Ask yourself this question every day.

“What if I’m wrong?”

There I was, on my way to work in the city. I had come from a weekend of solitude in the countryside where the walkways were scattered with burnt orange leaves instead of empty Starbucks cups and cigarette butts. The voices were quieter there, the gaps between noise were longer, and the feeling of peace was more palpable than that of anxiety.

I had taken up a meditative practice at this point. Starting my mornings in my modest city apartment, 5:30 am crossed legged on the floor with the intoxicating scent of incense tickling my nose. I would set my 10 minute timer and begin. The voices always recognized their opportunity to be heard. The judging, the worrying, the planning, and the dreaming began. Taming this alone on my floor got easier, but in the city streets it was all-consuming.

Hopping out of my uber into the cityscape sparked the first whirlwind of voices. “He’s going to give me a bad review. I should have made conversation.” I swing my legs out of the Honda Civic and make my way to the nearest coffee shop.

“I’m hungry but I shouldn’t spend money on an over-priced bagel.”

“That man just gave me a weird look, maybe there’s something on my face.”

“The barista isn’t being very friendly, I bet she thinks I’m stuck up working in this area.”

“I shouldn’t have worn this outfit.”

“I wish I got up earlier.”

“I’m going to be late for work again.”

“I’m lazy.”

The voices were loud, negative, judging, and assuming moment-to-moment. The strange part was, as these voices assumed theories from small pieces of information, I would begin to run with the stories as fact, like a bad detective that settled on one irrelevant clue and closed the case. I thought these voices were trustworthy, protecting me, and had my best interest in mind. It turns out they were ripping me apart, making me scared of my surroundings, and lying every chance they got. Next time I heard the voice ring off some bizarre theory I asked one thing:

What if I’m wrong?

They’re laughing at me.

In highschool, like most of my peers, I was a ball of insecurity, blanketed in a thick layer of social anxiety, wrapped up in concern for what others thought of me, with a pretty bow of sureness that my thoughts were facts. Naturally, I loathed public speaking. Every year in English class we were required to stand in front of the class and present a speech on some topic.

There I was, clammy hands and unsteady legs reciting the speech I had practiced several thousand times in the mirror. Two girls in the front row started laughing. I tried to continue on and remember the next line. Every burst of laughter would derail my speech with a flurry of voices.

“They’re laughing at me.”

“This is humiliating.”

“Is it something I said?”

“Is it the way I look?”

After I ruminated on each possible theory for their laughter (all involving how incompetent and embarrassing I was), the two girls approached me. “It’s so funny. Your speech was so similar to ours. Even some of the quotes you used were the same as ours! What are the chances.” First came the relief. As we bonded over our shared concern for this topic, anger began to bubble up. That was it?

I knew they were laughing at my expense.
Turns out I was wrong. Turns out I’m wrong a lot. Even the times I’m 99.99% sure I’m right, I’ve been wrong. One major flaw the voices have is there ability to relate everything to me. Every glance, whisper, or laugh has to be about me. Another flaw is the voices’ ability to spin everything as a threat, judgement, or insult. My voices basically think that I’m not good enough and that everyone else is thinking it.

You’re probably wrong.

The moral of the stories is that every time your voices present you with a statement, question them. Ask yourself, “What if I’m wrong?”. Challenging the information you’re getting from an unreliable source will allow you to stay open to other possibilities. The more you ask yourself “what if I’m wrong?” the less you hold tightly to being right all the time. If you can change fear into curiosity, you can learn instead of suffer.

The less attention I gave to the voices, the quieter they got. Instead of tuning in with my full attention to their 1:00 am theories about why that guy never messaged me back, I was sleeping soundly. The spotlight I thought was constantly illuminating me and my flaws was weakly flickering and eventually switched off. The voices were quieter, the gaps between noise were longer, and the feeling of peace was more palpable than that of anxiety.

Today’s Practice:

Listen to your voices today. When your voices present you with their theories ask yourself: “what if I’m wrong”. Spend a full day second guessing the sureness of your assumptions and at the end of the day record how you feel. Do you feel open to other possibilities? Do you feel more aligned with reality? Do you feel peace?