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For the past five years, I have been on a quest for personal development. That seems like a broad term, “personal development.” What does that really mean? I pose this question to myself as much as to you. Does it mean doing whatever we are doing, just better? Or doing more? Does it mean acquiring material possessions? Making more money? I suppose that is different for everyone. For me, it’s understanding what gives my life meaning and purpose.  What drives me to get out of bed in the morning. To start my day. And not just to get up and start it, but to be enthusiastic and start it with vigor.

For some time now, the vigor is often lacking. With many things in life, we often don’t notice something until we don’t have it anymore. I often wonder, where did the vigor go? Did it leave suddenly or did it happen slowly over time, like air escaping a balloon. And why did it take 40+ years of life to feel this way? I never felt this way in my 20s. I would like to say it’s because I am smarter now, but is it really just because I’m more afraid now?

As I ponder these questions and plow through one personal development book after another (I prefer “personal development” over “self-help”), there seems to be at least one common thread in all of them. The voice in your head is running your life. And that voice isn’t necessarily you. (Need a place to start? Read these: The Power of Positive Thinking by Andrew Carnegie, Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle).

Have you ever actually paid attention to that voice in your head and what it’s saying? I’ll give you a taste of what goes on in my head just for a moment:

It’s almost 11:00 am. I have accomplished almost nothing so far today. Breakfast was good but it had too much sodium. Why did I eat that? Now I have to starve the rest of the day. I don’t feel like going to the office today. Maybe I can just work from home. But I don’t get much done at home. Maybe I should just bring my laptop and go to Starbucks instead. Do I have time to go to the gym today? I kind of have to because of the breakfast I ate. Should I go to the gym so I can eat more or should I just starve the rest of the day? What can I do today that would be the most productive? Is reading all day productive? Or is that really just an excuse to be lazy? I just heard someone drop something at the front door. What did I buy? I really need to spend less. How can I not remember what I even bought? I spend too much money. How can I make more money?

And on and on all day. And that’s me being kind to myself. You should hear the unkind thoughts. These thoughts fire through my brain far more quickly than you can even read the words. I am sure you understand, also being a human. The voice in your head is running your life. It tells you who you are, what is wrong with you, where you are inadequate, it compares you to everyone else, makes you feel guilty for what you’re not doing or haven’t done, and generally holds you back from being happy because you’re too focused on beating yourself up for what you aren’t that you don’t appreciate what you are. If you’re thinking, “I don’t think those things. I am happy.” Congratulations. You have achieved self-actualization. You can stop reading. In fact, you should be writing a book about that for the rest of us. For everyone else, read on.

So now what? How do we stop the voice? Well, the trick isn’t to stop the voice. You can’t stop the voice. You would be dead and I don’t think that’s anyone’s goal here. Just don’t listen to the voice. Acknowledge it, recognize it and then dismiss it. Just move on. Nothing to see here. Focus on the positive voice. The one telling you where your desire is, what you’re good at, what lights you up and makes you feel alive…that vigor I was talking about earlier. What lights the fire for you?