Have you ever wished you could silence your inner voice? Do you find yourself too involved in your own thoughts? Have you ever experienced such a strong inner dialogue that you found it difficult to re-engage with the world around you?
*Raises hand* I’ve been there! In fact, I was there yesterday!
As an ENFP, the concept of having a rich, inner life is nothing new. And it’s not always a bad thing. A church sermon or college lecture has gone from dull to entertaining given the inner dialogue that’s constantly chattering away in my head. Many of the wonderful things in my life have come from following my inner voice. I proudly proclaim my gut as my decisive lead in making choices. Yet, there are plenty of times when my mind ventures a little too far off the beaten path.
Personality Theory Flavor
Understanding the basics of the ENFP personality type can give you specific insight into where your process might take that inner voice too far.
For example: as an ENFP, I am future-oriented. The NF side of my personality can get a little wrapped up in my feelings about the big-picture aspect of future events. As my thoughts spiral in anticipation, I start to wildly shoot incorrect details about my perceived future. Most of the time, understanding this tendency in my personality helps me nip any undue stress in the bud. At other times, I am wrenched back to reality by something in my environment and question why I started worrying in the first place.
But what do you do when your environment doesn’t call you back from the depths of your own mind? What if you’re not sure what personality tendencies can drive you past the point of no return?
The answer is to learn a few tools that work for you. Here I’ll share four strategies I have successfully employed over the years to keep my inner voice in check and get a grip back on reality.
*Disclaimer: This article does not substitute professional help. I am not a certified counselor. If you feel like you cannot control your thoughts or are experiencing anything you feel you can’t handle, don’t hesitate to get help! You’re a wonderfully unique person and the world needs you!*
A New Color Theory
The first trick I ever found came out of sheer desperation in high school. I was halfway through my studies and performing in the last Jazz Band concert I ever would before moving across the country. My director approached me and gave me a few heartfelt words of encouragement. He broke down any emotional defense I had built to keep my tears in check - but I still had to perform!
In a slight panic, I glanced around the room and saw the red, velvet curtains on the stage. I thought of everything I could that was red and vividly pictured each one in my mind. Once the color red was exhausted, I moved on to purple and followed the same process. I found that this kept my thoughts occupied on inconsequential things instead of spiraling into the emotional territory of a 17 year old thinking of moving far away from everything she knew.
Pro tip: I have also used this trick when nervous about a presentation or performance. This strategy works best when dealing with short-term stress.
Awareness For the Win
I first learned this tip from the internet - no joke! As a college student, stress was a normal part of my life. For the first time, I found myself unable to bear the load by solely using my own wit. In periods of strain, I kept my inner voice from careening out of control by using this technique to ground myself.
I have found this works best while sitting. Start by taking deep breaths and focus in on your body. Similar to progressive muscle relaxation, start from the bottom of your body and work your way up. What do your feet feel like against the floor? How about your legs or bum against the seat of the chair? Are the muscles in your back tight? Does your skin feel cool in the breeze? Focusing your attention on your body gives you the opportunity to ground your inner thoughts without completely distracting yourself. This is quite helpful in a situation you must see through to the end.
Pro tip: I have used this trick in the heat of conflict. Honing in on the physical aspect of my body balances my thoughts and helps to keep my emotions in check.
Out of Doors, Out of Mind
My college years were a great time for self-discovery, as I also found this trick during my time studying. If ever I got too anxious and wrapped up in my thoughts, I immediately grabbed my shoes and coat (I went to school in the snow) and tromped around outside. I found inner clarity as I moved around and gained an increased ability to focus when I returned.
I have found changing my environment to be especially helpful when processing difficult information. While I walk, I think about whatever is plaguing my inner dialogue. Getting out and about helps me feel like I’m not forever stuck in negative shadows. If I can choose to change my environment, I can make choices to land in whatever positive future I’m working toward. A change of scenery is helpful when your thoughts are spinning.
Pro tip: For an Extravert such as myself, involving a friend in an outing is insanely beneficial. The connection with another human being elevates whatever clarity I find after returning from a change in environment.
Admittedly, I have used this strategy less than the others because it takes planning to execute. (I’m a largely spontaneous person. Planning is often my downfall.) The idea behind this tool is to envelope your five senses to both distract and ground your thoughts. Such a tactic is useful in a situation when your inner feelings escalate quickly. This trick can be used to great effect in turbulent emotional times. I recall employing this strategy once during a hospital stay after giving birth to my son.
Have five items on hand, one for each physical sense. Keep a photo that speaks to you, whether it is calming or entertaining is your choice. Have lotion, perfume, or something that smells nice to engage your sense of smell. Make sure you have access to some sort of music, talk, podcast, or other auditory stimulant. Don’t forget something to eat! My sister is particularly fond of mints, I prefer chewing gum. Lastly, hold a bit of cloth or something textured to capture your sense of touch. In focusing one by one on each of your senses, you may accomplish the grounding sensation discussed previously.
Pro tip: Have a small travel case with your five things that you can easily transfer to your car, purse, luggage, etc. to utilize wherever the wind may take you!
It’s worth mentioning again that your inner voice is not a bad thing! Having an active inner life is not a plague to avoid. Like anything else, it can simply get out of control. These four strategies are certainly not all that is out there to help when your inner voice wanders too far. What have you found helpful when calming the racing thoughts of your inner dialogue?