They show up without warning and stay too long. You’ve probably hosted such an event, unintentionally and reluctantly. And yet, it’s hard to show them the door. Because there’s no obvious exit when the venue is in your head.
Let’s set the scene:
Where: My bedroom
When: 1:45 am
ANXIETY: Hiiii! You up?
ME: Huh… what?
ANXIETY: Want to think about how much you have to do tomorrow?
ME: Umm, no, I was just sleeping.
ANXIETY: How about mulling over a bunch of things that are highly unlikely to happen but would be really tragic if they did?
ME: What? No!
ANXIETY: Oh, OK. Let me just ask a question. Did you shut the garage door before you went to bed?
ANXIETY: You sure?
ME: … I think so….
ANXIETY: Maybe you should check. Thieves could get in. A bear. A skunk. It’s probably open.
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: You always forget everything!
ME: Who are you?
ANXIETY: Oh, I brought some friends. You remember them.
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: I’m back!
RUMINATION: Me too! Want to review every foolish thing you ever did?
ME: I need to sleep, I have to get up early for work.
ANXIETY: Oh, right, it’s Presentation in Front of Important People day!
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: You’re going to blow it.
ME: What? Why?
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: Because you suck.
ME: Hang on, wait… at what?
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: At everything.
ANXIETY: Now that we’re all here hanging out, let’s get that heart rate up!
RUMINATION: Remember last time you gave a presentation, the PowerPoint didn’t advance? And you were stuck on that same slide forever?
ME: Ugh. That was awful.
RUMINATION: I know, right? So embarrassing! Let’s re-live it in full detail…
ME: Please, no. I have to go back to sleep.
ANXIETY: Ooh, it’s racing… we’ve got racing heart!
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: You never take care of yourself. You’re going to look all puffy tomorrow.
RUMINATION: Just like last week when you ate that entire box of Wheat Thins…
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: You’re fat.
ANXIETY: Hey, it’s a party! Let me play an entirely annoying song over and over again. How about that ’90s classic, “Mmm Bop” by Hansen?
ME: No! That’s a terrible song.
ANXIETY: Here we go! Mmmbop, ba duba dop, ba du bop, duba dop! I’ll just put it on repeat so it stays with you for a while.
ME: Stop! That’s not even how the song goes.
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: Your taste in music sucks.
RUMINATION: Just like that time you got caught with the window down singing out loud to *NSYNC. And that guy in the other car looked at you really funny. Remember? It might sound crazy but it ain’t no lie… Bye-Bye-Bye!
ANXIETY: Wow, you’re sweating. And your heart is going so fast! Does it feel like it might explode? It might explode. That would be bad.
UNNECESSARILY HARSH CRITIC: Did I mention you suck?
– (END SCENE) –
Does anyone have similar uninvited guests that show up in your head? They weren’t always in mine. But lately, they arrive at the most inopportune times and bring with them their friend INSOMNIA, who stays the night, and then they send over their early morning buddies LINGERING HEADACHE and FATIGUE.
So, how do you get rid of them? Much like I recommend in my storytelling workshops to replace an unhelpful narrator with a more positive version, I’m working to ward off the uninvited guests. If I’m going to have company – especially the kind that takes up space in my head – I’m going to be particular about who gets an invite. And I’m finding that if I fill the space with better guests – the ones I really want to spend time with – then those I don’t want have less space to make themselves comfortable and maybe won’t show up at all.
Who should be on the guest list? How about GRATITUDE. POSITIVITY. While we’re at it, let’s bring in BIG PICTURE THINKING, WILL THIS MATTER IN THE LONG RUN and DEEP CLEANSING BREATH. Sometimes I’ll add REALITY CHECK and GET A GRIP. Dare we invite HAPPINESS too? Maybe she and her sister JOY will make an appearance. I mean, if you have a really upbeat playlist or something…
And if those other sorts come too – the ones that keep you up at night worrying and criticizing and ruminating and even singing really bad ’90s songs on a loop – maybe we can send them out to pick up a pizza or put them in a corner where they won’t mingle with the guests we want to spend time with. The ones who come with a hostess gift and a nice compliment or two and stay to help you clean up afterward.
After all, we are the company we keep. So keep control of who accompanies you. Bid unwanted guests Bye-Bye-Bye…
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Valerie Gordon is an Emmy-winning TV producer and now the founder and owner of career and communications strategy firm Commander-in-She, LLC. She offers keynote presentations, group workshops, and individual coaching to help participants find and capitalize on the power in their stories. Her first book, “Fire Your Narrator! A Storyteller’s Guide to Getting Out of Your Head and Into Your Life” is due in fall of 2021.