My critical inner voice is driving me to distraction. Can I get it to shut up?

I have dealt in the past with the ongoing issues related to my inner prick – a voice inside my head that is consistently telling me that I am terrible at everything and should give up as soon as possible. (Sometimes that is my inner prick, and sometimes it is me repeating the comments below the online version of this column.)

I spoke to a couple of people who told me that I needed to retrain this voice to be nicer to me. I went to a therapist who told me to imagine I was sitting on the sofa opposite and to practise being nice to myself. I do find therapy useful, but it does require that you leave self-awareness at the door. I was slightly self-conscious about the fact that I was telling an invisible me that I am actually a very nice man (particularly as I am not entirely sure I believe that).

Subsequent research led me to find a different theory: that instead of making your inner voice more positive, you should aim to get rid of it completely. This seemed bananas. For as long as I could remember, I have had a narrator inside my head saying things such as, “I’d better get on with this work now” or, “Man, I’m running late” or, “I wonder if my wife is just settling and if I really loved her I should just set her up with someone more suitable.”

The key to getting rid of the voice is to be in the moment more. To think less. This seems to be the opposite of everything I have been taught. I have spent my life being told to think, to be thoughtful, and not to do anything at all without considering all outcomes. Acting without thinking is seen as a very bad thing to do. Nevertheless, I was assured by my research (by which I mean a solid half an hour on the internet) that this would be completely worth it. I found myself wanting to try, simply because I didn’t believe it was possible.

The way to attain this is through mindfulness: not allowing your mind to wander. You know when somebody is talking to you and then you remember that you forgot to email someone about a work thing, and then you think it doesn’t matter because they were being unreasonable after all, and then you think about actually being more assertive at work, and then you start to wonder if you should be doing that job, and then you wonder if the fact that we have to have jobs at all is a sign that freedom is, in fact, an illusion… and then you realise the person talking to you has asked you a question? You need to deal with that.

Every time you are doing a task and feel your mind wandering, bring it back to the task and get rid of the voice that may be speculating about what you have to do next. You can also train yourself to do this more effectively with the help of meditation, which for me consists of sitting in silence and trying to stop my brain thinking about how hungry I am, or whether my stomach is sticking out because of the way I am sitting.

It took me a while, but I reckon I might have managed it. I no longer have any director’s commentary in my head. I am able to plan and think about what to do just as before, except there are no words. It’s actually very nice. Then I asked my wife, and she told me that she also has a voice in her head, and really likes it: it’s her constant companion. Ever since she said that, it feels quite lonely up there.