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The voices in our heads

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Since I read that 40% of Zimbabweans suffer from mental illness (this was last year, so imagine how much worse the situation must be by now), I have made peace with the fact that I am not the only one who hears voices in my head.

Opinion: Thembe Khumalo

Thembe Khumalo
Thembe Khumalo

In fact, sometimes the voices don’t even talk, they just shake their heads in dismay, disbelief or disappointment.

But seriously, self-talk is an important part of who we are and how we effect progress and indeed any kind of change in our lives.

Psychologists tell us that our internal conversations have a powerful impact on our results, both in terms of technical competence and also in terms of motivation and self-belief.

At its heart, self-talk is nothing more than storytelling.

The way we tell stories to other people about ourselves, is the same way we tell stories to ourselves about ourselves.

We are our first and most important audience.

We are the primary recipient of the facts and fiction that we fashion daily to help ourselves get through this marathon we call life.

When non-athletic types like me decide to run long distances, self-talk becomes a powerful weapon again exhaustion, exasperation and, eh, the absence of talent.

I get through 42,2km within the cut off time, not because I am a strong runner, because I am a good storyteller (and of course the many hours of training do help).

If you could get inside my head and hear me calling tough inclines “uncircumcised Philistines” and witness the curses on blisters, bad weather and unsympathetic drivers, you would not even lament the fact that you cannot get Kwese TV, because the drama in my head would keep you entertained for hours!

Story telling is a powerful force.

In every civilisation and through every age in history, people have used stories as a way of making sense of their reality, of passing on powerful lessons to the community and to generations.

Every outcome is almost entirely dependent on the story you tell.

The most important story in your life is the one you tell yourself.

In the grown-up world, they sometimes call this perspective or spin-doctoring.

A spin doctor in the original sense is a guy you pay to put a positive “spin” on any story about you.

It used to be that companies and politicians hired spin-doctors to influence the public through the media and create the general impression that everything in your company or camp was just wonderful.

Even if it wasn’t.

Spin doctors were expensive to hire, and sometimes the job they had to do was just enormous.

Imagine being hired by a seasoned criminal to make him look as harmless and benevolent as Father Christmas!

That really needed to cost a lot!

Luckily, you can now be your own spin doctor — thanks to social media.

You can tell the world any kind of story about your life.

But the only story that’s important is the story you tell yourself, about yourself.

Look at it this way; every day you spend time with your thoughts; your inner voice.

As you go about your business, the inner voice is providing a running commentary on every aspect of your life.

Whether it is to do with the little chip you can feel on one of your teeth, the parking space someone just stole from right under your nose, or the worries about your child getting into university.

All day long, this voice is telling you the story of you.

If this voice is negative and belittling, you will come to the end of each day feeling battered and resentful.

If the voice is light-hearted, funny, compassionate and full of gentle understanding, you will feel cherished, and your days will end with empathy.

In the Bible, we read the story of the Israelite spies who reported: “To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33).

This is a classic example of negative self-image spilling over into pubic perception.

So when you make a mistake, don’t call yourself harsh names or use expletives.

Would you do that to someone you respect and adore?

When good things happen, celebrate and be grateful instead of telling yourself it’s a fluke or waiting for something bad to happen so you can say; “I knew it was too good to be true”.

The stories that your inner voice tells you are powerful because they are constantly running as the background music to your life.

They are with you from the moment you open your eyes every morning till you close them every night.

They don’t stop.

These stories form the foundation for every other story that will be told about you — whether told by you or by other people.

When others form an impression about you, they take their cue from you.

If you have a low opinion of yourself, chances are others will too.

If you believe yourself to be a victim of circumstance, or a failure, or a person who is not worthy of the things you desire, this will come across in your interactions with others.

More than this, the universe will respond according to your beliefs.

Speak and behave towards yourself the way you would want to speak and behave toward a person you love unreservedly.

Because you are in fact your own number one fan.

Or you can be.

Having said all this, perhaps we should turn to our collective voice as a nation.

What is the narrative that forms the background commentary to our lives in Zimbabwe?

Should we be surprised by the statistics about our mental health, given what our internal dialogue sounds like?

Thembe Khumalo is a brand-builder, storyteller and social entrepreneur. Find out more on www.thembekhumalo.com or follow her social media accounts @thembekhumalo

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