How to Train Your Inner Voice and Silence Intrusive Thoughts

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How to Train Your Inner Voice and Silence Intrusive Thoughts

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There is a certain majesty to the idea of ​​solitude. Imagine Henry David Thoreau gazing out into the blue-green expanse of Walden Pond. In our minds, Thoreau is at peace. He stares into the distance and thinks about big, important ideas. Occasionally he writes these important ideas in a leather-bound notebook.

The Thoreau of our imagination does not struggle with intrusive thoughts. He doesn't irritably swat at flies and wonder why he's out here. He didn't get caught chopping wood during a sudden downpour and cursing himself for thinking he could do it and that maybe he should just pack it up and move back to Concord.

Thoreau was famous for his appreciation of solitude – his most famous work was created during this time at Walden Pond. But we also know that being alone can be difficult for even the most confident loners – especially when inner monologue is involved.

As a solo founder and proud introvert, I am very familiar with the rewards and challenges of working alone. Here are some ways to make it work for you too.

Related: Both introverts and extroverts need solitude to do their best work. Here's why – and how to give it to them.

The advantages of going it alone

Startup culture places a lot of value on collaboration, but there are also big benefits to going it alone. Not only do you not have to worry about your vision being affected or stepping on your toes, but you also have the freedom to make the decisions you want and follow your instincts.

These instincts are a crucial aspect of success as an entrepreneur. As important as data and facts are, there is indescribable power in following your gut feeling. One study found that people who make decisions based on instinct alone make the right decision up to 90% of the time. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, known for his ability to make instinctive decisions, explained this.

“Sometimes it is difficult to make a decision, not because it is unpopular, but because it comes from gut feeling and defies technical reasoning,” he once said.

“Much has been written about the mystery of the gut, but it's really just about pattern recognition, isn't it? You've seen something so many times that this time you just know what's going on. The facts may be incomplete or the data limited, but the situation seems very, very familiar.”

But intuition can be difficult to explain to others, especially to a skeptical co-founder who may have ideas of their own. That's not to say you should never seek the advice of others – it can be incredibly helpful to have a mentor or peer network if you could use some advice or a gut check. However, when the going gets tough and you know exactly which fork in the road to take, it's liberating to do it without having to explain yourself to anyone else.

Related: 10 Benefits for Entrepreneurs of Making Time for Silence and Solitude

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

Working alone means being able to trust yourself. This can be difficult when intrusive thoughts creep in, as they inevitably do.

Your inner dialogue can be your greatest asset – or a terrible, destructive enemy. The first step to making sure your mind is working for you and not against you is to understand your default mentality. How do you react when you encounter a roadblock? Are you wallowing in defeat? To fall into panic? Switch off? Or do you see the obstacle in front of you as a challenge and approach it with curiosity?

If your answer is the former, that means you need to redefine your mindset. This will take some work. But just as we go to the gym to build muscle, we can train our brains to resist negativity and intrusive thoughts.

Practicing mindfulness is a surefire way to become aware of your self-talk and reframe it in a more productive way. Start paying as nonjudgmental as possible attention to your thoughts, feelings, and reactions throughout the day. As humans, we often confuse the things we think and feel with who we are. But it's important to remember that some of these thoughts simply aren't true. When you are aware of limiting beliefs, you can begin to recognize them for what they are – stories we made up that are often not based on fact.

If you're plagued by negative thoughts, try making a list of topics you actually want to think about – a problem you want to solve or a recent victory. That's called “intentional thinking,” and it's a great use of alone time, says Ethan Kross, a professor at the University of Michigan and author of “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How.” to Harness It,” told Vox. Intentional thinking doesn't have to be a huge time commitment either – Kross prefers to combine it with other activities already on his schedule, like exercise.

“I just activate the problem I want to work on and then I get on the treadmill and inevitably my mind starts working and thinking of all the possible solutions. In this way I gained a lot of insights,” he says.

Related: How to Escape the Prison of Negative Thinking

Finding solitude in an overly connected world

In some ways, it seems like Thoreau had it easier than your modern solopreneur. He was in the middle of nature and, more importantly, he didn't have a smartphone constantly sending him notifications, asking him to stop ruminating and distract himself by scrolling through his social media feeds.

It's easy to give in to the lure of the digital dopamine rush, but resisting will make it worth it even when you have some alone time. Close your door and put your phone on Do Not Disturb for a period of time every day and you might be surprised at the creativity and innovation that thrives in this area.

Personally, I build solo time into my schedule and set aside a specific time each day to clear my head and engage in intense work. These quiet moments are reminiscent of my days when I founded Jotform 18 years ago. Although I wasn't faced with the same deluge of devices that we regularly experience these days, I spent a lot of time alone – more than ever before. I admit it could be a struggle. With no distractions, my brain filled the silence by bombarding me with “what if” questions.

But I refused to give in. And guess what? The times when I pushed through the discomfort were the times when my best thoughts took root. Today, JotForm has over 25 million users, and I attribute much of our success to those precious moments of emptiness where, free from distraction, I could just be.

Being alone – truly alone, without the company of digital distractions – can be difficult. It's so much easier to pick up the phone and mindlessly scroll than to learn to work with your inner monologue. But once you harness that voice in your head and train it to work with you and not against you, you can achieve endless things.