves. Far from being self-indulgent (and what's wrong with that, even, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone?) positive self-talk sets the stage for positive interaction with everyone in our world. Well done! And I LOVE the image!

  2. On April 8th, 2010 at 4:05 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Heather; I appreciate that.

    I agree with you that part of the issue is that we’ve been conditioned to think that focusing on our limitations, as opposed to our abilities, is key to being modest/humble as opposed to being conceited. And yet, if you look at the two leaders I point out as examples, I don’t think anyone would view them as being arrogant or self-absorbed. On the contrary, it’s clear that they have a self-awareness of themselves that has lead them to appreciate both their abilities and the importance of collaborating with others to compensate for those elements that they know they lack.

    By becoming conscious of our inner voice and how we speak about ourselves, we’re taking steps to improve our own sense of self-awareness and with it, a better understanding of who we are and what we have within us to contribute to the greater whole.

    Thanks again for the kind words, Heather, and for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. On April 9th, 2010 at 12:00 AM Amanda Martin said:

    Brilliant thanks Tanveer. As an executive coach I’ve always found that whatever is presented as the “issue” comes down to that inner voice working to sabotage good people from achieving great things.

    I’ve been reading cognitive neuroscience articles and books like that of David Rock to find ways of creating new inner voice patterns and thinking pathways for the leaders I work with.

    My interest is in being able to hear the inner voice, change the pattern of thinking driving the voice and then behaving differently.

    Thanks for your continuing wonderful writing about the world of work.

  4. On April 9th, 2010 at 12:09 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Amanda for the kind words. It is amazing to see how often the inability people perceive toward accomplishing a goal is rooted in the negativity their inner voice puts forth. All the more reason why the key to our ultimate success is found in retraining that voice to focus on our abilities, as opposed to our fears.

    Glad to hear you’ve been enjoying my writings, Amanda and thanks for adding your thoughts to the conversation.

  5. On April 12th, 2010 at 4:41 AM Frank Dickinson said:


    I waited to comment on this post until my desk was clear (at least for the moment) because I knew it was a definite area of interest for me.

    I'm a big fan of Jack Welch so I was glad to see you use him as a model.

    It has always been my contention that the best way to succeed in whatever venture you are attempting is through "modeling behavior." The old adage is true: "You want to be successful in _____, find someone who is already successful in _____, and do what they do."

    Where most people get tricked with that adage is that they don't model the most foundational behavior of their chosen "successful" person – their mindset. They waste time modeling strategies, without first modeling the way the person's self-talk. In essence – their inner voice.

    One of the reasons I so like Jack Welch is that he often talks and writes about his mindset and how it effects his business decisions.

    A good leader knows that they very foundation that strategies are built upon is proper thinking, mindset and inner voice.

    Love it my friend – as always!

  6. On April 12th, 2010 at 7:59 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Frank, I'm glad you enjoyed it and found time to share your thoughts on this piece. It's interesting that you bring up the point about "modeling behaviour" as this was something I discussed in my earlier piece "Changing our Behaviours – A Lesson From the Birds". In that post, I pointed out how researchers had found that city birds had adapted their songs to compensate for the city noise so that they could still be heard over the din. In other words, the birds recognized that to remain successful in communicating their messages, they needed to start with first changing their own behaviour and then helping modified behaviour spread to other bird communities. So, there's plenty of examples out there, both in business as well as in nature that demonstrate the importance of building your foundation for success on the inner voice you nurture in yourself.

    Thanks again for the wonderful comment, Frank. As always, I appreciate your contribution to the discussion.

  7. On May 20th, 2010 at 12:15 PM Sally G.s said:

    Thank you for directing me here Tanveer – great wisdom! Awareness is so critical to beginning the process of Inner Voice silencing. Operating awake, as an observer of all that's going on around and within you, is the first step in even differentiating the Inner Critic's Voice from that of your Inner Guidance/Wisdom.

    Sometimes, too, we see our lives through outdated filters — not consciously recognizing that we're no longer the person we used to be … we've learned, developed, matured, and more.

    We're complex beings at heart — until we get to a point where simplicity matters more.

    Clear insight you've shared, thank you …

  8. On May 20th, 2010 at 9:02 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Sally. Thought you might enjoy this piece. It’s amazing once we become more aware of what we say with our inner voice how we’re able to see how much it impacts not only our outlook, but also the impression we create of ourselves for the outside world.

    Thanks again, Sally, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  9. On September 15th, 2011 at 9:48 AM Ayandiswa Juliet said:

    I am very happy to know these important things. I always have negative attitudes towards myself, but now I se bright future that comes, I really sense the important of inner voice.

    Thanks Tanveer for sharing with people.

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