The psychiatrist asked the patient, “Do you hear voices in your head?” “Yes, I do,” replied the patient. The psychiatrist thought to himself, with his own voice in his head, “Aha, he hears voices!”

Recently I was doing a little training session with a youth triathlon club. We were working on mental toughness, specifically how to deal with unhelpful internal chatter. You may have unhelpful voices saying unhelpful things to you, such as “You never were any good,” or “What makes you think you can do this?” or any number of nasty little messages. Well, so do seven-year-olds, believe it or not. And when you are training or racing in triathlon, those unhelpful voices can give you trouble. So this youth triathlon team and I were working on how to deal with that unhelpful self-talk.

One way to deal with these voices is to make them funny. So, during the experiment (I wanted to call it an “exercise” but the kids didn’t like that word, so we called it an “experiment.” Evidently, exercise is work, and experiments are fun.)

Anyway…

I wanted to lighten up that unhelpful internal chatter. Try this now: think of an unhelpful internal voice and what it says to you. Now…have that voice say the same thing it always says, but instead, have it inhale a huge lungful of helium, and then say its phrase in that weird Minnie Mouse helium voice. I’ll bet you are giggling. That funny voice takes the sting out of that unhelpful voice and makes it no big deal anymore.

Anyway…

I had all the kids recall an unhelpful voice, then asked them to dress up the speaker of that voice as a clown, with orange and green hair and giant shoes and big, puffy pants, then say the phrase. They all giggled. The unhelpful voice became not so vexing anymore. Then I had them try it on another unhelpful message, with the clown suit and with the helium voice. They giggled again.

Then I had them think about a time in the future when they are likely to run into that voice, and practice making it funny looking and funny sounding. That way, next time they run into a situation, they already know what to do.
They laughed even more.
Sometimes these unhelpful internal voices have an important message, and using these lightening techniques helps us all hear the message better. And sometimes these voices are full of nonsense and tell us things that just aren’t true. We don’t suck. We aren’t useless. We aren’t no good.
To break it down:

  1. Ask your niece if she has any unhelpful voices in her head, either hers or someone else’s. She doesn’t need to tell you what that voice says.
  2. Tell her that this voice is going to say what it always says, but before it does, she gets to dress it up really funny, then have it inhale a big, giant lungful of helium.
  3. Tell her to let the voice say what it wants to, all clownish and helium.
  4. Ask her if that voice bothers her anymore.

Teach your nieces and nephews how to lighten up that voice.  It’s fun and it really helps them not to have to listen to all that nonsense.  Imagine what your life would have been like if you had learned this technique when you were seven.

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