5 Ways to Tame Your Unhelpful Inner Narrator

I call her Helga.

She’s kind of a hag.

Not kind of. Most of the time. Nearly all the time.

Helga is always with me, whispering in my ear. But instead of sweet-nothings, Helga offers such scathing sentiments as: “This will never work,” and “You totally screwed that up,” and “Oh my god, why did you eat all those Wheat Thins?

It’s Helga who assembles the cast of characters when I awake with anxiety at 3:30 in the morning. Click here for scenes from that party.

A visual representation of Helga, my inner narrator

We all have an inner narrator. Maybe yours is called something different. Or maybe you’ve never named her because she’s so much a part of you that you’ve just come to accept her as yourself.

But your Helga is not helping you.

In my keynotes and workshops, I teach the 3 essential components to every story:

  1. Character (A story needs to be about someone; you are the central character of your story)
  2. Plot (Something needs to happen in your story; plot creates change and opportunity)
  3. Narrative Point of View (The voice of the story, or, in my case, Horrid Helga sitting on my shoulder, narrating my day through a continuous tirade of critiques)

It doesn’t matter how large your Cast of Supporting Characters is, your narrator is your story’s biggest influencer.

Because I teach this, you’d think I’d know better than to allow Helga to get in my head. Because she’s telling me things that I’m then going to act upon, whether it means I raise my hand at the conference to ask that question (or not, because it’s probably stupid), or cold-call for that potential opportunity (or not, because really, what’s the point?) or eat the rest of that box of Wheat Thins (might as well, Fat Girl).

Geez, Helga, can’t a girl get a break?

If you’ve got an inner narrator like Horrid Helga, know that you can re-cast her with a better and more productive version. But it takes effort and awareness to do so to replace such a familiar force.  So call your casting agent and start auditioning voices who can better verbalize their value.

Here are 5 Ways to Tame Your Inner Narrator:

Identify the Voice – Who’s talking? How did we somehow create the most critical of characters and put her in the most critical of roles? Determine how that inner voice originated – whether it’s harsh words remembered from childhood, a bullying boss or a belittling old boyfriend. Why is this person still in your head? And then try replacing this Worst Critic version with a Best Friend. How would she speak to and of you?

Be a Journalist: Seek Evidence – Who says it’s so? Horrid Helga provides unhelpful commentary but that doesn’t make it true. Just because you feel it doesn’t make it fact. Stories tend to build upon themselves so stop a runaway narrator from running off with the story. This is true in the opposite direction as well, if you’ve got Narcissistic Neil as your narrator. If you’re the only person who knows everything, if everyone else you encounter is a total idiot, well… you might want to fact-check that narrator too – he’s not helping you either.

Reflect, Don’t Ruminate – Use what you’ve learned in the situation (when I open the box of Wheat Thins, I’m likely to finish it in entirety) to create more successful scenes moving forward. Rather than beating yourself up over something gone wrong, embrace the information as knowledge helpful for the next go-around. Read more on Real Ways to Reduce Rumination.

Distinguish Situational Challenges from Personality Flaws – So you spilled your coffee all over your new dress this morning. Sounds like a messy situation. It does not mean you’re always a “mess.” Yelling at your kids doesn’t make you a “bad mom,” sleeping in one day doesn’t make you permanently “lazy,” not getting the job doesn’t make you a “loser,” etc. Don’t let your inner narrator create permanent, unflattering labels just because telemarketing calls infuriate you or you accidentally cut the extension power cord with the hedge trimmer (OK, that was dangerous, I should have been more careful…)

Talk Back – Sometimes I get riled up and take Helga on. She sat on my shoulder during a run the other day and had something to say every step of the way. “You’re so slow,” she noted. “Why are you even out here? It’s so hot. You should just stop.” And I had just about enough of Helga. “Helga!” I said, (quietly, too myself, so as not to freak out any passersby), “You’re not helping!” and then I proceeded to remind myself in a voice that is very much MINE, “You’re out here doing it. Just keep going. You’re going to finish. Keep it up!” It didn’t make me any faster or less sweaty. But it did make me feel better.

Take a helpful voice on your morning run

Helga the Horrid can be conquered. Eventually you’ll replace that awful narrator with one that gives you a little more of what you need – an internal influencer who can be the best supporting character in your cast of many.

Why settle for less?

Valerie Gordon is the founder and owner of Commander-in-She, a career and communication strategy firm. She offers keynote presentations and interactive workshops on how to use the power of storytelling to enhance career success and satisfaction, employee engagement and team dynamics.

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