Roger Bannister was the first human being to run a four-minute mile. Before then, no one thought it was possible to do so. In fact, even doctors at the time had said that if anyone ever ran a mile in four minutes, they would probably die. This was what everybody thought. This was what everybody said to everybody else. And, soon enough, it became the unspoken rule that everybody obeyed; the limiting voice in everybody’s head. Nobody tried to break that rule. Nobody tried to set that record. Everybody listened to that limiting voice.
But Roger didn’t. He defied the odds in 1954. He ran a mile in barely under 4 minutes. And when he finished, he collapsed –almost unconscious – and everyone thought he had died. Surprise! He was alive, he was only exhausted. And after him, many others have run four-minute miles. In fact, Roger’s record was broken only 46 days after. It seemed like Roger had silenced the voices in so many people’s heads by that feat.
A year before that, in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. People had said it was impossible for so many years, that others had internalized this to become the limiting voices in their heads, dissuading other climbers who tried but never made it to the summit.
But after Hillary and Norgay made it to the top, countless others have followed in their footsteps. In fact, they say there’s a bit of a littering problem on Mount Everest now – too many people throwing away their food bar wrappers, as they make it to the top and back down the tallest mountain. It seemed like they had silenced the limiting voices in so many people’s heads.
A friend of mine was telling me about how her mother had influenced her. She shut down about every bright idea this young lady ever came up with. One time, she was running an idea by her mum. I forget the details now, but it was something very simple and easy to achieve like wanting to buy provisions in bulk and selling/distributing them to the ‘mallams’ at the local kiosks in her neighbourhood. The first words out of her mum’s mouth were “it’s not going to work!”
This scenario, and many others like this, shaped her growing up. Up till now, she’s still very unsure of herself. She still hears a voice inside telling her “it’s not going to work” whenever she’s about to attempt something meaningful. And most times, she ends up listening and not doing them.
The loudest voices around us soon become the voices in our heads. And most times they’re not helpful to us. They are downright negative.
Our brains have been trained to see the negative. This is necessary for protection – the survival need of the caveman. So it is quite normal for you to hear voices in your head when you’re about to attempt something ‘big’, when you’re about to take a risk. It’s the protective instinct at work.
But are you going to listen? Are you going to listen to the negative voice of impossibility or are you going to defy it? Are you going to be ruled by fear or by faith?
One of the most troubled kings of ancient times was David. He was the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. His life was marked by many sufferings. Before he ascended the throne, his predecessor, King Saul, would stop at nothing to kill him. He was forced to live on the run, hiding in the network of caves surrounding the Dead Sea for weeks on end. After he ascended, he was also run out of town by his own son at some point. And his reign was marked by many wars.
He faced opposition both internally and externally, but he never seemed to give up. He experienced bouts of depression and must have heard voices in his head telling him to give it all up. But he didn’t listen. He instead seemed to talk, over those voices, to himself from time to time.
One of those times is recorded in the Bible as a popular quote of his:
“My soul, why are you so downcast? Why are you groaning inside me?
Hope in God, since I will praise him again…”
He said to his soul. He spoke to himself.
Your soul is the seat of your mind, your will and your emotions. So when you hear those voices in your head telling you to give up, this is your mind speaking, fuelled by emotions of fear with the goal of limiting your will to act.
You have the choice not to listen. You have the choice to ignore. You have the choice to speak over them and address your soul (your mind will and emotions) on how you want it to act!
If we are to break through the invisible walls of fear that hold us back from time to time, then we should emulate King David.
When the voices in your head tell you not to go further, speak over them and tell yourself that you can and you will. When the voices in and around you tell you that you can’t run that mile, can’t climb that mountain, can’t build that business, can’t take that crown; shut them out by choosing not to listen and instead speak over them. “Yes I can!”
These are called affirmations. Say what it is you want to achieve over and over again to yourself every day, every morning. “I can do it!” And not before long, you will become the loudest voice you know, drowning out the negative voices of the naysayers and, more importantly, drowning out the negative voices in your own head, which you’ve been listening to all this while.
And then you will start believing. You will start achieving. You will start realizing that sometimes you have to stop listening to yourself and start speaking to yourself.