If you watch any amount of television, cartoons, or movies, inevitably you will encounter a scene of a person who is conflicted about a decision and ends up with a miniature version of him- or herself on each shoulder. One is “good” and one is “bad,” and each tries to convince the decision maker regarding which choice to make. If we examine our own lives, we know that there are times when we must deal with internal voices talking to us about the choices we face. The difficult decisions are difficult for a reason, but if we calm ourselves and listen to the voices, we can make a great decision.
What Voices Do We Hear?
Have you ever wondered where these voices come from? While many will answer that question from a religious perspective, I’d like to offer an additional answer. What I have learned in my 50 years of life is that the voices come from experience and knowledge. The voices that argue within us, or that guide us when we are still, are born of what we have done and learned in our lives. The more variety, situations, circumstances, and adventures you give yourself, the more experience you will have to draw on when faced with a decision in the future. Likewise, the more you read, listen, and watch from various learning sources, the more knowledge you will have to guide you and shape your thoughts about your experiences.
Experience and knowledge don’t come only from activity and education. Relationships play a big role in our lives, and the more relationships we have and the deeper the relationships we can establish, the more experience and knowledge we will gain. I encourage you not only to grow your circle of friends but also to develop deeper relationships. This may be out of your comfort zone, but you don’t need to become the most popular person to accomplish this. We are losing deep connections in today’s modern world due to social media that allow us to post and respond easily but not directly. A wider circle of deeper relationships will do wonders for you when you are faced with making choices because your relationships will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge in addition to your own experience and education.
When you expand your variety of experiences and learning and develop more and better relationships, the voices you hear when difficult decisions must be made will be better equipped to help you. When you need support, your internal voice will have much more to draw on to guide you.
Your Dominant Voice
The voices we hear inside us do not come to us at the same frequency or volume. They are not equal in tone. What I can tell you is that there will be a dominant voice. What I can’t tell you is which one will be dominant for you. The voices are our internal feedback system, and like any feedback, we give ourselves both positive and negative feedback.
Positive feedback is built on our positive experiences, learning, and relationships. The more of those we have, the more powerful such feedback will be. If you create good experiences for yourself, learn with motivation and inspiration, and develop strong, deep relationships, you will give yourself a wealth of source material from which to draw in difficult times.
On the other hand, the negativity we hear within us comes from our negative experiences, learning, and relationships. While there are times when we cannot avoid a bad life experience, we can do our best to avoid them. What we feed our mind will come back to us when we are stressed. For example, years ago when TV shows such as 20/20 and Dateline were all the rage, they featured many stories about crime, bacteria, safety, violence, etc. It was well documented that people who watched those shows on a regular basis were more afraid of life than those who didn’t. My ex-wife was one of those people, although eventually she was able to stop watching them and changed her mind-set as a result. If our life is filled with negative relationships, we will see bad in other people before we see good.
Each of us has a combination of positive and negative life experiences and relationships. The more we do to create positive life experiences to outnumber the negative, the more likely our dominant internal voice will be positive. The more positive people we put into our lives and the deeper relationships we have with them, the more likely our dominant internal voice will be positive. The more we learn about the good in the world and inspire ourselves from our learning of others’ positive life experiences and relationships, the more likely our dominant internal voice will be positive. It is up to each of us to develop positivity in our lives and minimize negativity.
How to Create Positivity
It is one thing to say we must develop positivity in our lives so that the dominant voice will be a positive one when we need guidance during the most difficult times in our lives, but how do we go about doing so? Allow me to give you some suggestions in each of the three categories: experiences, learning, and relationships.
Positive life experiences are born of intentional action. Most of the time, it takes a little planning to create experiences we want to remember. To help local attorneys in Houston create positive experiences in their lives, two other attorneys and I created a Facebook group called “Houston Lawyers Culture Club.” The purpose of this group is to share notices of various cultural events, including plays, concerts, movies, musicals, symphonies, museum exhibits, festivals, and more, and then plan a group outing for whoever wants to go to a particular event. This group was only created two months ago, but already I have attended the movies Dark Waters and Just Mercy (both about lawyers fighting for a cause), The Nutcracker ballet, and The Color Purple musical, all with other attorneys. These are experiences I will remember because they were all positive for me and I attended with company. Seek positive experiences and you will find them.
Positive learning can be done in so many ways these days. Because of technology, we have everything from online master classes to podcasts. We also have community colleges and great libraries to choose from, in addition to traditional booksellers. I attend a lot of continuing legal education courses as well as book readings, lectures, and other learning events in person. I go out of my way to find positive education for myself rather than negative. What you feed your mind will give you sustenance when self-doubt and negativity attempt to creep in.
Positive relationships are a crucial part of what I call the Positivity Triangle. Without positive relationships, the positive life experiences and learning will be muted. We both learn from relationships and share ourselves with others in relationships. I encourage you to seek out people who are positive and happy. You should seek out people you want to learn from, but hopefully they are positive as well. We’ve all heard the expression “it takes a village to raise a child,” but the same is true for being motivated and inspired as an adult. Everyone has a team in their lives made up of people they surround themselves with. Building your team of people who are positive, motivating, inspiring, and hopefully consistent and loyal is a must. Not only can I share myself with my team, but they are there to support me when needed. I am getting to know more people on a deeper level, and I am choosing the people I put into my life wisely. We can’t help which opposing counsels or judges we deal with, but just about everyone else in our lives is someone we can choose. More importantly, we can definitely determine which people we want to have a more meaningful relationship with, and if we choose wisely, we will be better for those relationships.
Positivity Leads to Positive Voices and Choices
I am not here to tell you that your life will be nothing but positive simply by infusing positivity into it. But how you react to negativity and negative circumstances will most definitely change once you intentionally seek positive life experiences, learning, and relationships. When you struggle with a case, a loved one, a bad experience, or any other myriad negative emotions, your dominant inner voice will be positive because you have built a foundation of positivity in your life. With your positive inner voice, you will make better choices and ultimately live a better life because of those choices.
Published in GPSolo, Volume 37, Number 1, January/February 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.